Chamber Connections BLOG
Chamber Connections BLOG
By Liz Tanner, Esq.
Executive Vice President- Client Services
Rhode Island Commerce Corporation
Q. Why doesn’t the state have someone like an ombudsman to address issues that are faced by small businesses?
A. Actually, the state does have a Small Business Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is part of the Office of Regulatory Reform, but is housed at the RI Commerce Corporation to better align the role of the Small Business Ombudsman with established goals to strengthen cross-system collaboration with Rhode Island’s business community and state agencies and organizations. The Ombudsman provides customer assistance to help small businesses understand regulatory or permitting requirements and navigate the regulatory environment within the state. Here is an example of what the Ombudsman does: if a business is hindered by a regulatory or permitting problem the ombudsman can facilitate meetings with regulatory entities to help resolve these issues. The Ombudsman has the capacity to work through complex issues in order to improve the efficiency of government and support small business growth and opportunity. If your business may be caught-up in a regulatory or permitting issue, or for more information, call 401-278-9100 and ask to speak with Nancy Scarduzio, Small Business Ombudsman.
Q. I keep hearing about the APA and that the regulations are being re-written. What does that mean for me as a business owner?
A. The Rhode Island Administrative Procedures Act (APA, RIGL §42-35-1, et seq.) governs agency rulemaking, including how state agencies propose and promulgate regulations. Every state rulemaking entity, unless exempt under statute, is subject to the APA.
The purposes of the APA include:
• Keeping the public informed of agency rulemaking activities
• Providing the opportunity for public participation in the development of regulations
• Establishing uniform standards for the conduct of formal rulemaking
• Improving the quality of state regulations
Rhode Island is reorganizing all Executive Branch regulations into a uniform state code. This is the Rhode Island Code of Regulations (RICR) initiative. This code will be available online and supported by an updated web portal in 2018. This project is being led by the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) and the Office of Regulatory Reform (ORR). Agencies must codify all existing regulations into the RICR by December 31, 2018. During the codification process, agencies will be amending some of their regulations. Businesses can register with the SOS Rules Tracker to stay up to date on regulatory changes.
What this means for business owners, is that regulations will be up-to-date, in a standardized format, and will be easier to navigate to find the regulations of interest or that pertain to your entity. Currently, regulated entities looking to identify which regulations apply to them, and which regulatory actions are being considered, should check the SOS website. This website includes details about how to comment on proposed regulations. For more information, visit the SOS website at http://sos.ri.gov/divisions/open-government/state/rules-and-regulations, or visit the ORR website at http://www.omb.ri.gov/reform/#APA
Owned and operated by Barrington residents Joe Caron and his wife Diane Catanzaro, Caron Jewelers celebrates its 3rd year in business, at 473 Hope Street in Bristol.
Anniversary highlights include month-long sales and a raffle giveaway. For every $100 spent, customers receive a raffle ticket and the winner will receive a rose-gold ring. Drawing will take place on April 28 at 6 p.m.
For more information on the event call 401-253-9460 or visit Caron Jewelers on Facebook and at www.caronjewelers.com.
About Caron Jewelers
Caron Jewelers is a family owned and operated jewelry business that was first opened by Joe's parents, Bert and Dot Caron, in 1956. Though the store changed hands for a brief period in the mid 2000s, Joe Caron returned to the family business in 2014. Now an iconic window front on Hope Street, the store is known for its colorful and whimsical displays that change with the seasons and are created by Diane, who is also an artist.
Caron Jewelers' has undergone many transformations including a renovated interior. The modern ambience and charming layout showcases an eclectic selection of classic and modern jewelry designs. Current high-end lines include: Nicole Barr, Marika, British designer Jonathan Lynne Ltd., precious natural stone designs from The Rare Earth Mining Company, luxury men and women's watches from Citizen, vintage estate jewelry, and the celebrity-praised Doron Paloma's Dove collection.
Caron Jewelers also creates custom wedding, engagement, and fine jewelry pieces. Along with designer inventory, the store carries handcrafted pottery from Three Wheel Studios in Providence, artist etchings from Diane, as well as its very own signature collection of Mt. Hope Jewelry.
Joe and Diane are appreciative of the warm welcome they have received since reopening, "We love being a part of the East Bay business scene. It is an amazingly diverse community and we enjoy getting to know our customers personally while providing a trust based service."
