Chamber Connections BLOG
Chamber Connections BLOG
At the State House
At the time of writing Under the Dome, only one hearing has been posted for this week. Congress continues to discuss and debate various aid packages; and until that process is complete, it will be difficult for the State to move forward on a budget. Please continue to watch your email. We will notify you if something new comes to light.
Tuesday, July 28th
The Senate Finance Committee will take testimony at 4:00 p.m. on the Governor’s Budget Article 20, Section 13 (RIte Share).
The proposal requires businesses with 50+ employees to:
(1) Submit an annual report to the Executive Office and Health and Human Services and the Division of Taxation providing “sufficient and necessary information for the Medicaid agency to determine employee eligibility for RIte Share. This language is concerning because no one knows for sure what it means. Is it simply a list of employees who are covered by insurance and the health insurance plan offered by business? Is it a more comprehensive report providing personal information about each employee that does not have coverage including family income, size or alternate health care information? Failure to submit the information requested results in a $5000 fine which is too high.
(2) Submit quarterly reports outlining which employees are enrolled in the employer’s health care plan and which employees are not covered. The quarterly report must also include the names of individuals no longer employed by the business. Failure to file this report brings a fine of $2500 – again, too high.
(3) Refrain from offering employees a financial incentive to turn down the employer’s health insurance and remain on Medicaid. This language could be interpreted to ban giving employees a bump in pay if they do not take the employer’s health insurance. Some employees choose to take a spouse’s or a parent’s health coverage. We want to be sure employees are not penalized for making good family choices, nor are employers penalized by requiring double health coverage on employees which would be a waste of economic resources.
It unclear whether these provisions would apply to businesses with 50 or more individuals working; or if, like the Affordable Care Act, it would apply to businesses with 50 or more FTEs (employees working 30 or more hours a week). The ACA also excludes seasonal businesses where employees work less than 120 days a year or less than 4 calendar months.
Members of the public may submit written testimony to: SLegislation@rilegislature.gov Testimony submitted prior to 3:00 PM on the date of the hearing will be provided to the members of the committee at the hearing and will be included in the meeting records. Testimony submitted after that time will be placed on file.
At the State House
Both the House and Senate Finance Committees are meeting this week to continue their preparations for the creation of a FY2021 budget.
Tuesday, July 21st
The House Finance Committee will take testimony at 4:00 p.m. on the Governor’s Budget Article 2, sections 2-5, and Article 3, section 1-4, 6, 8 and 10.
Article 2 addresses the use of the Opioid Assessment Fund, a $5 million assessment levied on manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers of prescription opioid drugs. In reality, most of the assessment falls on the distributors – the entities that deliver the prescription drugs from the manufacturers to the pharmacies.
Article 3, section 1, starts out addressing the licensing of home inspectors. The passage of a licensing test was required up to July, 2019. Article 3 moves the test requirement date to December 31 2019. It also provides an alternative avenue for licensing of two years in the practice of conducting home inspections and 150 home inspections completed prior to December 31, 2019. Under current law, the inspections had to be complete prior to July 1, 2013. This may be a clean-up section to address those who failed to achieve the hours or inspection requirements by the July 2019 date.
The Article has similar language for well-drilling contractors (section 2). Current law calls for the implementation of a test requirement starting January 1, 2018. This Article changes the written testing date to July 1, 2020.
Licensing for roofing contractors (under section 3) would become a two-year license instead of a one-year license and would allow them to spread the ten continuing roofing education requirements over two years. The Article eliminates the need to obtain a $100,000 bond for each single project undertaken but would increase the insurance certificate amount from $1.5 million to $2 million. Lastly, the Article extends the testing grandfather clause (no test required) if the roofer was registered and in good standing by July 1, 2015 (current law says July 1, 2003).
Article 3, section 4, changes the way payments made by individuals convicted of a crime are distributed. Current law calls for restitution to the victim first, then court cost, fees and fines. This proposal calls for the court costs and expenses related to prosecution to be paid first, then restitution, then court fines and fees. The State has the right to sell seized property that was obtained illegally if that property would otherwise be destroyed and the property is not harmful to the public. Ten percent (10%) of the funds raised through the sale of the property currently goes to the Department of Health. Article 3 proposed to divert that 10% to the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.
Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL) skills tests would be transferred from CCRI to DMV with the fee set at $100 per test under section 6 of the Article.
