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 http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/News/.
Port study panel issues final report; package of legislation introduced
Growth and development of the state’s ports and associated maritime operations and the potential economic benefits to the state that could result was a major focus of the General Assembly this week. A special joint legislative commission that had been studying the issue for nearly three years released its final report and recommendations, urging action predicted to result in the addition of at least 1,000 new jobs and millions of dollars in personal income and additional state and community tax revenues. Two days after the report was released, members of the commission introduced a package of bills in both chambers to implement the panel’s recommendations, which include creation of a Rhode Island Port Marketing Collaborative to develop and execute a strategic plan for the state’s ports.
Legislation to require super PAC transparency announced
Rep. Christopher Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence) and Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence), in conjunction with House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, announced legislation mandating full disclosure of previously unregulated political expenditures by third-party organizations, including super PACs. The goal is to provide Rhode Islanders better insight into who is funding elections messages.
House OKs background checks for student mentors
The House passed legislation to require a national and state criminal background check for any person seeking to participate in a mentoring program working with students, in school settings or other mentoring situations. Sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), the bill (2012-H 7077) now goes to the Senate for consideration.
House, Senate members hear presentation on full-day kindergarten
W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, addressed members of the House and Senate on full-day kindergarten and pre-K programs. Bills dealing with full-day kindergarten have been introduced in the House and Senate.
Commission: Treat behavioral health in targeted programs, not the ER
The Special Senate Commission on Emergency Department Diversion issued its final report, recommending the introduction of a pilot program that would divert treatment of substance abuse problems and mental health intervention away from emergency rooms to alternative care centers. Treating behavioral health issues in non-emergency settings would provide more effective treatment for patients and save money for the state, the health care system and cities and towns, the commission concluded.
O’Neill looks to increase penalties for leaving the scenes of accidents
Sen. Edward J. O’Neill (I-Dist. 17, Lincoln, North Providence, Pawtucket) has introduced a bill (2012-S 2138) that would create harsher penalties for leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident with death or serious bodily harm resulting. Along with Senators Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5, Providence) and Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Senator O’Neill held a news conference adjacent to a speed bump installed on Atwells Avenue last year after Providence City Councilman Terry Hassett was injured there during a hit-and-run accident.
Bill aims to increase food allergy safety at restaurants
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony from 17-year-old Danielle Mongeau of Middletown on legislation (2012-S 2127) introduced at her request by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton) to make restaurants in Rhode Island safer for those with food allergies. The bill would require every food service establishment to have a certified food protection manager and make employees aware of their role in preventing allergic reactions, and would require menus to include notices reminding those with food allergies to alert their servers. Rep. J. Russell Jackson (D-Dist. 73, Middletown, Newport) is sponsoring the bill (2012-H 7595) in the House.
House approves soldiers and veterans bills
The House passed three bills sponsored by Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) concerning members of the armed forces and veterans. The bills would make it easier for deployed soldiers to get mail ballots in elections (2012-H 7100), allow those with old war veteran license plates to keep them as a new war veteran plate rolls out (2012-H 7101) and enable the National Guard to directly accept donations for a fund that assists the family of Guard members (2012-H 7188).
House GOP unveils pro-growth, government reform agenda
The House Republican caucus held a news conference to publicly introduce a number of individual pieces of legislation with the collective purpose of improving Rhode Island’s climate for economic development. House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville) was present at the news conference to talk about the Republicans’ proposal for a Commission on Streamlining Government and other bills that are meant to encourage lean government and private sector job growth.
Senate special task force looks at dangers of pair trawl use
The Special Senate Task Force on Fisheries, chaired by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), held a hearing to discuss the dangers of pair trawl use and included testimony from Robert Ballou, assistant to the director of the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and Mark Gibson, DEM deputy chief for Marine Fisheries. Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) also introduced a bill that would make pair trawl operations illegal in Rhode Island after March 2013. The legislation (2012-H 7367Aaa) is up for a vote in the House on Feb. 28.