An Update from the State House
Last week, the Senate Labor Committee, after taking testimony on a number of business-related bills, held those bills for further study. This simply means that the bills remain alive. S.373. allows employees who are covered by an employer sponsored disability insurance program to elect to be exempt from the state temporary disability insurance program. S.615 bars employers from refusing to hire, discharge, or “otherwise discriminate” against a person with respect to any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of his or her status as a medical marijuana cardholder - including because of a positive drug test for marijuana at the workplace or during the hours of employment. S.835 makes it an unlawful employment practice for any person, whether or not an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or employee, “to directly or indirectly commit any act declared by this section to be an unlawful employment practice” (the quoted language would be new law). Additionally the legislation allows individual employees to be held liable for their actions with fellow employees.
This Week at the State House
As of last Sunday, the hearing schedule for the House and Senate was very light, which could mean that both sides are discussing which bills are on the favored and disfavored lists. To date only two hearings are noteworthy.
The House Finance Committee is meeting Tuesday at the Rise, approximately 4:30 p.m., to allow the fiscal staff to provide a budget status briefing. The briefing will take place in Room 35.
On the same day, Senate Finance will be meeting at the Rise in Room 211. S.134, An Act Relating to Taxation, would correct what some believe was an oversight a few years ago when income tax reform was adopted. Under current law, a non-resident seller of real estate must have 9% of the sales price held by the closing attorney until such time as the individual’s personal income tax is paid in April. That made sense when the highest tax bracket was 9%; but since it has been lowered to 7%, it makes sense to lower the non-resident withholding amount as well. S.669, An Act Relating to Taxation – Real Estate Conveyance, will also be heard in committee. It allows the City of Newport to institute a 2% real estate transfer tax on the buyer of property.
The following bill was filed last week:
House Bill No. 6117 Costantino, Hawkins, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - MINIMUM WAGES (Exempts full-time college students employed by the college or university they attend from the requirement of a three (3) hour work shift guarantee by the employer.)
An Update from the State House
Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) Finishes Work
The eight and a half hour meeting of the Department of Revenue staff, the Senate Fiscal Policy staff and the House Fiscal Policy staff showed just how dedicated these individuals are to making the best budget estimates possible. The bottom line: Rhode Island is expected to end the current fiscal year with $4,017,910,000 in state revenue which is up $24.8 million from the estimate made in November of 2018. While that is certainly good news, it is a narrow victory given the budget proposal put for by the Governor for FY2020 includes many new initiatives.
The REC estimates total general revenues for FY2020 to be $3,952,450,000 (not including the hospital licensing fee; so the total general revenue for FY2020 is relatively the same). So how does the Conference determine that number? The members go through every tax from personal income to business corporation tax, to inheritance and gift taxes, to gambling, realty transfers etc and discuss a rationale for each assumption. One of the longest debates came with the sales tax collection assumption. The Revenue Department (represents the Governor’s office) wanted to assume a 7% growth rate over the current fiscal year, while the Senate assumed 3.1% and the House assumed 3.9%. The Tax Division stated that the large increase was justified by an expected uptick in collections from the new software tax and security services tax. Of the 30,000 taxpayers believed to be subject to these new taxes, about a third have not filed the required tax reconciliation forms. The Division said this is not unusual as entities subject to new taxes often do not realize they should be paying the tax. The Division plans to send out a notice to all of those businesses that have not filed the reconciliation form and then follow up with audits. After much back and forth debate, the Conference settled on a 4.1% growth in sales tax, meaning the state expects to collect a total of $1,172,900,000 in sales and use tax next fiscal year.
The next longest debate centered around sports gambling. It was extremely difficult for all of the members to determine a comfortable estimate for this revenue given the current experience. The remote sports gambling technology is slated to be up and running September 1st. The REC decided to allow for two additional weeks of lag time before the start date in the event more time is need for testing of equipment or any delays in equipment arrival. Ultimately, the state is estimating to receive $22.7 million next year in sports betting. The total revenue estimated to be received from all gaming sources (casino, lottery, sports) is $412.8 million. This represents a $12.7 million increase over the current fiscal year.
Other revenues estimates for FY2020 include Business Corporation Tax of $164 million (down $500,000 from FY2019); Personal Income Tax of $1,426,800,000 (up $42.8 million over FY2019); Inheritance and Gift Tax of $38 million (down $10 million over FY2019) and Public Utilities Gross Receipt Tax of $103.2 million (up $300,000 over FY2019).
