Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the General Assembly last week. For more information on any of these items, visit www.rilin.state.ri.us/News.
Senate Judiciary Committee holds 12-hour hearing on same-sex marriage bills
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on two Senate bills related to same-sex marriage. The first bill (2013-S 0038), sponsored by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), removes gender-specific language from the section of the general laws that governs eligibility for marriage, and addresses state and federal law recognition, applicability in the state of Rhode Island, marriage licenses, protection of freedom of religion in marriages and the merger of civil unions into marriages. The second bill (2013-S 0708), sponsored by Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence), is a resolution calling for a ballot question about the allowance of same-sex marriage with the right of religious people, organizations or institutions to choose not to officiate or provide marriage-related services to same-sex couples.
House Labor Committee hears ‘ban the box’ legislation
The House Labor Committee heard legislation (2013-H 5507), sponsored by Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence), prohibiting inquiries on employment applications regarding prior criminal convictions, except when federal or state law specifically disqualifies a person from employment because of prior conviction or authorizes such inquiries. Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) is sponsoring the bill (2013-S 0357) in the Senate.
Fox, Paiva Weed, Raimondo take action to pave the way for economic growth
House Speaker Gordon D. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo announced a legislative proposal to improve Rhode Island’s locally maintained roads and bridges and spur economic growth. The proposed Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund, to be administered by the AAA-rated Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Authority, would provide municipalities access to lower-cost borrowing for long-range planning and infrastructure investment.
Diaz, Pichardo legislation strives for tuition equity for undocumented students
Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence) and Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence) held a press conference on their legislation, which would grant all students – regardless of immigration status – the opportunity to go to college at in-state tuition rates. Members of the Coalition of Advocates for Student Opportunities (CASO) attended the press conference to share their stories about what it was like being an undocumented student while wanting to succeed in higher education. Senator Pichardo has introduced the Senate bill (2013-S 0310) and Representative Diaz is slated to introduce her own companion bill in the House.
General Assembly begins live web streaming
Members of the public can now watch committee hearings – as well as live Senate and House sessions – on the Internet for the first time in Rhode Island’s history. Capitol TV has set up three live streaming channels and will eventually be able to stream up to four legislative events simultaneously. The General Assembly website also has a new “on demand” feature, which allows people to view archived video from House and Senate sessions, as well as hearings that were live-streamed. Currently, Capitol TV airs a live House session and tapes the Senate session to broadcast after. Without web streaming, the channel could only broadcast one live committee meeting at a time.
Senate, House, governor announced package of bills to help veterans
Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined members of the Senate and House announcing introduction of nine pieces of legislation (submitted in both chambers) designed to improve benefits and services for Rhode Island veterans and their families. The bills provide increased access to benefits, state purchasing preferences for veteran-owned businesses, increased access to educational opportunities and streamlined availability of essential medical and human service benefits. At a news conference held to announce the bills were Senate Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth).
Carnevale proposes tax deduction for medical expenses
Rep. John M. Carnevale (D-Dist. 13, Providence, Johnston) has introduced legislation (2013-H 5373) that, like federal tax regulations, would allow a Rhode Island personal income tax deduction on non-covered medical and dental expenses. The legislation, which would allow deductions on expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income, is expected to benefit those needing long-term care or who receive services as a result of disabilities.