What we hope will not become a reoccurring theme in UTD is a cancellation due to snow storms; but the possibility remains in the upcoming week. Last Tuesday all hearings were again postponed thanks to Mother Nature. However, the Wednesday Senate Labor Committee minimum wage hearing changed the quiet halls into an active scene. Business groups – including the Chamber – testified against the bills siting increased costs and the added difficulties associated with compensating those workers who already make over minimum wage today. RI Working Families argued that employees should be able to raise a family by working one job and later took to Facebook by referring to the Chambers, as well as a respected business owner who testified against the bills, as “clowns” and posted a video of Krusty the Clown from the Simpsons.
The Chamber also testified against H.7827 (Reps. Handy, Regunberg, McKiernan Barros and Williams) which creates what is called the Rhode Island Global Warming Solutions Act. While this bill was featured last week in UTD, what was not said is that the bill would require 5% of all cars sold in RI to be electric vehicles by 2025, 40% by 2035 and 95% by 2050. All buildings – residential and commercial would have to switch to electric heat: 10% by 2025, all new buildings after 2035 and 100% of all buildings by 2050. If the government failed to reach those targets, ay person could sue to enforce the law. The latest federal Energy Information Agency shows that Rhode Islanders have the 5th highest electric rates in the country. The RI Environmental Coalition is pushing the bill, led by the Conservation Law Foundation.
Lastly, the hearing on the plastic bag bill, H.7851, was postponed at the sponsor’s request. It will be rescheduled in the future.
What’s Going On This Week
On Tuesday, March 20th, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear S.2529 (Senators Euer, Goldin, Sosnowski, Coyne, and Seveney). If passed, all insurance plans, starting January 1, 2019, would be required to cover contraceptive drugs and devices. Curiously, plans must also cover voluntary sterilization procedures except male sterilization coverage under high deductible plans. No co-pays, deductibles, or cost sharing provisions may be charged by the insurance carrier/provider to the patient. The cost impact of the potential new mandate is unknown at this time.
Wednesday, March 21st promises to be a very busy day. The House Finance Committee will be taking testimony on Governor Raimondo’s proposal to pass yet another 25-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax. This follows a 50-cent increase implemented in last year’s budget. Today, Rhode Islander’s pay $4.25 in tax for each pack of cigarettes purchased. For convenience store operators, cigarettes are the second highest selling item inside the store walls – second to lottery tickets.
The Senate Labor Committee will take testimony on two bills Wednesday. S.2475 (Senators Goldin, Goodwin, Ruggerio, Lynch Prata, and McCaffrey) requires employers to pay employees at the same wage rate if they have the similar skills, efforts, responsibilities, and work in similar working conditions. A wage differential is allowed if: (1) a seniority system exists (although pregnancy leave, medical leave and family leave can’t affect the seniority calculation); (2) a merit system has been adopted; (3) a system exists that measures quantity output – and the business can prove it is a fair calculation; or (4) some other system that the business can prove is based on necessity and that the system is not based on gender or race. If an employer is deemed to be in violation of this act, the employer can not cure the situation by lowering the wages of other employees. If an applicant requests a copy of the wage ranges for all comparable jobs in the company prior to the employer asking the applicant about wage expectations, that request must be honored; and every employee has the right to ask for the company’s current wage range comparisons annually. Finally, any employee that successfully challenges his/her wages is entitled to unpaid back wages, benefits, other compensatory damages and liquidated damages equal to three times the unpaid wages and benefits owed. The Chamber opposes S.2475.
S.2638 (Senators Goodwin and Goldin) requires businesses with 100 or more employees to file an annual report with the Department of Labor. The report must contain information regarding the compensation and hours worked by employees broken down by gender, race, ethnicity, and job category. Should an employer fail to submit the report, the Department can file and action in court to compel the company to comply. The Chamber opposes S.2638.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture will take testimony on S.2188 (Senators Calkin, Miller, Sosnowski, Coyne, and Seveney). This bill creates the “Energize Rhode Island” program. The costs associated with S.2188 would place high financial burdens on businesses that rely on carbon based fuel for transport, heat, or electricity. The bill imposes a $15 per ton carbon tax on all fossil fuels that escalates $5 per ton every year thereafter until the rate equals $50 per ton. Once the $50 per ton rate is reached, the tax would raise annually according to the rate of inflation. The implementation trigger date is dependent upon passage of a carbon fee of at least $5 per metric ton in Massachusetts and one other New England state. Electric companies would pay the tax on behalf of their customers which would then be passed along to the consumer. The goal is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. The taxes collected are placed into the Energize Rhode Island Fund. Twenty-eight (28%) would be used to fund climate change resiliency projects and renewable energy programs. Thirty percent (30%) is slated to be returned to businesses based on FTEs. Forty percent (40%) would be returned to Rhode Island residents over the age of 18 either through a tax credit or a dividend. Heads of households would receive an extra “bump” for every dependent under the age of 18. Up to two percent (2%) would go to administrative costs.
Thursday, March 22nd will find the House Labor Committee taking up a number of bills of interest to the business community. H.7024 (Reps. O'Brien, Marshall, Corvese, McNamara, and Slater) makes it unlawful to subject an employee to an abusive work environment. An employer will be vicariously liable for the abuse to an employee unless the employer can prove “the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and to promptly correct any actionable behavior” or that the abused employee failed to take advantage of opportunities provided by the employer. A private right of action is the sole remedy for the complaint. H.7115 (Reps. Ranglin-Vassell, Regunberg, Ajello, Donovan, and Perez), H.7116 (Reps. Perez, Vella-Wilkinson, Hull, and McKiernan) and H.7242 (Reps. Vella-Wilkinson, Lombardi, Casimiro, Hull, and Jacquard) all prohibit an employer from requesting salary history or benefits information -whether orally or in writing – from job applicants. These bills are meant to combat wage inequality. H.7427 (Reps. Donovan, Ruggiero, Ranglin-Vassell, Shekarchi, and Blazejewski) is the same bill as S.2475 (see Senate Labor Committee above).
The following bills were filed last week:
House Bill No. 7970
BY Tobon, Cunha, Edwards, Maldonado, Marshall
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY -- RHODE ISLAND REAL ESTATE TIME-SHARE ACT (Amends several processes relative to the termination of a time-share agreement and the division of the ownership interests thereto.)
House Resolution No. 7975
BY Marszalkowski, Morin, Tobon, O`Grady, Newberry
ENTITLED, HOUSE RESOLUTION CREATING A SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION TO STUDY AND MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS TO ENCOURAGE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WITHIN BLACKSTONE VALLEY (Creates an 18 member commission to study and provide recommendations to encourage economic development within the Blackstone Valley, and who would report back to the House of Representatives by February 5, 2019, and would expire on May 5, 2019.)
Senate Bill No. 2638
BY Goodwin, Goldin
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - EQUAL PAY DATA COLLECTION AND REPORTING (Requires an employer of 100 or more employees to annually report information regarding the compensation and hours worked of employees by gender, race, ethnicity, and job category to the department of labor and training.)