Chamber Connections BLOG
Chamber Connections BLOG
For those that read the budget cover to cover, surprises still surface during the complicated fiscal analysis that takes place over months of hearings. One item surfaced last Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee hearing. With only rumors surrounding the source of $900,000 included in the Governor’s budget, committee members, staff and members of certain segments of the business community waited for the Department of Revenue to explain. The Lottery Commission plans to begin selling keno through online sales in January, 2020. The Commission believes it can do this without additional legislative approval. For lottery agents such as convenience stores, liquor stores and other brick and mortar lottery sales facilities, this spells trouble. Many wonder, “If the Commission believes it can do this without legislative action, can they not then sell other lottery tickets?”
According to a 2016 report by the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, Rhode Island had the second highest per capita lottery spending in the country. Rhode Islanders spent $1054 per person without access to internet gaming. Massachusetts came in first at $1088. The average per capita per state in 2016 was $371.19. Michigan which already instituted internet online lottery had a per capita spending of $414.
In January of 2019, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new opinion placing into great question whether states can implement online lottery gaming without violating the federal Wire Act, a 1961 law put in place to counter organized crime gambling. A federal judge gave the DOJ until the end of April, 2019 to clarify its opinion. Many issues remain to be resolved surrounding this issue, but the inclusion of the expansion of gaming in the Governor’s budget still has $900,000 attached to it as available revenue.
Senate Environment – Straws and Global Warming
On Wednesday, At the Rise (approximately 4:30pm) in Room 211 at the State House, the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture will vote on S.292, An Act Relating to Food and Drugs – Single Use Plastic Straws. As currently written, the bill would ban food establishments – including theaters, convenience stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. – from offering single use straws to customers. If a customer requests the straw, the establishment would be obliged to provide it. An establishment found violating the new law would receive a notice for the first two violations. Subsequent violations would result in a $25 fine up to an annual maximum of $300. One outstanding issue revolves around straw dispensers; will a customer’s use of the dispenser be interpreted as “requesting” a straw.
Also, on the committee’s agenda is S.662 which calls for a $15 per ton carbon tax on fossil fuels, increasing every year thereafter. This bill has been heard in previous years. It would dramatically increase the cost of transportation fuel, heating fuel and electricity. The goal of the bill is to increase the cost of fossil fuels to the point where individuals will have to switch to another source of fuel. The bill does not provide an alternative.
House Labor To Look at Non-compete Clauses
Also on Wednesday, At the Rise in Room 203, the House Labor Committee will hear testimony on H.6019, Rhode Island Noncompetition Agreement Act. The Chamber submitted testimony on the Senate version, S.698, last week. The bill is meant to ban the use of non-compete clauses for low wage earners as well as certified nursing assistants (a group that requested this bill).
Courts generally do not look favorably on non-compete clauses. If utilized, they need to be limited in time and scope, and often geographically. However, the Chamber in its testimony did point out that there are circumstances that warrant the use of such provisions. Employees who have access to trade secrets or unique clients could cripple a company. Research assistants who have been working on new products have the ability to damage a company. Technology employees could perhaps have access to information that could be used to start a new company in direct competition with the previous employer. These are just a few examples of situations that might warrant a non-compete agreement.
The definition of “Low-wage employee” is problematic in H.6019. The definition appears to tie to 28-33-20 which is the statute governing workers compensation benefits. When an employee is injured on the job, the benefit paid to that individual is based upon the wages paid prior to the harm. The maximum workers compensation benefit is 125% of the state’s average weekly wage. If the Chamber is interpreting the “low-wage employee” definition laid out in H.6019 correctly, a person would be deemed to be a low wage earner if they make twenty-five percent (25%) more than the average weekly wage. That seems out of balance. The Chamber pledged to work with the Senate and House sponsors to draft a bill that would address low wage earners. If you have concerns about this bill, please contact the Chamber.
