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.
House approves bill to ban certain synthetic drugs
The House of Representatives approved legislation (2012-H 5325A) to ban the use, manufacture and sale of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones in Rhode Island. Sold under names such as “K2” and “Monkey Weed,” the synthetic substances have been linked to serious health complications in users. Sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), the bill now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill (2013-S 0454) has been introduced by Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston).
Senate passes stronger penalties for driving drunk with children in vehicle
The Senate approved legislation (2013-S 0592) sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) to stiffen penalties for adults who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child under 13 in their vehicle. The bill institutes immediate license suspension pending prosecution and makes the crime a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, license suspension for up to two years and substance abuse treatment or safe driving classes. Similar legislation (2013-H 5666) is being sponsored by Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown).
House OKs background checks for school volunteers
The House has approved legislation (2013-H 5229) to require any individuals who are current or prospective volunteers of a school department and who may have direct or unmonitored contact with children or students on school premises to undergo a state criminal background check. Sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), the bill now goes to the Senate, which has already passed an identical bill (2013-S 0347) introduced by Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).
Mayors join Ferri, Pichardo in push to rein in high-interest payday loans
The mayors of Central Falls, Cranston, Warwick and Woonsocket joined Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) and the RI Payday Lending Reform Coalition in calling for the passage of legislation aimed at freeing Rhode Islanders from a cycle of debt caused by payday loans carrying annual interest rates as high as 260 percent. Representative Ferri’s and Senator Pichardo’s legislation (2013-H 5019, 2013-S 0260) would strip an exemption for cash-advance lenders, making them subject to the same usury laws that govern other lenders, which limit annual interest rates to 36 percent.
Quality Family Child Care Act introduced in House, Senate
Saying that quality child care is critical to a child’s future success in school and life, Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) and Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) introduced legislation (2013-H 5946, 2013-S 0794) to allow child care providers participating in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) the right to choose a union and work with the state to increase training and professional development. The legislation would also establish a parent advisory council.
Committee hears bill to dub R.I.-style calamari state’s official appetizer
Legislation to make Rhode Island-style calamari the state’s official appetizer was heard before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, where it was supported by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Rhode Island Fisherman’s Alliance and the R.I. Hospitality Association. The bill (2013-H 5654) was introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) to promote the state’s fishing and tourism industries.
Committees hear bills requiring clean chain of title for residential properties
The Senate Judiciary Committee and House Corporations Committee heard legislation (2013-S 0547, 2013-H 5512), sponsored by Sen. William Conley (District 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (District 38, Hopkinton, Westerly), that would require all transfers of a mortgage interest on residential property be recorded to provide a clean chain of title. The bills were sponsored on behalf of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and look to address irregularities with the recording of mortgages and assignments that negatively impact municipalities and consumers.
Messier bill provides extra protection of SNAP benefits for EBT cardholders
Rep. Mary Messier (D-Dist. 62, Pawtucket) has introduced legislation (2013-H 5029) that would require picture identification on all electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Bill proposes tax deduction for medical expenses
Rep. John M. Carnevale (D-Dist. 13, Providence, Johnston) has introduced legislation (2013-H 5373) that would allow a Rhode Island personal income tax deduction on non-covered medical and dental expenses incurred during any taxable year on expenses that, like the federal tax provision, exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.
O’Neill wants sales tax exemption for pickup trucks
Sen. Edward J. O’Neill (I-Dist. 17, Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield) has introduced a bill (2013-S 0024) that would give pickup truck owners the same tax break as those who buy or trade in regular automobiles. The bill exempts the trade-in value of pickup trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight from sales tax with the caveat that they are not used commercially.