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/.
Legislators, governor reach compromise on compassion centers
Legislative leaders and the sponsors of legislation to allow compassion centers to distribute medical marijuana reached an agreement with Gov. Lincoln Chafee that will allow the centers to finally open their doors. Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D-Dist.3, Providence) and Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) introduced legislation that will allow the Department of Health to regulate limits on the amount of marijuana that a compassion center may grow and possess to prevent them from being shut down or raided by federal agents. The bill will also allow patients and caregivers to sell excess marijuana to the centers to prevent illegal distribution of the excess.
House Finance passes bill to allow casino gaming at Newport Grand
The House Finance Committee passed a bill that would allow casino gaming at Newport Grand, subject to the approval of the voters of the state and the city of Newport at the next general election. The legislation (2012-H 7543), introduced by Rep. J. Russell Jackson (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown), is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Tuesday, March 6. Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) has introduced companion legislation (2012-S 2695) in the Senate.
Actor James Woods testifies in favor of benevolent gestures bill
Three-time Emmy award-winner James Woods appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to throw his support behind what has been dubbed the benevolent gestures bill. Introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), the legislation (2012-H 7290) declares any expression of sympathy, condolence, compassion or general sense of benevolence inadmissible as evidence in a civil action against a health care provider. Woods testified in favor of the bill in light of his brother Michael’s death at Kent Hospital in 2006. An ensuing lawsuit claiming emergency room staff negligence was eventually settled in 2009 after the Woods family received a sincere apology from the hospital’s president.
Bills introduced to Make it Easy to do Business in Rhode Island
Building on its successful work in previous years to make it easy to do business in Rhode Island, another package of bills has been introduced in the Senate designed to improve the economic climate in the state, remove barriers to growth and encourage job creation. The various bills would create a statewide, uniform, electronic building permitting system; make the state’s fire code more flexible and less costly for business; match job vacancies with unemployed citizens, and provide on-the-job training for unemployed workers who need new skills.
Senate holds economic summit to discuss port bills
The Senate hosted an economic summit entitled Expanding Jobs Through Port Resources, channeling attention to job-growth opportunities through port development. Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) gave a summary of the Joint Legislative Port Commission’s recommendations prior to two panel presentations and a general discussion among senators. The panels focused on business perspectives from Quonset/Davisville and the Port of Providence as potential areas for expansion.
Minimum wage bills before House, Senate
Legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage from its current $7.40 to $7.75 have been introduced in the House and Senate this session. The bills also provide for annual increases beginning in 2014, based on the Consumer Price Index for the Northeast Region. The House bill (2012-H 7396), sponsored by Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick), was heard by the House Labor Committee. The Senate bill (2012-S 2374) was introduced by Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick) and is before the Senate Labor Committee.
Senate OKs complete streets bill
The Senate passed legislation (2012-S 2131) sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton) requiring that the state use complete street design features in all federal- and state-funded road construction projects, with an eye not only toward motorists, but also bicyclists, public transportation users and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. Rep. Peter F. Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport) has introduced companion legislation (2012-H 7352) in the House.
Blazejewski bill takes aim at tip theft
Legislation (2012-H 7566) submitted by Rep. Christopher Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence) would prohibit restaurant owners and managers from demanding that servers turn in all or part of their tips, and prohibit tip pools that are split between anyone other than service employees like servers, bartenders and those who bus tables. The legislation is aimed at helping the many Rhode Islanders working in the service industry, and requiring restaurants to distribute patrons’ money as those customers intend.
Legislation limits gratuity to pre-tax meal cost
Addressing an issue as to how gratuities are determined at family-style restaurants that add a tip to the bill, Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly) has introduced legislation (2012-H 7674) to require restaurants that add the gratuity to the final bill to calculate that tip based on the amount of the meal cost, before taxes.
Assembly offers Wi-Fi access in chambers, committee rooms
As part of a continuing effort to update the General Assembly’s technology and to provide a more transparent and accessible legislature, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed announced the availability of Wi-Fi in the House and Senate chambers and galleries, all committee hearing rooms and in the hallways outside the chambers and committee rooms.