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.
Assembly OKs background checks for school volunteers
Legislation has been approved in both the House and the Senate that will require any individuals who are current or prospective volunteers of a school department and who may have direct and/or unmonitored contact with students or children on school premises to undergo a state criminal background check. The Senate bill (2013-S 0347) was sponsored by Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick); the House bill was sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston). Both bills now go to the governor for his consideration.
Senate passes ‘Back to Work Rhode Island’ legislation
Legislation to allow job-seekers to collect unemployment benefits while participating in job training at companies looking to hire has been approved by the Rhode Island Senate. Sponsored by Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), the “Back to Work Rhode Island Program” (2013-S 0402A) allows benefits to be collected for up to six weeks while a job applicant is training and being assessed by a potential employer. A similar House bill (2013-H 5033) has been introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston).
House passes Hearn bill establishing biweekly pay standard
The House passed a measure that would allow employers the option of paying workers on a biweekly basis, provided the employer gives proof of a surety bond or other security. The legislation (2013-H 6065A), sponsored by Rep. Joy Hearn (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), is part of House leadership’s economic development bill package. The House passed four of the 18 bills in the legislative package this week.
Bill hikes penalties for violations of wage laws
The House approved legislation (2013-H 6010A) that will increase penalties for companies violating the state’s wage laws and that will ensure that all such violations are prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General, rather than by municipalities in which the offense occurs, as is often now the case. The legislation was introduced by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) in cooperation with the attorney general.
Senate OKs minimum wage hike to $8
The Senate has approved legislation (2013-S 0256Aaa) that will raise Rhode Island’s minimum wage to $8 per hour, beginning next January 1. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), provides a 25 cents per hour increase over the state’s current minimum wage of $7.75, which went into effect this year, the first time the wage was increased since 2007. A similar House bill (2013-H 5079) has been introduced by Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).
Senate passes bill allowing school districts flexibility in scheduling school days
The Senate approved a bill (2013-S 0116A) to allow school districts to schedule fewer than 180 school days a year as long as they still provide 1080 annual hours of instruction to students. This bill would give school districts the chance to save money by staying open for fewer days while still educating their students, says the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Roger Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland).
Bill clears way for e-prescribing of drugs on controlled substances list
Legislation has been approved by the House that will help pave the way for greater use of e-prescriptions, which have been shown to have a significantly lower error rate than handwritten prescriptions. Sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), the bill (2013-H 5756A) requires the Department of Health to establish rules and regulations for adopting a system for e-prescriptions for drugs on the controlled substances lists. A similar Senate bill (2013-S 0647A) sponsored by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) has already been approved in that chamber.
Bills to improve school safety pass Senate
Two pieces of a package of bills aimed at improving safety in Rhode Island schools were passed by the Senate. The bills (2013-S 0800A, 2013-S0801A) address school safety assessments, which would be required within 30 days of enactment of the legislation and every three years thereafter, and school emergency/safety plans. Both bills were sponsored by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), one at the request of the governor. Companion House bills already passed in that chamber (2013-H 5940, 2013-H 5941) were introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 17, Warwick, Cranston).
Bill exempts school safety plans from public records law
The Senate passed legislation (2013-S 0369A) that will exclude from the Access to Public Records Act (open records law) documents used by school districts to establish plans and procedures to keep school children and employees safe. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston). The House version of the bill (2013-H 5895) was introduced by Rep. Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston, Cranston).
Bill bars insurance discrimination against victims of abuse
The Senate has approved legislation (2013-S 0719A) to prohibit property and casualty insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic abuse by refusing to issue or renew a policy, restricting coverage or charging a premium for policies solely because of the individual’s abuse status. Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick) sponsored the bill. A companion bill that has already passed the House (2013-H 5839A) was sponsored in that chamber by Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth).