On September 19th, the House and Senate met to address a number of the outstanding issues of the 2017 legislative session. Since that time, the legislature has been transmitting bills to Governor Raimondo for her consideration on a weekly basis. This is a normal process meant to provide the Governor with ample time to decide whether to sign, veto or allow a bill to become law without her signature, in an orderly, thoughtful fashion. Now that most of the bills of interest to the Chamber have reached a conclusion, Under the Dome is pleased to provide you with a wrap up of new laws. Keep in mind that both the House and Senate only “recessed” leaving open an opportunity to return and address any piece of legislation filed this year should both branches decide to do so.
Bills of Interest Signed by the Governor
S.290 SubB and H.5413 Sub Bas amended – The paid leave bills were passed by both the House and Senate and were signed into law 9/27. The Chamber provided a summary to you in a special edition of Under the Dome when the bills passed in September. As was pointed out at that time, the law still requires a number of issues to be flushed out in regulations before businesses can actually attempt to comply. The Department of Labor will be holding public meetings in the weeks to come to take comments from all of the stakeholders. Some of the items to be addressed include: how to determine if a company has 18 employees or more, which businesses are required to carryover unused time accrued, what happens if an employee calls out sick and then the potential replacement employee declines to come to work for a reason covered under the paid leave law? The Chamber will be providing further information to you as the regulations are drafted. Keep in mind that the new law goes into effect July 1, 2018!
S.175 SubA and H.5182 – Prohibits the use of a non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel or in an emergency situation. A person may touch the hand held devise to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of a telephone. A violation of the new law can result in a fine up to one hundred dollars ($100) “except that the fine shall be suspended for a first time violator, who provides proof of acquisition of a hands-free accessory subsequent to the violation, but prior to the imposition of a fine.” The bills were signed by the Governor on 7/10 and 9/27 respectively. The new law will go into effect 6/1/18.
S.342 SubB as amended and H.2245 SubB as amended – were signed by the Governor 9/27. The bills create the "Small Cell Siting Act", which specifies how local authorities may regulate the collocation of small wireless facilities and small wireless facility networks. The new law seeks to position Rhode Island to deploy new wireless telecommunications technology to handle increased cell traffic and 5G technology. Small cell base stations are set to play an important role in expanding the capacity of wireless networks; and no state has – as of yet – deployed the technology on a large scale. These cells provide flexibility at less cost. Small cells can be placed on existing poles, street lights, etc. However, carriers need to install many small cells to communicate with each other. S.342 and H.5944 encourage the installation of small cells by creating a consistent siting process across municipalities.
H.6305 and S.108 as amended – This new law directs the climate change coordinating council to study a carbon pricing program. The plan must include a study of the effectiveness of the state and/or multi-state carbon pricing program to incentivize institutions and industry to reduce carbon emissions, the effectiveness of allocating revenues generated from a carbon pricing program to fund enhanced incentives to institutions and industry for targeted efficiency measures; projected emissions reductions, economic impact to businesses, and any economic benefits to Rhode Island as well as impacts to the state's economic competitiveness if the program were implemented. The bills were signed by the Governor 7/18 and 7/19. The Chamber will be following this study closely.
S.350 SubB and H.5932 SubA as amended – were signed by the Governor on 7/5 and 9/27 respectively. The new law bars employers from deducting from any employee’s wages, amounts for “spoilage or breakage, shortages or losses, and fines or penalties for tardiness, misconduct or quitting.” Federal law already prohibits deducting from wages for these items from many employees. The original version of S.350 would have barred the deduction of any amount of wages unless specifically allowed under federal or state law. The original language would have barred the deduction for health insurance premiums, gym memberships, charitable deductions, etc. unless the employee agreed to it in writing. The bills were amended at the very end of the session which was a positive result for the business community.
H.6308 and S.777 – These acts require that an automated external defibrillator (AED) and a qualified person to administer an AED be available at all public places capable of holding three hundred (300) people or more. The statute defines "public place" as “an enclosed area capable of holding three hundred (300) people or more and to which the public is invited or in which the public is permitted, including, but not limited to, banks, bars, educational facilities, health care facilities, laundromats, public transportation facilities, reception areas, restaurants, retail food production and marketing establishments, retail service establishments, retail stores, shopping malls, sports arenas, government offices, theaters, and waiting rooms. A private residence is not a "public place" unless it is used as a child care, adult day care, or health care facility.” The bills were signed into law 10/5 and became effective immediately.
Law Effective Without the Governor’s Signature
H.5623 SubAaa and S.373 SubA – This new law requires that any applicant or holder of a retail license for the sale of alcoholic beverages (excluding Class F or those covered under RIGL 3-7-27) be required to file a certificate of insurance evidencing liability insurance coverage at a minimum amount of $300,000. Failure to maintain insurance as required shall result in a revocation of the retail license unless the holder of the license reinstates insurance coverage within 48 hours of notice of revocation. The law became effective August 1, 2017 and applies to new license applications as well as license renewals.
Governor Raimondo vetoed a few bills during the legislative session. The House and Senate can come back into session to override those vetoes, thus allowing the bills to become law over the objections of the Governor. To override a veto, 2/3 of the members of the House and of the Senate must vote in favor of the override. The following bills of interest were vetoed by the Governor:
H.5593 SubA - This act would have required that the contractual provisions contained in an expired collective bargaining agreement with certified school teachers and municipal employees would continue until a successor agreement has been reached between the parties. The Governor vetoed the bill 7/19.
S.772 SubA – This bill would have created a work disabling presumption for any firefighter who passed a physical examination upon entry into service and who later contracts disabling hypertension, stroke, or heart disease. Firefighters who are disabled due to a work injury receive their disability pensions - a percentage of their pay - and are not required to pay taxes on the income. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner expressed concerns over the potential financial liability to the pension funds should this law pass. The Governor Vetoed this bill 9/27.