PROVIDENCE — Here are highlights from news and events that took place in the Rhode Island General Assembly this week. All of the legislators named below are Democrats. For more information on any of these items visit http://www.rilegislature.gov/pressrelease
Education reform package
The leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives unveiled a package of education reform bills. The legislation calls for comprehensive changes concerning curriculum, instructional support, accountability, teacher certification, specialty skills certification, teacher assessments and the principal certification process. Leading the effort are Sen. Hanna M. Gallo, of Cranston, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, of Warwick, chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, Rep. Gregg Amore, of East Providence, and Sen. Ryan W. Pearson, of Cumberland
Bringing transparency to pension plans
The Senate passed legislation (2019-S 0431Aaa) introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, of North Providence, that would require all pension plans with at least 200 members, and not covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, to submit to the same public scrutiny, including public reporting of liabilities and assets. The measure now moves to the House, where similar legislation (2019-H 5287A) has been introduced by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, of Warwick.
Exempting college application fees for veterans
The Senate passed legislation (2019-S 0178) introduced by Sen. Walter S. Felag, of Warren, that would authorize the state’s higher education institutions to waive application and transcript fees for veterans. The legislation states that the Council on Postsecondary Education shall authorize and encourage the presidents of the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island to exempt all veterans from any and all application and transcript fees. The measure now moves to the House, where similar legislation (2019-H 5272) has been introduced by Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro, of Westerly.
Limiting non-disclosure of sexual harassment agreements
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on legislation (2019-S 0456) introduced by Sen. James C. Sheehan, of Narragansett, that would limit the terms that can be included in an agreement that settles a claim of sexual harassment. The bill would give sexual harassment victims the opportunity to make public, if they choose, the identity and nature of a charge after a five-year period.
Raising tobacco buying age to 21
The House Finance Committee held a hearing on legislation (2019-H 5603) sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, of South Kingstown, to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21. The bill, which is supported by the tobacco industry for the first time, would make Rhode Island the 13th state to raise the age to 21. Similar legislation (2019-S 0462) is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne, of Barrington.
Protections for solar customers
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, of Jamestown, has proposed legislation (2019-H 5991) seeking to have the Office of Energy Resources adopt greater consumer protection measures for homeowners who invest in solar energy.
Combating youth dyslexia and illiteracy
Rep. William W. O’Brien, of North Providence, has introduced legislation (2019-H 5887) that would require licensed elementary level teachers to be proficient in "scientific reading instruction." Such instruction, which teaches how sounds relate to letters and words, is based on research on how the brain works while learning spoken and written language, with an emphasis on phonological and orthographic awareness, alphabetic principles, and comprehension strategies.