The following bill was filed last week:
House Bill No. 6019 Blazejewski, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- RHODE ISLAND NONCOMPETITION AGREEMENT ACT (Creates a comprehensive statutory scheme to address all aspects of noncompetition agreements.)
House Bill No. 6027 Serpa, AN ACT RELATING TO HUMAN SERVICES -- MEDICAL ASSISTANCE - LONG TERM CARE SERVICE AND FINANCE REFORM (Provides for a Medicaid home care, home nursing care and hospice base rate adjustment for services delivered to beneficiaries in rural communities as defined by the department of health.)
House Bill No. 6033 Bennett, Edwards, Kennedy, McNamara, Almeida, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY - LICENSING OF MASSAGE THERAPISTS (Makes sweeping changes to the law on massage therapy licensing.)
House Bill No. 6038 Tobon, Shekarchi, Blazejewski, Edwards, Craven, AN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONS -- SOCIAL BENEFIT BUSINESS PROGRAM (Establishes the Social Benefit Business Program.)
An Update from the State House
As we enter the final phase of the 2019 legislative session (marked by the end of the General Assembly vacation break), we can expect bills to be voted on in committee and on the floor, and a budget to be released in early June. The Chamber may be asking for your help to make the voice of the business community known to legislators and to the Governor very quickly. Please watch, not only for editions of Under the Dome, but for email alerts and calls to action.
Chamber Legislative Reception
Don’t forget – the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Reception will be held Wednesday, April 24th at the State House. This is your opportunity to meet legislators and to share your thanks for their service as well as to express any legislative concerns.
Timely Building Inspections
The House Corporations Committee will take testimony on H.5989, a bill that mirrors one of the Senate economic development package bills. The hearing will be held Tuesday, at the Rise (approximately 4:30 p.m.) in Room 203. H.5989 allows a contractor to hire a qualified third-party assistant or state inspector to perform an inspection if a municipal building official fails to perform an inspection within forty-eight (48) hours after notification of the need for the inspection; and the contractor notifies the city/town of its intent to hire someone to complete the inspection. The contractor would pay for the third party inspection, while the city or town would pay for state inspector services. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/HouseText19/H5989.pdf
Senate Judiciary Faces Landlord Issues
If you own residential rental property, Tuesday at approximately 4:30 p.m. in Room 313, you may want to attend the Senate Judiciary hearing. Various issues will be up for hearing such as S.30 which mandates that a landlord have a general liability policy of at least $100,000 in effect for those injured on premises due to the landlord's negligence http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/SenateText19/S0030.pdf . Failure to provide proof of insurance would preclude a landlord from proceeding on an eviction action. S.71 prohibits residential landlords from terminating period tenancies from December 1 to February 1 and would require sixty days written notice to the elderly or disabled prior to termination of a tenancy http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/SenateText19/S0071.pdf . S.154 imposes a penalty against a condominium association that fails to deliver a resale certificate within ten days of a request by a unit owner http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/SenateText19/S0154.pdf . S.231 prohibits a landlord from asking about the immigration status of a tenant, prospective tenant, occupant, or prospective occupant of residential rental property http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/SenateText19/S0231.pdf . S.479 requires real estate sellers to provide buyers with an annual building energy cost estimate and imposes a duty on sellers to conduct real estate condition inspections http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/SenateText19/S0479.pdf .
