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Last Week at the General Assembly. . .

Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the General Assembly last week.

Assembly sponsors ‘arts charrette’ to promote growth of arts sector

 The Senate and House of Representatives, in cooperation with Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, the Rhode Island Foundation, the R.I. State Council on the Arts, Fidelity Investments and RISD, sponsored an “artscharrette” to bring together government, business and nonprofit sectors with the arts community to develop a strategy to further the growth of the arts sector and enhance economic development in the state. President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox were among those who addressed the gathering, which was held at Fidelity in  Smithfield and attended by more than 120 interested participants. Click here to see news release. 

Legislation introduced to ‘ban the box’ on job applications

Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) has introduced legislation (2013-H 5449) to “ban the box” on applications for all public and private sector jobs in Rhode Island. The bill, which would eliminate the question, or check box, on applications seeking information about criminal records, was discussed at a news conference organized by Direct Action for Rights & Equality (DARE) and the R.I. Coalition to Ban the Box. Also taking part in the news conference was Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), who is the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Click here to see news release.

East Bay legislators push against bridge tolls 

East Bay legislators have taken aim at the proposed tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge on a number of fronts. The Senate Finance Committee heard bills sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) and Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), respectively, repealing the transfer of the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (2013-S 0020), and restricting tolls on them and the Mount Hope Bridge while freezing tolls on the Newport Bridge (2013-S 0242). Senator Felag and Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) proposed diverting $10 million of what the governor has proposed for a municipal incentive program toward repairs and maintenance of the state’s four major bridges instead of tolls. Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Representative Edwards, Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) and Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth) sought hearings by the Federal Highway Administration on the plan for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Click here to see Senate Finance release. Click here to see municipal incentive program diversion release. Click here to see federal hearings request release.

Malik calls for repeal of state sales tax

Saying it is time to have a dialogue on the state’s sales tax, Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Warren,Barrington) has introduced legislation (2013-H 5365) to repeal the sales tax effective Oct. 1 this year. The bill also calls for the elimination of the local meals and beverages tax on the same date. Click here to see news release.

Details on ER diversion program presented

The Special Senate Commission to Study Emergency Department Diversion received the proposal it requested from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals for a program to provide more effective and less costly treatment for people with behavioral, alcohol or substance abuse issues than frequent trips to the emergency room. The “Sobering Treatment Opportunity Program,” or STOP, would be a three-year pilot outreach treatment program in Providence that would begin in 2014 to give patients initial treatment, short-term assistance and connections to longer-term help. If successful, the state could consider replicating the program in other communities. Click here to see news release.    

House Labor Committee hears teacher tenure, binding arbitration bills

The House Committee on Labor held hearings for two bills related to teachers. The first bill (2013-H 5186), sponsored by Rep. Scott J. Guthrie (D-Dist. 28, Coventry), would amend the situations where a school board could lay off teachers, moving the date for mass layoff notices due to budgetary constraints from March 1 to May 15. The second bill (2013-H 5340), sponsored by Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence), would grant public school teachers the right to binding arbitration on all contractual issues, including those that involve fiscal expenditures.

Pearson bill accelerates school funding formula, offers tax relief

Sen. Ryan Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln) has introduced legislation that will make major investments in education while offering opportunities for critical property tax relief to communities. The bill (2013-S 0188) would immediately fund 100 percent of the state education aid to communities due under the state formula. The districts that stand to lose money through the formula would stay on track for being phased out over time. Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) sponsored the bill (2013-H 5359) in the House. Click here to see news release.

Nunes, Tanzi sponsor bill allowing sale of wine, beer at farmers markets

Sponsored by Representatives Jared R. Nunes (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) and Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), this bill (2013-H 5190) would allow farmer-wineries and farmer-breweries, under certain conditions, to be licensed to sell wine or beer for off-premises consumption at a farmers market. Click here to see news release.

Doyle proposes business loan program for veterans

To help veterans interested in starting a business in Rhode Island upon their return from duty, Sen. James E. Doyle II (D-Dist. 8, Providence) has introduced legislation (2013-S 0153) directing the R.I. Economic Development Corporation to develop a combat veterans’ small business loan program. It would make available up to $50,000 to any applicant – up to a total of $1 million annually – to help promote small businesses owned and operated by vets. Click here to see news release.

Annual Legislative Black History Month celebration held at State House

The fourth annual Joint Legislative Black History Month Heritage Celebration was held in the Senate chamber. The event, sponsored by the General Assembly and the Rhode Island Black & Latino Caucus of State Legislators, is held in conjunction with Black History Month, which has been celebrated in the U.S.since 1976. Joan Countryman, who was head of the Lincoln School in Providence until 2005, was the keynote speaker. Click here to see news release.

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