Last year’s budget established a pilot program for the collection of debts owed to the State. This budget Article 3, section 8, requires all agencies and quasi-public agencies to participate in the debt collection program by October 1, 2020. It gives the Department of Revenue the ability to negotiate settlements. If less than 50% of the debt is collected, the new collection unit keeps 15%.
The House Finance Committee will also hear H.7531, An Act Relating to Taxation. This bill was submitted at the request of the Department of Revenue. H.7531 requires larger businesses to file taxes electronically beginning January 1, 2021. “Larger business” is defined as a business that has an annual combined tax liability, payable to the Division of Taxation, of $5000 or more. The definition also includes any business whose annual gross income is over $100,000 for the entity. Failure to file the correct tax amount electronically, will subject the business to a penalty of 5% of the tax liability amount not filed, or $500, whichever is less. An additional penalty of $50 can also be assessed by the Division. If passed, the new procedure would be required for the 2020 tax year for taxes due January 1, 2021 and thereafter.
Written testimony to the House Finance Committee should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org . For those who would prefer the option to provide verbal testimony please send an email to email@example.com with the following information: Bill # (or specific topic) you are testifying on, For/Against, Your Name and Phone number (to be reached for your testimony) and Affiliation: (if any) *Deadline to request verbal testimony is Tuesday, July 21, 2020 at 11am.
The Senate Finance Committee will accept testimony on the Governor’s newly proposed Article providing appropriations for an Education Center in Northern Rhode Island to be located on Main Street in Woonsocket. The language can be found at: http://www.omb.ri.gov/documents/Prior%20Year%20Budgets/Operating%20Budget%202021/Amendments/2_New%20Article%20-%20Relating%20to%20Lease%20Approval.pdf
Members of the public wishing to testify may submit written testimony to: SLegislation@rilegislature.gov
Wednesday July 22nd
The Senate Finance Committee will accept testimony at 4:00 pm on Article 20 (all of the Article EXCEPT section 13 RIte Share) of the Governor’s proposed budget. It seeks to insert into state law, the federal Affordable Care Act to ensure that should the federal government disband the program, Rhode Island would continue on its own. It also makes other changes to health insurance. The Article removes insurer’s ability to use prior continuous coverage for one year as an eligibility requirement to enter the individual health insurance market. Carriers must offer all of their health insurance plans to any Rhode Island resident. Carriers cannot require copays or deductibles or other cost-sharing mechanisms for preventative services provided by in-network providers. This same requirement applies to large group health insurance coverage or to small employer health insurance plans.
The Article creates multi-state licensing compact programs for physicians, nurses (RNs and LPN/VNs), psychologists and telepsychologists, physical therapists, and emergency medical personnel (EMTs, advanced EMTs and paramedics). All of these compacts require the states to establish a common database of licensees and to communicate complaints received as well as any actions taken against bad actors.
The Committee will also accept testimony on the Governor’s proposed new Article concerning telemedicine. The proposed Article seeks to place, in statute, a health care benefit adopted to face the challenges that came with the arrival of the COVID19 pandemic, a highly contagious viral infection. In response to necessary shelter-in-place requirements, Governor Raimondo signed an Executive order calling for insurers to cover telemedicine visits while the coronavirus emergency continued. The Executive Order included a ban on co-pays or cost-sharing measures as many Rhode Islanders lost jobs and struggled with income.
Telemedicine is a useful tool and certainly provides valuable services to individuals. In some instances, telemedicine has the opportunity to help a patient AND save the health care system time and money. In other instances, telemedicine can cost the system money while providing less effective patient care.
This Article is different from the Senate bill that passed the Senate June 17th, but has some similar goals. The proposed Article creates one process from now until June 30, 2021, and a different process starting July 1, 2021.
From now until June 30, 2021, the term “telemedicine” would include real time two-way audio visual communication and audio-only telephone communication. It specifically excludes email, texts or fax communication which is helpful. Insurers could not exclude coverage for telemedicine as long as it is “medically appropriate” (although the determination of appropriateness has to take into consideration any existing public health emergency). No copay or deductible can be charged by the insurer in “excess of what would be charged” for an in person visit. In-network primary care visits and behavioral health visits could not require a prior authorization from the insurer; and insurers cannot dictate certain technology requirements for telemedicine visits. Lastly, rates paid to “in network” providers must be the same for telemedicine as for in-person visits. There is a question that needs to be asked – is it appropriate to charge the same for a telephone call as for an “in-person” visit? The answer may be “yes” for certain appointments like a half hour psychologist session; but it may be “no” for an audio-only annual physical vs. an in-person annual physical.
Starting July 1, 2021, “telemedicine” would no longer include audio only visits (nor would email, fax or text be covered as an appointment). Insurers could begin to adopt different provider payments for telemedicine visits, but they must still cover telemedicine if it is “medically appropriate.” Lastly, insurers can impose a deductible or copay for telemedicine. These changes seem positive as long as “medically appropriate” is determined using quality data and utilization information.
The proposed Article also includes the creation of a stakeholder advisory group. The Chamber asked for the inclusion of such a group in its testimony on the Senate telemedicine bill. The stakeholder group is charged with reviewing utilization data and recommending rates and policies surrounding telemedicine. The Governor’s proposed new Article does not list who would be included as a member of the stakeholder group. The Chamber continues to advocate for equal representation from the business community (purchasers of insurance and self-insureds), insurance providers, health care providers, regulators and user representatives. If this group is to be effective, it must be balanced. This task force could look at what disciplines make sense for telemedicine visits, as well as how to create a system to ensure provider visits are necessary and effective, and to recommend elements that should be adopted in a system that is cost-effective and affordable. Any increase in health insurance premiums would only serve to hurt those businesses that are trying to get our state’s economy going again.
Lastly, the proposed new Article pushes the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner into the business of adopting new laws. The recommendations and ideas that come forward from the stakeholder group, created under this Article, would go to OHIC; and OHIC would determine what changes should be made in the insurance coverage world.
Members of the public wishing to testify may submit written testimony to: SLegislation@rilegislature.gov
The following new bills were filed last week:
House Resolution No. 8106 Shekarchi, Casimiro, Ackerman, Serpa, Craven, HOUSE RESOLUTION CREATING A SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION TO STUDY AND PROVIDE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE STATUS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR RHODE ISLAND'S NURSING HOMES (Creates a 15 member commission to study and provide recommendations on the status and requirements for Rhode Island's nursing homes, and who would report back by April 15, 2021, and would expire on July 15, 2021.)
House Bill No. 8113 Casimiro, Caldwell, Shekarchi, McEntee, Alzate, AN ACT RELATING TO EDUCATION (Designates physical, occupational, speech, and music therapies and behavioral health services as essential special services to be provided to students with disabilities during times of a declared emergency.)
House Resolution No. 8116 Williams, Blazejewski, Alzate, Giraldo, Vella-Wilkinson, HOUSE RESOLUTION RESPECTFULLY REQUESTING THAT GOVERNOR RAIMONDO ISSUE AN EXECUTIVE ORDER IMPOSING A MORATORIUM ON EVICTIONS DUE TO THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID-19), WHILE AT THE SAME TIME EXPLORING WAYS TO PROTECT LANDLORDS
House Bill No. 8117 Williams, Hull, Blazejewski, Alzate, Slater, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS -- MINORITY BUSINESS ENTERPRISE (Redefines contractor and minority business enterprise to include any business, profit or nonprofit, organized under laws of any state, even if located outside RI, would apply to RIDOT contracts and relieves businesses from having limit on its net worth.)
MICROENTERPRISE STABILIZATION GRANT PROGRAMS:
Offering working capital grants to qualifying small business microenterprises adversely impacted by COVID-19.
The State of Rhode Island Office of Housing & Community Development has advised that some of the eligibility requirements that previously disqualified applicants for the MicroEnterprise Grant Program have been amended.
The MicroEnterprise Grant Program is administered by the Office of Housing & Community Development. Eligible businesses are able to receive a one-time grant for $5000.00 which is funded through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. The amended eligibility requirements are set forth below.
June 2020 Update: Businesses with one owner/employee only may apply. Businesses that received EIDL and/or PPP funds may apply, as long as the adverse impacts on the business exceed other assistance by at least $5,000. Businesses opened in 2019 that meet all other eligibility criteria may apply
The Town of Bristol application: AVAILABLE HERE.
