RI lawmakers push for legislation protecting small business insurance claims

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Two Rhode Island state lawmakers say they have been hard at work creating new legislation that would ensure insurance claims submitted by businesses are approved.

State Reps. Joe McNamara and John Lombardi are fine-tuning two proposed bills that will prevent insurance companies from denying claims for loss of use or business interruption.

McNamara’s legislation protects businesses with 150 employees or less, while Lombardi’s protects businesses with 100 employees or less.

“This isn’t just happening in Pawtuxet Village or on Warwick Avenue to small businesses, it’s happening on Federal Hill,” McNamara said.

“Some of them have been here 60, 70, 80 years,” Lombardi added. “So it’s very disconcerting and we’ve got to address this now, rather than later.

The U.S. Small Business Administration tells Eyewitness News that the federal Payment Protection Program has already reached its limit in funding, making money from insurance policies more important than ever to small businesses and restaurants like O’Rourke’s.

“We’re actually closed a month right now, we’re going to be closed at least another three weeks, so that’s two months for loss of business,” owner Laurie O’Rourke said. “It would be everything, it’s huge.”

Since the Rhode Island General Assembly will not be having in-person meetings anytime soon, both lawmakers agree that they have to get creative in order for their bills to pass.

“Let’s worry about our constituents, let’s worry about the people of the state of Rhode Island,” Lombardi said. “Let’s get it done, there’s a thing called Zoom that the kids are doing.”

“Elected officials can be held accountable and the public can be held accountable via Zoom,” McNamara added.

To save Rhode Island’s small businesses and restaurants, which Lombardi says are the state’s economic engine, he said he needs the support of his fellow lawmakers.

“Put your personal feelings aside, put your politics aside. Let’s do what’s right, not only for the owners but more importantly for the people on the lower end of the rung that are really struggling to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table,” he said.

Lombardi said he’s been in contact with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed to navigate the potential hurdles he predicts they will face while passing the legislation, adding that a handful of other states, including New Jersey, have already put such laws into place.

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