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.
Governor Chafee delivers State of the State to Rhode Island leaders
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee delivered the annual State of the State address, proposing tax changes to improve the state’s economic competitiveness and coax existing Rhode Island businesses to expand. The governor also officially released his Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal. Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox, President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and other members of the General Assembly were present for the event.
House holds economic conference, Senate schedules annual summit
The House of Representatives gathered for an economic conference at Rhode Island College in order to jumpstart its work this year on revitalizing Rhode Island’s economy. State leaders and top thinkers working in and outside the state engaged in four panel discussions: small business challenges and recommendations; local and regional experiences, successes and solutions; workforce development gaps and opportunities; and rebranding Rhode Island. The Senate will host its annual economic summit, entitled “Improving Rhode Island’s Business Climate,” on Jan. 24 in the Paff Auditorium on the URI Providence campus. The forum will focus on improving the state’s business rankings and economic competitiveness.
Senate, RIPEC issue recommendations on business rankings
President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed was joined at a news conference by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and other groups as they unveiled a report and recommendations to address Rhode Island’s rankings on business competitiveness surveys. Entitled “Moving the Needle,” the report laid out a significant number of recommendations to begin to improve the state’s rankings and overall business climate.
House Judiciary Committee hears same-sex marriage bill, schedules vote
The House Judiciary Committee took six hours of testimony on legislation (2013-H 5015) sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) to allow same-sex marriage and recognize unions previously made under the state’s existing civil unions law as marriages. The committee scheduled a vote on the bill Jan. 22. Similar legislation (2013-S 0038) is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence).
Legislation calls for elimination of ‘master lever’ on ballot
Rep. Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston) and House Minority Leader Rep. Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville) have introduced legislation (2013-H 5072) to eliminate the ballot master lever, which allows voters to make one mark on their ballot to cast a vote for every candidate on the ballot of a particular party. Similar legislation (2013-S 0039) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. David E. Bates (R-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).
Corvese bill would establish procedure for filling lieutenant governor vacancy
Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence) has submitted legislation (2013-H 5060) to allow the General Assembly, in grand committee, to elect a replacement when the lieutenant governor’s position becomes vacant midterm, just as it would for the secretary of state, the treasurer or the attorney general. State law does not spell out a process for how to replace a lieutenant governor who leaves the office before his or her term is up, whether due to resignation, death, inability to serve or elevation to governor.
Fogarty bill asks voters to consider constitutional convention
Sen. Paul W. Fogarty (D-Dist. 23, Glocester, Burrillville, North Smithfield) is sponsoring legislation to give voters the opportunity to update the state constitution. The legislation would put in place a preparatory commission and put a question on the 2014 statewide ballot to ask voters whether they want to have a constitutional convention. If voters approve the question, the convention would study the constitution and come back with recommended changes for voters’ consideration.
Fellela sponsors bill to increase gambling age to 21
Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) introduced legislation that would increase the legal age for gambling to 21 years old at any facility where there is a pari-mutuel betting system, casinos or slot parlors. The House bill (2013-H 5032) provides penalties for gambling underage, including fines and loss of one’s driver’s license.
Bill calls for work-release inmates to help out during state of emergency
Inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions who are eligible for work release programs would be called on to help during any state of emergency, under legislation (2013-H 5077) introduced by Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly). The work crews would be assigned by the director of the Department of Corrections in coordination with local or state agencies.
Walsh bill would require merit selection for magistrates
Rep. Donna M. Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) has submitted legislation (2013-S 5022) to make magistrates subject to the same merit selection and vetting requirements as judges.
Guthrie bill calls for safety, health standards for all RI fire departments
Rep. Scott J. Guthrie (D-Dist. 28, Coventry) has introduced legislation (2013-H 5067) to require all fire departments in Rhode Island to comply with minimum occupational safety and health standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The bill calls for the plans to be developed by the fire departments and submitted to the State Fire Marshal by January 2014.