Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the General Assembly this week. For more information on any of these items visit http://www.rilegislature.gov/pressrelease
Protecting net neutrality
The Senate passed legislation (2019-S 0040) introduced by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, that would prohibit the state from entering into contracts with any internet service provider that engages in business practices that were prohibited by repealed net neutrality rules. The legislation would require ISPs that wish to compete for state contracts to not block lawful content or applications, slow down access to lawful internet content, offer paid prioritization of content or applications or unreasonably interfere with users’ ability to access lawful content or applications.
Updating physician assistant law
The House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. David A. Bennett, D-Warwick, updating state law concerning physician assistants. The bill (2019-H 5572) would specify that physician assistants work collaboratively with physicians instead of under their supervision, providing a measure of freedom that will help them see more patients and address the shortage of health care providers in the state. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Erin Lynch Prata, D-Warwick, is sponsoring companion legislation (2019-S 0443).
Higher limit for direct beer sales
The Senated passed a bill (2019-S 0620) sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag, D-Warren, that would increase the amount of beer sold directly to customers by breweries. If a brewery produces 12-ounce cans or bottles, the brewery’s limit on the amount of beer sold would remain the same. However, if the brewery produces 16-ounce cans or bottles, as many of craft breweries do, the limit would increase to a full case of 24 16-ounce bottles or cans.
Apprenticeships and contractor bonds
Two pieces of legislation sponsored by Sen. Valarie J. Lawson, D-East Providence, were approved. The Senate passed a resolution (2019-S 0711) respectfully requesting that the Governor’s Workforce Board partner with the Department of Labor and Training to develop a report on the feasibility of expanding non-trade registered apprenticeship programs in Rhode Island. The Senate also passed legislation (2019-S 0585) that amends the statutory bonding requirements for public projects. It is intended to increase the pool of companies that can bid on state projects, which could potentially increase competition and lower costs for taxpayers.
Hearings on opioid bills
The House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare held hearings on two bills sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D- Cranston, to help address the opioids crisis. The first bill (2019-H 5537) would limit prescriptions for opiates to a seven-day supply when prescribed for the first time to adults, and every time for patients under 18. The second bill (2019-H 5536) would add law enforcement and emergency medical personnel to the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, which would protects them from civil or criminal liability arising from helping a person they believe is overdosing.
Mental health group honors legislators
The Mental Health Association of Rhode Island named Sen. James A. Seveney, D-Portsmouth, and Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, legislators of the year for their sponsorship of a 2018 law improving the mental health of Rhode Island. The law requires insurers to treat behavioral health counseling and medication maintenance visits the same as primary health care visits when determining patient cost-sharing.
Child Care Awareness Day
Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, and Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley, D-Central Falls, chairwoman and vice chairwoman, respectively, of the Permanent Legislative Commission on Child Care, celebrated Child Care Awareness Day and Early Care and Education Advocacy Day. This year’s celebration began with a Strolling Thunder march from the Rhode Island Convention Center to the Statehouse. The march is sponsored by Think Babies, an advocacy campaign that seeks to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life.
Lottery Committee chairman named
Rep. William W. O’Brien, D-North Providence, was unanimously elected as the chairman of the Permanent Joint Committee on the State Lottery by his fellow committee members. The committee is responsible for legislative oversight of all lottery operations, which fall under the Department of Administration. The General Assembly created the committee following voter approval of the Separation of Powers constitutional amendment, which removed legislators from various boards and commissions.