Last week ended “phase two” of the legislative session. Most bills are filed, a majority of the legislation has received a first hearing, and the General Assembly is now out for the week on April vacation break. Session will resume April 25th; and “phase three” will begin. The May Revenue Estimating Conference is usually held the first week of May. This is when all three branches of government will meet, debate and reach a conclusion as to how much money the state has in revenue, as well as how much the program caseloads are costing the state. Once those numbers are determined, the budget negotiations begin and the fight for passage of individual bills heightens. Because the legislature is on legislative break this week, “Under the Dome” will not be published next week.
Paid Sick Leave Bill Gets Senate Hearing – Your Action Needed
Last Wednesday, the Senate Labor Committee heard testimony from proponents and opponents of the paid sick leave bill - S.290 which requires every employer to provide paid sick and family leave to employees. While members of the business community, including the Chamber, pointed out the broad-reaching aspects of the bill’s language, there were only a couple senators that expressed concerns over potential harm to the business community. Please contact your state senator to let them know you oppose the passage of S.290. The leave accrues at 1 hour for every 30 hours worked up to a yearly maximum of 56 hours. The leave can be taken after the employee completes 90 days on the job. The leave can be used for the employee’s illness, illness of a parent, child, sibling, or anyone the employee has “an affinity” to which could mean friend. Leave can also be used for preventative care or domestic abuse issues – including stalking. An employee should notify the employer if it is reasonably possible, but employers cannot ask for proof of illness or domestic violence issues until the employee has been absent for 72 consecutive hours. The employer must hold the employee’s job for those three days. This is sometimes referred to as “No call, no show, no problem.”
Marijuana Discussion Continues
The House Judiciary Committee endured another very long night listening to advocates and opponents of the legalization of marijuana. H.5555 legalizes recreational marijuana and establishes a system of marijuana growing, processing, and distribution. H.5551 creates a 15 member commission to review and make recommendations on the effects of legalizing marijuana to the General Assembly by March 1, 2018. Both bills were held for further study which keeps them alive through the remainder of the session. According to testimony, about 17,000 Rhode Islanders already have medical marijuana cards. The police chiefs association submitted a document over 30 pages long that detailed specific cases where marijuana use has resulted in direct harm, sometimes death. Advocates pointed to medical benefits from the use of the drug, the higher arrest rate of minorities for marijuana use and the similarities between marijuana and alcohol. The Chamber testified against H.5555 citing a lack of protections for employers concerning workers’ compensation protection, lack of language ensuring employees cannot collect unemployment if terminated for use of the drug, dram shop issues, and liability for employees driving while high.
New Bill Takes on Temp Agency/Customer Relationship…And Others
Senator Calkin (D-Warwick) filed a new bill – S.771, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Wages (see link below). This bill appears to pierce the relationship between temporary employment agencies and their customers, but also affects subcontractors and general contractors. S.771 creates a definition for “Labor contractor” to include any person or entity that provides another company with “employees, independent contractors, subcontractors or workers of any kind to perform labor or services.” No written contract is required to establish this relationship to the Labor contractor. S.771 then defines “Lead entity” as a person or entity that accepts labor or services from someone through a “Lead contractor.” The real crux of the bill is the following: “A lead entity shall share with a labor contractor all civil legal responsibility and civil liability for all workers supplied by that labor contractor for any violation of title 28.” Title 28 covers most RI labor laws i.e. wages, hours, holidays, etc. In addition “the president and treasurer of a corporation and any officers or agents having the management of such corporation shall also be deemed civilly liable for a violation of title 28.”
The following new bills were filed:
House Bill No. 6106, AN ACT RELATING TO FOOD AND DRUGS - FROZEN DESSERTS (Eliminates multiple fees for frozen dessert processors licensed as food service establishments.)
House Bill No. 6111, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - UNLAWFUL EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES (Prohibits an employer from inquiring about a prospective employee wage and salary history before an offer of employment with compensation has been negotiated.)
House Bill No. 6125, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- RHODE ISLAND RETIREMENT SECURITY PROGRAM (Establishes a private employer IRA program allowing employees to contribute at least five percent (5%) of their payroll period wages into the IRA program, with oversight by the Rhode Island retirement security board.)
House Bill No. 6128, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - COMMERCE CORPORATION (Prohibits the commerce corporation, without general assembly approval or resolution, from providing leases, loan guarantees, grants or any other financial assistance, for any baseball park, recreational facility or any ancillary facility development.)
House Bill No. 6129, AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES (Amends provisions of the tax increment financing act in order to encourage municipalities to use tax increment financing to facilitate economic development.)
Senate Bill No. 746, AN ACT RELATING TO FOOD AND DRUGS - LABELING OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED RAW AND PACKAGED FOOD PRODUCTS (Requires that all genetically engineered food offered for retail sale in this state have a label disclosing that the food is genetically engineered food upon the occurrence of 4 other states adopting similar labeling laws as specified in this act.)
Senate Bill No. 747, AN ACT RELATING TO FOOD AND DRUGS - LABELING OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED RAW AND PACKAGED FOOD PRODUCTS (Requires that all genetically engineered food offered for retail sale in this state contain a label with the disclosure that the food is genetically engineered food.)
Senate Bill No. 756, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - ENERGY FACILITY SITING ACT (Prevents the energy facility siting board from proceeding to final hearing or issuing a final decision if one or more of the designated agencies inform the siting board that they are unable to form an advisory opinion due the conduct of the applicant.)
Senate Bill No. 758, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS -- LABOR AND PAYMENT OF DEBTS BY CONTRACTORS (Adds to the protection afforded to subcontractors on public work contracts, and provides for the award of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.)
Senate Bill No. 771, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - WAGES (Defines and recognizes the existence and potential liability of lead entities concerning the payment of wages.)
Senate Bill No. 773, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - UNLAWFUL EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES (Amends the fair employment practices act by clearly establishing that employees of a defendant employer may be individually liable for unfair employment practices.)
Senate Resolution No. 774, SENATE RESOLUTION RESPECTFULLY REQUESTING THAT THE RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING CREATES A “RETURN TO WORK” PLANNING GROUP TO STUDY THE POSSIBILITY OF DEVELOPING A HYBRID TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE PROGRAM SIMILAR TO THE STATE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PROGRAM THAT FACILITATES TREATING AND REHABILITATING WORKERS WITH MEDICAL CONDITIONS THAT WERE NOT CAUSED BY WORK
Justin Lombardo is the Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager at Bank 5 in Bristol, RI. He is a lifelong Rhode Islander; educated in the Barrington school system then went on to continue his education graduating from Rhode Island College. Justin got into the banking industry in 2007 and never looked back. He began as a banker and has worked all the way up to Assistant Vice President. He started off at Citizens Bank then held positions at Santander before finally ending up at Bank5 where he’s worked for over a year now.
Most people around here just know the Bank5 building as the old Wendy’s but after visiting I can tell you it’s so much more! While surrounded by a state of the art facility Justin lights up when talking about his daily operations. Bank 5 puts an emphasis on being a local bank with a community focus and this is very fitting to Justin’s personal interests.
"We sponsor, volunteer and give donations to many local events such as St. Elizabeth’s Parish, East Bay Pantry in Bristol annual golf tournament, St. Mary’s of the Bay Church Food Pantry in Warren, the Lincoln Soccer Club in Bristol, the Bristol Harbor Festival Blessing of the Fleet, Barrington Little League, Bristol Yacht Company, Bristol-Warren Art Night, and the Bristol Halloween Walk-a-Bout," said Justin. "As well as Volunteer Warren."
Justin won this feature by attending a business after hour’s event and had his business card selected at random. Make sure you attend our next event for an opportunity to win a feature.
An Update from the State House
New Senate Chairs Appointed
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, announced the appointment of two new committee chairs last week. Senator William Conley, Jr. (D-East Providence) was named the new Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Conley is the owner of the Law Office of William J. Conley, Jr. He was elected to the Senate in 2012 and served on the Judiciary Committee and Committee on Environment and Agriculture. Senator Erin Lynch Prata was appointed Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee following the elevation of Senator Michael McCaffrey to Majority Leader. Chair Lynch Prata (D-Warwick/Cranston) is an attorney in the private firm Lynch, Bernard & Lynch. Prata Lynch was elected to the senate in 2008 and has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
House Labor Committee Hears Testimony on Employee Benefits
On Thursday, the House Labor Committee heard testimony lasting five hours on the paid leave bill, minimum wage increase proposals, efforts to increase the tipped wage and a change in overtime application rules. Members of the business community gave of their time to attend as did proponents of the bills.
What became abundantly clear is that proponents believe it is the responsibility of employers to provide time off to employees not only if they are sick, but if any member of the employee’s family or friends are sick, have preventative health care appointments or are facing domestic violence issues. Story after story was relayed about how difficult it is to get elderly parents to doctor appointments and that the responsibility for caretaking falls to women who are taken advantage of in the workplace. Employers talked about the difficulties of covering employee shifts without notice that an employee will not be coming to work. The paid leave bill allows for “no call, no show, no problem.” The employee can be out for 72 hours without notice to the employer and the job must be held for that employee.