Senate Labor Committee Addresses Misclassification of Employees
Wednesday, the Senate Labor Committee has posted a vote on a SubA (amended version) of S.510 which called for increasing the fines for misclassifying employees to $2000 per employee and requiring the Department of Labor and Training to suspend the ability of companies to operate in Rhode Island if a company continues to misclassify employees three times within a two year period. The Senate has posted a SubA for consideration that leaves the fine where it is today – at $400 per employee misclassified. If the employer fails to pay the penalty as required, the license would be revoked until the fine is paid. If an employer is found by the DLT to have violated the misclassification law three times within a two year period – each violation includes all of the employees determined to be misclassified at one time – then the license to operate in Rhode Island must be suspended for three years. Finally, the civil penalty for misclassification of employees changes from “up to $5000 for subsequent offenses” to “not less than $10,000 for subsequent offenses.” The SubA can be viewed at: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/Proposed19/S0510A.pdf
Employer Medicaid Assessment Budget Article
The Senate Finance Committee will be meeting Thursday at the Rise (approximately 4:30 p.m.) to discuss a number of articles in the Governor’s budget. One topic is the Governor’s Medicaid Employer Assessment. This is the proposal – similar to the program in Massachusetts that will sunset December 31st of this year – that will assess an employer up to $1500 per employee that is accepting Medicaid services from the State. The assessment applies to companies with 200 or more employees and would be paid on a quarterly basis. It is important to contact your Senator if you have concerns about this budget proposal, and to let the Governor’s office know as well. The hearing will take place in Room 211 of the State House.
The following bill was filed last week:
House Bill No. 6005 Fogarty, Carson, Caldwell, Cortvriend, Messier, AN ACT RELATING TO INSURANCE -- ACCIDENT AND SICKNESS INSURANCE POLICIES (Requires insurance carriers, nonprofit hospital service plans, nonprofit medical service corporations and health maintenance organizations to cover the costs of breast ultrasounds and or MRI breast exams.)
An Update from the State House
The General Assembly is on break this week. Hearings for the week of April 22 – 26 will be released at the end of this week. Members of the House and Senate leadership teams have been making the speaking circuit. Marijuana legalization appears to be receiving a cool reception as the ability to implement and oversee the vast regulatory program required still appears to be in question. The Governor’s proposed new programs also seem to be in question as the early projected revenues for FY2020 are difficult.
If you attended either of the Eggs and Issues Legislative Breakfasts, then you heard loud and clear a request from legislative leaders worth noting in this edition of Under the Dome. A request has been made to the members of the Chamber of Commerce – please be consistent with your messages to the Governor’s office as well as to the House and Senate offices. If an issue is positive to your business, please share that equally with all branches of government. If an issue will harm your business, please convey that message to the Governor, the Senate Leadership and the House Leadership. While it sounds like a small request, it has been made clear to the Chamber that it is an extremely important request.
Senate Passes Workplace Bills
S.90, known as the Workplace Bullying bill, was passed on the Senate floor 32-6 (Voting no – Algiere, De la Cruz, McKenney, Morgan, Paolino, Rogers). The bill makes employers vicariously liable for any unlawful employment practice committed by their employee. Employers are responsible for preventing and promptly correcting any bullying in the workplace which includes both physical and psychological bullying. The definition of harm is vague, leaving employers open to lawsuits.
S.330 which requires employers of 4 or more employees to conduct sexual harassment programs for new employees within 1 month of the date of hire and all employees by September 1, 2019, also passed the Senate floor 31-7 (Voting no – Algiere, De la Cruz, McKenney, Morgan, Paolino, Raptakis, Rogers).
Both bills have been assigned to the House Labor Committee.
May Revenue Estimating Conference Meetings Set
The May Revenue Estimating Conference begins April 26th and ends May 10th with the adoption of a final agreement on the revenue available for the FY2020 budget. All meetings take place in Room 35 of the State House. The conference panel is comprised of budget analysts from the Governor’s office, the House budget office and the Senate budget office. Experts are already warning that the numbers – expected to be down – may be down even more than originally anticipated.
