PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island lawmakers returned to Smith Hill on Tuesday for a rare September session, passing dozens of bills that were left in limbo in June after Democratic leaders’ breakdown over the budget.
The voting lasted for hours, with the House starting its work around 2 p.m. and the Senate not wrapping up until about 10:30.
Some bills dealt with relatively minor matters, such as allowing the city of Woonsocket to regulate flower sellers or letting teenagers join their parents in the voting booth. Here are some of the more high-profile measures that the General Assembly did – and didn’t – tackle before they finished work.
• Paid sick days: Lawmakers passed a bill requiring most Rhode Island employers to give their workers paid sick days starting in July 2018. Workers will receive three days in 2018, four days in 2019, and five days thereafter. The mandate applies to employers with at least 18 workers, although there are some exemptions. Supporters say the bill will benefit roughly 100,000 Rhode Islanders, but critics say it will harm small businesses who can’t afford to comply. Gov. Gina Raimondo is expected to sign the bill into law.
• Gun rights: Lawmakers passed a bill blocking individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic-violence crimes or subject to protective orders from owning guns, and ordering enforcement of the ban. Advocates have spent three years campaigning for this bill, which they say will protect victims of domestic violence; critics say it infringes on 2nd Amendment rights. Governor Raimondo is expected to sign the bill into law.
• Firefighter pensions: Lawmakers passed a bill that would automatically give firefighters a lifetime tax-free accidental-disability pension if they develop a heart condition, under the presumption that the ailment happened in the line of duty. Supporters say firefighters have dangerous jobs and other states have similar policies; critics say it will cost local taxpayers as much as $2.8 million a year and takes away discretion from the State Retirement Board. Governor Raimondo has signaled concerns about the bill.
• Post-election audits: This is a bill that caught fire after news reports in recent months warning of potential Russian efforts to try and tamper with voting machines during last year’s election. The bill, strongly backed by Common Cause Rhode Island, requires the R.I. Board of Elections to develop a program for auditing the initial results on voting machines to ensure they are accurate. Supporters cited a North Kingstown machine that gave an incorrect count last fall. Governor Raimondo is expected to sign the bill into law.
• Highway surveillance: This is a controversial bill with only one main advocate: its sponsor, Cranston Democratic Rep. Robert Jacquard. The bill would create a privately-run surveillance system on state highways to scan license plates for out-of-state drivers who don’t have insurance. The House voted 49-17 to approve the bill months ago, and the Senate was scheduled to follow suit on Tuesday – until Senate President Dominick Ruggerio scrapped the vote at the last minute, citing senators’ concerns.
• Evergreen contracts: This was a surprise to many State House observers. Back in June, both the House and Senate passed a bill strongly opposed by most local mayors that would keep municipal union contracts in effect after they expire until a new one is put in place. Governor Raimondo vetoed the bill, citing the concerns of local leaders. Organized labor pushed hard for the House and Senate to override the governor’s veto, but in the end neither chamber’s Democratic leadership was willing to call a vote, allowing the veto to stand.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook