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.
Senate approves same-sex marriage bill
In a 26-12 vote, the Senate approved legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island, effective Aug. 1. The bills (2013-S 0038A, 2013-H 5015B), sponsored by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), still have to clear an additional House vote before they can be sent to the governor. That vote is tentatively expected Thursday, following a Judiciary Committee vote on Tuesday.
House leaders unveil economic development package
At a news conference led by Speaker Gordon D. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence), House leaders presented a package of 18 bills developed to improve the coordination and quality of Rhode Island’s economic development efforts and help business succeed in their efforts to grow here. The legislation aims to ensure the state’s economic development efforts are guided by a well-developed plan that will successfully be implemented, coordinate the state’s commerce-related activities into a single entity, increase accountability, and encourage business growth through incentives and the removal of barriers to businesses’ success.
House approves bills to make RI schools safer
The House approved three bills, developed by the General Assembly and the governor’s office, intended to improve safety in Rhode Island’s schools by requiring a comprehensive assessment of safety plans, annual certification of those plans and a specific number of fire and lockdown drills. Passed by the House were two bills (2013-H 5941 and 2013-H 5940) introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and one (2013-H 5152A) sponsored by Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). Two companion Senate bills (2013-S 0800 and 2013-S 0801) have been introduced by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick) and a third (2013-S 0014Aaa) was introduced by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), which passed the Senate.
Senate approves ‘Kelsey Smith Act’
Legislation to help police more quickly locate individuals who are missing or believed abducted has been approved by the Senate. Sponsored by Sen. James E. Doyle II (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), the bill (2013-S 0284aa), the “Kelsey Smith Act,” will require telecommunications carriers to immediately provide an individual’s communication device location if requested by police in an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or serious physical harm. An identical House bill (2013-H 5456) has been introduced by Rep. Raymond H. Johnston Jr. (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket).
House OKs bill to assist Central Coventry Fire District
The House has approved legislation to give the Central Coventry Fire District a little more time to address and rectify its financial problems. Sponsored by Rep. Scott J. Guthrie (D-Dist. 28, Coventry), the bill (2013-H 5176A) will keep the fire district in business using the district’s previously approved budget, through Sept. 1, while the district works to develop a new budget, new tax assessment and collection of taxes.
Senate Judiciary holds hearings on gun bills
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard seven of the nine bills introduced as part of the General Assembly’s legislative gun package. The list of legislation ranges from a bill, sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), requiring national criminal background checks of anyone requesting a license or permit to carry a pistol or revolver, to a bill, sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), imposing restrictions on the manufacture, transfer and possession of certain semiautomatic assault weapons.
Senate, House committees review EDC job creation guaranty program
The Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Oversight held hearings on the RI Economic Development Corporation’s job creation guaranty program. The program is intended to provide access to capital and credit for businesses looking to expand or relocate in R.I. Under the program, EDC is authorized to guarantee loans by private lenders or guarantee certain bond obligations for primarily technology and innovation-driven industries.
Senate OKs changes to ‘Distributed Generation Program’
The Senate approved legislation making changes to the state’s “Distributed Generation Program” with a goal of keeping energy costs in check. The bill (2013-S 0641A), sponsored by Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), will expand the requirement for competitive pricing to drive down the cost of renewable energy being produced by the smallest projects. It will also simplify the process to participate in the program, reduce the review period and allow for hydropower timelines. A companion House bill (2013-H 5803) was introduced by Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston).
Edwards hosts rally stop tolls on Sakonnet River Bridge
With Sakonnet River Bridge toll rates in place for July, Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) organized a rally on the front steps of the State House to drum up support for a bill that would quell the concerns of Aquidneck Island residents and business owners, many of whom are furious about the impact the tolls will have on the area. The legislation (2013-H 5137, 2013-S 0020), sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Walter S. Felag (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), would repeal Article 20 of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget and prevent the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) from giving control of the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). The House Finance Committee also held a hearing on the House bill and recommended to hold it for further study.
Rep. Carnevale proposes sales tax holidays for liquor sales
Rep. John M. Carnevale (D-Dist. 13, Providence, Johnston) testified before the House Committee on Finance on legislation he introduced (2013-H 5310) to establish five periods each year during which there would be no sales tax on the purchase of alcoholic beverages from a location where it will not be consumed, such as a liquor store. The sales tax-free periods would be Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, Labor Day weekend, Thanksgiving week and the winter holiday season.