Friday, April 26, 2019 – Testimony 9:00 AM Cash Assistance and Medical Caseloads – Department of Human Services and Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Wednesday, May 1, 2019 – Follow-up Testimony 9:00 AM Cash Assistance and Medical Caseloads – Department of Human Services and Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Friday, May 3, 2019 – Economic Overview and Testimony 9:00 AM (1) US and RI Economic Forecasts – IHS Markit Michael Lynch, Economist. (2) RI Labor Market Conditions-Department of Labor and Training Donna Murray, Assistant Director, Labor Market Information Unit (3) Consensus Economic Forecast
10:30 AM Unclaimed Property - Office of the General Treasurer Historic Structures Tax Credits - Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission Motion Picture Production Tax Credits - RI Film and Television Office Lottery Receipts - Department of Revenue, Division of Lottery Commerce Corporation Tax Credits – Commerce Corporation
1:00 PM (1) Tax Collections – Department of Revenue, Division of Taxation Neena Savage, State Tax Administrator. (2) Accruals – Accounts and Controls Peter Keenan, State Controller
Monday, May 6, 2019 - Caseload Estimating Conference 9:00 AM Caseload Estimating Conference
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 Follow-up Testimony (if necessary) 9:00 AM (1) Tax Collections – Department of Revenue, Division of Taxation Neena Savage, State Tax Administrator (2) Accruals – Accounts and Controls Peter Keenan, State Controller
Friday, May 10, 2019 – Revenue Estimating Conference 9:00 AM Revenue Estimating Conference
The following bills were filed last week:
House Bill No. 5989 Ucci, Corvese, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY - STATE BUILDING CODE - NEW BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES (Allows a contractor or builder to hire a qualified third-party assistant or state inspector to perform an inspection if a building official fails to perform an inspection within forty-eight (48) hours after notification.)
House Bill No. 5993 Caldwell, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - LEVY AND ASSESSMENT OF LOCAL TAXES (Allows the town of East Greenwich to adopt a flexible tiered tax classification system regardless of whether it is a revaluation or update year and also to provide an exemption to small businesses for tangible personal property taxes.)
House Bill No. 5996 Slater, Kislak, Almeida, Diaz, Hull, AN ACT RELATING TO COURTS AND CIVIL PROCEDURE--PROCEDURE GENERALLY -- JUDGMENTS, ORDERS, AND DECREES (Provides interest on civil actions be calculated at a rate equal to weekly average one year constant maturity Treasury yield, as published by Board of Governors of Federal Reserve System, for the calendar week preceding the date of the judgment.)
House Bill No. 6004 Phillips, Shekarchi, Corvese, Edwards, Solomon, AN ACT RELATING TO MOTOR AND OTHER VEHICLES -- REGISTRATION OF VEHICLES (Permits the division of motor vehicles to suspend the registration of a motor carrier upon receiving notice that the carrier has failed to obtain workers' compensation insurance.)
Senate Bill No. 803 Ruggerio, McCaffrey, Lynch Prata, Conley, Ciccone, AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES (Establishes special economic development districts.)
An Update from the State House
This week is the last week before legislative vacation break which takes place April 15-19. Following the break, we can expect to see committees voting on bills and sending them to the House and Senate floor for consideration. The final Revenue Estimating Conference has been scheduled for May 10th at 9:00 a.m. This day-long meeting will result in a determination of the final revenues available for the FY2020 budget, allowing lawmakers and staff to definitively draft a budget.
Small Business Loan Program Hearing
Part of the Senate Economic package includes a small business loan program that provides investors with a state tax credit. On Tuesday, April 9th at the Rise, approximate 4:30 p.m. in Room 211, the Committee will hear S.55 An Act Relating to State Affairs and Government (Conley, Cano, DiPalma, Felag, and Pearson) which proposed to establish a small business development fund designed to encourage the formation of private capital investment by federally licensed investment companies in underserved small businesses, leveraged by delayed, at-risk stream of tax credits applicable against insurance premium and retaliatory taxes that can be recaptured for noncompliance with program investment requirements. Monetary penalties would exist if job creation and retention projections would be missed, and the state shares in profits above a certain level of fund returns. Investments would be designated for targeted growth industries for the state, and would be required to be diversified – no one small business would receive more than four ($4,000,000) million or twenty percent (20%) of a fund's investment authority. The investment funds would report annually, and the program would terminate after six (6) years. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/SenateText19/S0055.pdf
Energy Is the Topic for Senate Environment & Agriculture
On Wednesday, April 10th, the Senate Environment & Agriculture Committee will host a presentation from the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO New England). The meeting will take place in the Senate Lounge at approximately 4:30 p.m. ISO New England is the independent, not-for-profit organization authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to oversee the day-to-day operation of New England’s electric power generation and transmission system, administer the region's competitive wholesale electricity markets, and manage comprehensive regional power system planning. This is the organization that has been increasingly warning the state of the need for additional power generation as existing facilities are closed in the New England region. ISO does not advocate for any particular source of generation, but is responsible for ensuring energy is reliable.