A representative of Blue Sun Campaigns testified that they conducted a study of Rhode Islanders to gauge support for paid leave. The pollster testified that 52.4% of those polled, strongly favored the bill and another 29.9% said they support some form of paid leave. The Blue Sun Campaigns website lists its mission as “Blue Sun Campaigns knows that winning elections at every level – local, state, and federal – is necessary to resist hate and promote progressive ideals. We have the experience of hundreds of campaigns, helping diverse candidates in more than a dozen states win elections and fight for for social justice.”
The Chamber testified against the bill along with other business coalition members. Please contact your state representative and state senator. Tell them the sick pay bill is unworkable.
House Labor to Meet Thursday on More Employee Benefit Bills
On Thursday at approximately 4:30pm the House Labor Committee will meet in the House Lounge to hear testimony on bullying in the workplace, employment at will elimination and other benefit bills:
H.5604, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – TDI Coverage would allow RI resident who work for an out-of-state nongovernmental employer, to apply for coverage under RI’s TDI program. An individual must have a RI driver’s license or a RI ID to be eligible for the program, and the person must financially contribute to the program for one year before benefits can be taken.
H.5847, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Payment of Wages is gives employees a right to place a lien on an employer’s property. This legislation is slightly different than the bill filed in 2016, but still maintains some of the same onerous policies. Under the bill, if an employee believes he/she has been paid improperly and is owed wages, that employee can give written notice to the employer of the amount of wages owed and a description of the employer’s property on which the employee plans to place a lien. The notice must be sent certified mail, return receipt requested. The employer then has 30 days to file a complaint in Superior Court. If the employer files the complaint, the court can place a temporary lien on the property and take 30 days to determine if the wages are actually owed to the employee. If the court determines the employee is in fact owed wages, the employer must pay all of the employee’s court costs and attorney fees. If the court determines the wages are not owed AND the case was frivolous or in bad faith, the court MAY order the employee to pay the employer’s court costs and attorney fees. In the event the employer fails to file a complaint in Superior Court, the employee may file the lien in the land evidence records and that lien is binding. The Chamber OPPOSES the passage of H.5847.
H.5862, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Healthy Workplace establishes a private right of action against employers and employees for workplace bullying, harassment and other abusive conduct that is tolerated by employers.
H.5933, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Wrongful Discharge From Employment basically ends Rhode Island's adoption of the "employment-at-will" legal doctrine. Employees could only be terminated for good cause, and could subject the employer to punitive damages if the termination was considered to be done with malice.
The following new bills were filed:
House Bill No. 6033, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- RHODE ISLAND HEALTH BENEFIT EXCHANGE (Authorize the RI health benefit exchange to seek a waiver under the Affordable Care Act to allow qualified small business owners/sole proprietors to purchase qualified health benefit plans offered by the exchange directly from a registered carrier.)
House Bill No. 6052, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - MINIMUM WAGE (Allows employers to pay the greater or 75% of the state minimum wage rate, or the federal minimum wage rate to employees eighteen (18) years or younger during the first six hundred eighty (680) hours or ninety (90) days of their employment.)
House Bill No. 6053, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - PAYMENT OF WAGES (Eliminates repealed statute references and creates a mechanism for workers to enforce their existing right to continuation of medical benefits, reinstatement after returning from being a temporary caregiver and Sunday pay wage laws.)
House Bill No. 6057, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY - COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE BROKER LIEN (Provides that failure to record a notice of lien by the real estate broker in accordance with chapter 49 of title 34, the commercial estate broker lien act, would result in dismissal of a complaint pursuant to the act.)
Senate Bill No. 631, AN ACT RELATING TO CORPORATIONS, ASSOCIATIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS - RHODE ISLAND LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY ACT (Provides 5 years for LLC to wind up and close its affairs.)
Senate Bill No. 659, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY - FORMS AND EFFECT OF CONVEYANCES (Provides that all transfers of a mortgage interest on residential property be recorded so as to provide a clean chain of title for consumers to track the owner of their mortgage loans.)
Senate Bill No. 675, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - EMPLOYMENT SECURITY - BENEFITS (Amends our worksharing law by allowing employers more flexibility in the reduction of work hours among its employees and by allowing more leeway on the start date of an adopted worksharing plan.)