The FY2020 budget was projected to face a $100 million deficit. The expenses for the state did see a reduction over projected expenses since last November, so it is not clear yet just how much the revenue estimates will eat away at the projected deficit. The Finance Committees will now take this information and begin to re-shape the Governor’s proposed budget to address priorities of the House, Senate and Governor’s office. Difficult choices will have to be made. The FY2020 budget is expected to be released sometime in June.
This Week At the State House
If you have to be at the State House Tuesday, May 14th give yourself extra time. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on S.152 SubA and H.5125 SubA. These are the bills referred to as the state codification of the Roe v. Wade decision (proponents and opponents disagree on how close the language is to Roe v Wade). The State House is expected to be very crowded that day, and the lines to go through building security will likely be long.
On Wednesday, May 15th, the Senate Education Committee will meet at the Rise (approximately 4:30 p.m.) in Room 313 to take testimony on the newly filed education reform package. The link to the bills – S.863, S.864, S.865, S.866, S.867, S.868 and S. 869 can be found below in the newly filed bills listing. The bills address a number of issues like the development of statewide academic standards and curriculum frameworks for the core subjects; providing school principals with more authority to handle personnel and budget matters; and establishing a system to evaluate schools. The House Health Education and Welfare Committee will take up the house bills dealing with education reform (H.6084, H.6085, H.6098, H.6099 and H.6100) the same day, same time in Room 101.
The Senate Labor Committee will be taking testimony on a number of business-related bills Wednesday, May 15th at the Rise in the Senate Lounge. One bill the Chamber supports is S.373. It allows employees who are covered by an employer sponsored disability insurance program to elect to be exempt from the state temporary disability insurance program. The employer is required to show documentation to the Department of Labor and Training to prove such coverage exists. S.615 bars employers from refusing to hire, discharge, or “otherwise discriminate” against a person with respect to any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of his or her status as a medical marijuana cardholder - including because of a positive drug test for marijuana at the workplace or during the hours of employment. S.835 would make it an unlawful employment practice for any person, whether or not an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or employee, “to directly or indirectly commit any act declared by this section to be an unlawful employment practice” (the quoted language would be new law). Additionally the legislation allows individual employees to be held liable for their actions with fellow employees.
The following bill was filed last week:
House Bill No. 6084 Amore, Mattiello, Shekarchi, Edwards, Blazejewski, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- EDUCATION ACCOUNTABILITY ACT (Provides for greater school-based management at the school level and expands the duties of school improvement teams and establishes a new chapter on education accountability.)
House Bill No. 6085 Barros, Ackerman, Bennett, Corvese, Shanley, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION - CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS (Allows teachers to obtain fast-track certification as a principal.)
House Bill No. 6086 Serodio, Hawkins, Amore, Noret, Shekarchi, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- HEALTH AND SAFETY OF PUPILS (Increases the members of public school personnel to include all trained school administrators, teachers, or SROs among those authorized to administer an opioid antagonist where there is an emergency drug overdose in a school setting.)
House Bill No. 6087 Williams, Vella-Wilkinson, O'Brien, Caldwell, McKiernan, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- HEALTHY WORKPLACE (Creates the "Healthy Workplace Act of 2019" and would establish a cause of action against employers and employees for workplace bullying, harassment and other abusive conduct.)
House Bill No. 6098 Alzate, Maldonado, Edwards, Speakman, Slater, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION - CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS (Directs the council on elementary and secondary education to implement teacher licensure tests modeled after the Massachusetts tests for educator licensure, commencing on July 1, 2021.)
House Bill No. 6099 Caldwell, Diaz, Noret, Morin, Knight, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS (Directs the council on elementary and secondary education to implement a teacher assessment and evaluation system which emphasizes the alignment of instruction delivered to the state's standards.)
House Bill No. 6100 Mendez, Fellela, Jackson, Vella-Wilkinson, Hawkins, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS (Creates a provisional educator certification to be issued by the board of education to teachers who meet qualifications set by the board and who shall be subject to supervisory conditions set by the board.)