S.659, (DiPalma, Goldin, Murray, Euer, Sosnowski) a Senate Resolution Requesting an Assessment of the Benefits to Rhode Island of Enactment of a Green New Deal will also be heard in the Committee Wednesday. It calls for a “bold alternative to business as usual” in order to combat climate change. The resolution requires the Rhode Island Green New Deal Research Council report their findings and recommendations regarding the potential benefits of green new deal initiatives to the Senate by May 15, 2019 for consideration. Rhode Island can be proud to say that it is 49th out of 50 in state rankings of the creation of Greenhouse Gas emissions in the United States. Vermont has the lowest emission rate.
State Job Growth Comparison
Some troubling statistics were recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The following table shows the change in jobs for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to Ted C. Jones, P.H.D, this analysis is based on seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau covering February, 2018 – February, 2019. Nevada leads the way with a 3.53% job growth over the past year, while Rhode Island comes in last at a -.32%
The following bills were filed last week:
House Bill No. 5945 Edwards, Canario, Shanley, Barros, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY -- BIOMETRIC INFORMATION PRIVACY PROTECTION ACT (Prohibits collection of biometric identifiers without consent.)
House Bill No. 5949 Tobon, Barros, Edwards, Johnston, Blazejewski, AN ACT RELATING TO CORPORATIONS, ASSOCIATIONS, AND PARTNERSHIPS -- RHODE ISLAND BUSINESS CORPORATION ACT (Imposes a fee of one hundred sixty dollars ($160) for all domestic and foreign corporations for a certificate of authority to transact business in this state.)
House Bill No. 5957 Ranglin-Vassell, Donovan, Walsh, Barros, Diaz, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - WAGES (Increases min. Wage From $9 to $15 per hour by 1/1/24 and tipped min. Wage From $3.89 to $15 per hour by 1/1/28/Further increases depend on increases in CPI/Non-payment damage awards increased from 2 to 3 times unpaid amount/SOL increased from 3 to 6 yrs.)
Senate Bill No. 753 DiPalma, Lombardo, Conley, Gallo, Valverde, AN ACT RELATING TO FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS -- LICENSED ACTIVITIES--CURRENCY TRANSMISSIONS (Adds virtual currency to the existing electronic money transmission and sale of check licenses and adds additional regulatory provisions to simplify and clarify licensing related thereto.)
Senate Bill No. 765 Goldin, Miller, Lawson, Satchell, Valverde, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE (Increases tax wage base for contributions to TDI /TCI, expands eligibility, increases benefit rates, adds sibling and grandchild in coverage benefits, increases temp caregiver weeks, and institutes fines for not reinstating an employee who uses program.)
Senate Bill No. 768 Picard, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- MANUFACTURING AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT--TAX INCENTIVES (Establishes the "refundable investment tax credit act" to provide for a refundable investment tax credit for certain investments in the construction of facilities, acquisition of tangible property, and the training of employees in the state.)
Senate Bill No. 776 Archambault, AN ACT RELATING TO MOTOR AND OTHER VEHICLES -- SIZE, WEIGHT AND LOAD LIMITS--SMITHFIELD AND LINCOLN (Prohibits commercial motor trucks, with a gross weight rating of twenty-six thousand one pounds (26,001 lbs.) or more, from traveling on Limerock Road, in Smithfield and Lincoln.)