Senate Bill No. 678, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE (Expands TDI benefits, changes the calculation of the taxable wage base, includes state and municipal employees; increases the maximum number of weeks an employee can collect TDI and TCI; and expands TCI benefits for the care of siblings and grandchildren.)
Senate Bill No. 679, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE - COVERAGE (Allows Rhode Island residents who work for an out-of-state nongovernmental employer to apply for coverage under Rhode Island's Temporary Disability Insurance program.)
Senate Bill No. 689, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - SALES AND USE TAXES (Raises the local hotel tax rate from one percent to two and one-half percent.)
Q. With Winter just about behind us, what has the state done to better connect business to emergency information?
A. Emergency Management (EMA) and RI Commerce, in partnership with the business community, will launch the Rhode Island Alliance for Business Resilience (The Alliance).
The Alliance will be a self-governed public-private partnership focused on improving the resilience of Rhode Island businesses during emergencies. Formal discussions between business leaders and state government officials began in January 2016. Participants recognized the potential for greater resilience and speed of recovery if businesses and associations are collectively focused under a statewide umbrella. In the year since it came together, the steering committee defined its mission and developed a governance document. It is a work in progress but the Alliance will be ready to expand and welcome new members and partners.
• What are the benefits of membership? Emergency response and recovery is not just in the hands of government officials – it requires a “whole community” approach. The Alliance will be a voice for the business community in disaster response and recovery. The most important benefit to membership will be access to information during the entire cycle of an emergency. During quiet periods, it will serve as a community of peers who share best practices and experience in business resilience.
• How does a company/entity become a member? Prospective members or strategic partners will be required to fill out an application on the Alliance website. Membership will be available to companies or nonprofits that employ 50 or more people, trade associations, and chambers of commerce. Strategic partnership will also be available to public sector organizations that support the mission of the Alliance with information and/or resources. Applications will be reviewed by the steering committee and evaluated based on specific relevance to the Alliance’s mission and the needs and structure of its relationship to the State of Rhode Island, especially participation in ESF18. Member companies will be required to provide proof of good business standing through records with the Better Business Bureau and/or the RI Secretary of State’s office.
• What kinds of business continuity plans does RI have in place? Individual businesses are responsible for their own continuity plans. There are resources available, including information on the RIEMA website about how to develop business continuity plans.
Q. How do Rhode Island businesses now have a “seat at the table” with ESF-18?
A. RIEMA has established an Emergency Support Function (ESF) for the business community in the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC). It provides a conduit for the state to get information to the business community through chambers of commerce and trade organizations, and to get information from the business community to the State. It is staffed by individuals responsible for communications with the business community from the RI Commerce Corporation, RIEMA, and members of the Alliance.
Q. How does RIEMA interact with the business community and ESF-18?
A. RIEMA provides guidance through their website, and is partnering with the business community through the Alliance to create a more in-depth dialogue around business continuity issues. ESF-18 is part of RIEMA’s program for business representation in the SEOC. The Alliance is a public-private partnership driven by the business community to focus on resilience and continuity. Members of the Alliance are offered the opportunity to provide properly trained personnel to the SEOC through ESF-18. RI recognizes the importance of working with the business community and is adding to the emergency management structure by more directly including businesses. RIEMA provides guidance, training, and information to the business community, and is now broadening this involvement to have commercial entities participate directly in emergency management.
Upcoming Events & Deadlines:
• April 4: Rhode Island Commerce Corporation Small Business Assistance Program Information Session
More information and registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ri-commerce-corporation-small-business-assistance-program-info-session-tickets-33017413974
• April 12: Main Street Grant Applications are due
More information and application: http://commerceri.com/finance-business/taxes-incentives/main-street-rhode-island/
If you have any questions, contact Liz Tanner at email@example.com or 401-278-9195.
Four students at Highlander Charter School in Warren, RI, earned a top nod at the RI State HOSA Leadership Conference in March.
Domingo Lora Medina, Jayda Dewillis, Amanda Bourdier, and Kennia Castillo won the silver medal at the RI State HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) Leadership Conference. Their competition was community awareness and their focus was organ transplant. For their project, students researched current trends, need, misconceptions and ways to educate the public on this important topic, and presented their findings in front community groups. At the state conference they had to present their project before a group of judges who work in the community in various health fields.
Highlander is working to send the team to Orlando to compete at the International HOSA Leadership Conference that is attended by high school and college students from across the US and 5 other countries!
In addition to our medal winners, Highlander also has 7 other students competing in other events that included CPR and First Aid, medical reading, health career display, and health education. Watch out for these student leaders next year!