Senate Bill No. 863 Gallo, Ruggerio, Goodwin, McCaffrey, Algiere, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION - CURRICULUM (Requires the commissioner of education to develop statewide academic standards and curriculum frameworks for the core subjects of mathematics, English language arts, science and technology, history and social studies, world languages, and the arts.)
Senate Bill No. 864 Satchell, DiPalma, Pearson, Seveney, Paolino, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- CURRICULUM (Direct the council on elementary and secondary education to provide professional support and assistance to LEAs regarding effective ways to use data such as the LEA’s budget and demographics, school culture, and assessments to improve student performance.)
Senate Bill No. 865 Pearson, McCaffrey, Algiere, Goodwin, Ruggerio, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- THE RHODE ISLAND BOARD OF EDUCATION ACT (Expands the duties of principals over school personnel/facilities/budget/eliminates commissioner of post secondary education/authorizes board of education to adopt system evaluating public schools/local education agencies.)
Senate Bill No. 866 Sheehan, Quezada, Seveney, DiPalma, Felag, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION - CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS - TESTING REQUIREMENTS FOR NEW TEACHERS (Establishes testing requirements for initial certification of new teachers on or after July 1, 2021.)
Senate Bill No. 867 Paolino, Quezada, Pearson, DiPalma, Gallo, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION -- CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS (Establishes a procedure for the certification of provisional educators.)
Senate Bill No. 868 Seveney, DiPalma, Cano, Lombardi, Lynch Prata, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION - TRAINING AND EVALUATION - NEW EVALUATION REQUIREMENTS (Directs council on elementary and secondary education to implement assessment and evaluation system. Also requires local education agencies (LEAs) to adopt the model assessment and evaluation system for use in their schools.)
Senate Bill No. 869 Metts, Goodwin, Gallo, Quezada, Pearson, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION - TRAINING AND EVALUATION - FAST-TRACK PRINCIPAL CERTIFICATION PROGRAM (Allows teachers to obtain certification as a principal in an expedited period of time.)
Chairman, Mark DeVine participates in a Business Walk on May 7th in the East Bay to kick off Small Business Week, meeting with businesses who gave open and honest feedback. The hope is that this walk helped community leaders to better understand the needs of the business community, so they can make more informed decisions and provide resource and support to help business retention and growth. www.connectgreaternewport.com
Quick Overview of Last Week
Straws – The Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee held S.292 SubA for further study following a backlash from environmental groups over the inclusion of state preemption language in the amended version of the bill. Business groups requested preemption in order to avoid traps that come with the potential of 39 different rules.
Global Warming and Carbon Tax – These bills were held for further study by the committee. The Chamber provided oral testimony along with one other business group, siting the existing high cost of energy in the state and the fact the bill calls for a $15 per metric ton of carbon tax if two other states pass a $5 per metric ton tax. Many proponents testified during the 3 hour hearing noting the level of sea rise and storm changes, while one pleaded not to allow Earth to become the next Venus which she claimed is hot, not because it is closer to the sun but because the carbon on the planet is trapped in the atmosphere instead of the ground.
Non Compete Clause – Both the Senate and House versions were held for further study while amended language is worked on with input from various interest groups.
This Week at the State House
FY2020 Budget Update
This week will end with the final Revenue Estimating Conference meeting that takes place Friday, May 10th. The Governor, House Finance and Senate Finance committees will come to an agreement on revenues available for the FY2020 budget. As has been stated before, this is a crucial meeting (begins at 9:00 a.m.) setting the stage for the development of the budget and all of the issues the business community has discussed with legislators over the past four months.
Last week, economists painted a gloomy picture of the job growth opportunities in Rhode Island. December of 2018 saw the state reach its high point in the number of jobs, a number that appears to have been overstated at the time. Rhode Island lost about 2800 jobs in the last quarter, and with the overstated job number from December, it appears the state has 10,000 fewer jobs than that reported at the end of 2018. An economist from HIS Markit provided testimony that 3,200 jobs were eliminated from the administrative support sector (including office personnel, HR, security and collections) and the waste management services sector. The HIS experts do believe the state will experience a slight growth in jobs but that the economy is basically headed for a flat growth by 2023. Young people – ages 16-24 are expected to exit Rhode Island, as the percentage of workers age 55 and over increases.
Retail Acceptance of Cash
The House Corporations Committee is expected to pass H.5116 in an amended form on Tuesday. The proposed SubA requires all retailers to accept cash for payment of goods and services except any on-line purchases or any internet purchases.
Naloxone In Public Places
On Tuesday, May 7 at the Rise, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services will take testimony on S.827; a bill that requires public places (places holding 100 or more people) to have on site a naloxone box and at least one person properly trained in how to administer the life-saving injection or nose spray to anyone experiencing a drug overdose. The bill does contain a Good Samaritan clause protecting anyone who acts (or fails to act) to assist a person in need unless it constitutes gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct.
School Building Projects Union Only
The Senate Labor Committee appears ready to pass S.713 SubA on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. The bill requires school building projects, valued at $5 million or more, to hire only contractors that have – prior to bidding on the project - apprentices in every “apprenticeable trade” that will be needed to complete the job. The contractor must also ensure that no less than 10% of the labor hours worked on the project are performed by apprentices. An escape clause exists in the bill; but the clause is only triggered after the bid has been awarded. The wording of this bill ensures that only union contractors will be able to bid on these school projects, because no merit shop contractor can meet the apprenticeship requirement given the apprentice to journeyman ratios that currently exist in Rhode Island law.
Employee Bills In Senate Judiciary
Thursday, May 9 at the Rise will find the Senate Judiciary Committee taking testimony on various employee/employer bills. S.169 proposes to end Rhode Island’s Employee-At-Will doctrine. S.460 changes the definition of employee under the Fair Employment Practices Act to include family members, apprentices, volunteers, unpaid interns, and elected officials. The bill also allows employees to be held individually liable for actions against fellow employees. S.493, submitted on behalf of the Attorney General’s office, adopts a version of what is known as the MA 93A law. The AG’s office would be permitted to seek civil damages for violations of the Deceptive Trade law as interpreted by the AG. This bill is particularly troublesome for industries that are heavily regulated by other agencies, as what one agency believes is an appropriate action, the AG could interpret differently and bring charges. Finally, S.598 forbids an employer to require an employee to execute a nondisclosure agreement; or non-disparagement agreement regarding alleged violations of civil rights or criminal conduct as a condition of employment.
The following bill was filed last week:
House Bill No. 6054 Azzinaro, Kennedy, Shekarchi, Edwards, Blazejewski, AN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONS -- MOTOR VEHICLE REPAIR SHOP ACT (Allows a motor vehicle repair shop owner to sell, at a commercially recordable sale, a customer's vehicle if they fail to pay over thirty (30) days of properly charged storage fees.)
House Bill No. 6062 Ackerman, Shekarchi, Bennett, Amore, McNamara, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY -- RESTROOM ACCESS ACT (Requires retail establishments with 3 persons or more on premises without public restrooms to allow customers to use employee restrooms for certain medical conditions upon presentation of documentary proof with violators fined $250. Effective 1/1/20)
Senate Bill No. 827 Valverde, Miller, Goldin, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY - NALOXONE PUBLIC ACCESS PROGRAM (Requires public places to have naloboxes or naloxone on the premises for access and use during emergencies by trained employees or the general public with "Good Samaritan" protections.)
Senate Bill No. 835 Lombardi, Ciccone, Lombardo, Gallo, McCaffrey, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- UNLAWFUL EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES (Prohibits an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or employee, to commit any act declared to be an unlawful employment practice; individuals would be held personally liable for such conduct.)
Senate Bill No. 836 Lombardi, Ciccone, Lombardo, Gallo, McCaffrey, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - PAYMENT OF WAGES (Creates a mechanism for employees to enforce their existing right to continuation of medical benefits, reinstatement of status and benefits after returning from being a temporary caregiver and relating to Sunday wage laws.)
Senate Bill No. 848 Goodwin, Ruggerio, McCaffrey, AN ACT RELATING TO COURTS AND CIVIL PROCEDURE -- PROCEDURE GENERALLY -- CAUSES OF ACTION (An insurer found in violation of the unfair claims settlement practices act can be liable for three (3) times the amount of damages.)
Senate Bill No. 849 Goodwin, Ruggerio, McCaffrey, AN ACT RELATING TO INSURANCE -- UNFAIR CLAIMS SETTLEMENT PRACTICES ACT (Amends and expand the definitions of unfair claims practices committed by insurers with regard to physical inspection, performance of appraisals, retail valuation and total loss notification to owner.)