The Town of Barrington application: AVAILABLE HERE
The Town of Warren application: AVAILABLE HERE
For more information regarding the MicroEnterprise Grant program in Warren and to inquire as to eligibility, please contact Bob Rulli, Director, Office of Planning & Community Development via email only, firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the State House
There are a few committee hearings of note scheduled for this week, however the state house remains closed to the public. Both the House and Senate Committees are accepting written testimony from the public. In addition, the House has created a process should a person feel it is necessary to testify verbally/remotely. The instructions can be found below.
Tuesday, July 7th
The Senate Finance Committee will meet at 4:00 p.m. to accept testimony from the Governor’s staff concerning Article 8 section 2 and section 6 (Hotel tax), Article 8 section 3 (US Treasury Offset Program), Article 11 (Economic Development) and Article 12 (Housing). Last week’s edition of Under the Dome reviewed these articles. Article 8 section 6 was added to the agenda this week. This is the section that calls for a 1% increase in the hotel tax. The public may submit written testimony only by emailing it to SLegislation@rilegislature.gov .
House Judiciary will meet at 4:30 p.m. and H.7947, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action – Licensing, is on the agenda. The bill declares it unlawful to disqualify a person for an occupational license, permit or certification due to a prior criminal conviction, unless the crime is directly related to the occupation for which the license/permit/certification applies. A license cannot be suspended for an unrelated crime as well. Finally the bill establishes a process for considering the licensing of the individual even if the crime was directly related, such as passage of time since the crime, juvenile status, etc. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText20/HouseText20/H7947.pdf Anyone wishing to testify by writing can submit comments to email@example.com or for those who would prefer the option to provide verbal testimony please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information: Bill # you are testifying on For/Against, Your Name and Phone number (to be reached for your testimony), Affiliation: (if any) The Deadline to request verbal testimony is Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 11am.
Wednesday July 8th
Both the House and Senate Labor Committees will be hearing testimony on the firefighter cancer bills. H.7449, An Act Relating to Towns and Cities – Cancer Benefits for Firefighters will be heard in an amended form – H.7449 SubA. The SubA states that firefighters diagnosed with cancer have a “conclusive presumption” that the cancer is an occupational related cancer if they were hired prior to the date H.7449 SubA passes. Firefighters hired after the date of passage will also have a conclusive presumption UNLESS (1) that firefighter received a physical at the time of hiring and cancer was detected, (2) the firefighter is on the job for two years or less at the time of diagnosis, or (3) the firefighter “regularly or habitually used tobacco products during the 5 years prior to diagnosis.” The bill is both retroactive and prospective. Anyone wishing to testify in House Labor may submit comments to email@example.com . For those who would prefer the option to provide verbal testimony please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information: Bill # you are testifying on For/Against, Your Name and Phone number (to be reached for your testimony), Affiliation: (if any) Deadline to request verbal testimony is Wednesday, July 8, 2020 by 11:00 AM.
The Senate bill will be heard by the Senate Labor Committee at 4:00 p.m. (S.2302 SubA, An Act Relating to Towns and Cities – Cancer Benefits for Firefighters). Members of the public wishing to testify may submit written testimony to: SLegislation@rilegislature.gov
Thursday, July 9th
The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Article 19 (Workforce Development) of the Governor’s proposed budget. The Committee will also receive a report on the financial status of the Unemployment Trust Fund and “potential employer tax schedule changes.” Members of the public wishing to testify may submit written testimony to: SLegislation@rilegislature.gov
Article 19 is a 52 page Article that focuses on the construction industry and a few other areas of policy was outlined in last week’s edition of Under the Dome. If you are a member of the construction industry, the Chamber strongly urges you to read the Article which can be found at http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText20/HouseText20/Article-019.pdf
The House Finance Committee will meet at 4:00 p.m. to take testimony on Article 10 section 7 – the Governor’s RI Promise expansion proposal. The scholarship program, for high school students entering CCRI to obtain an Associate’s Degree, is set to sunset at the end of this year. The Governor’s proposal would remove the sunset, making the program permanent; and it extends the scholarship to individuals completing a “certificate program with labor market value as defined by the Postsecondary Commissioner.”
The Committee will also take testimony on a new budget request from Governor Raimondo submitted to the committee on July 2nd. The request is for the passage of a joint resolution authorizing the State Properties Committee to enter into a 10 year lease agreement for a property on Main Street in Woonsocket for a northern RI and Woonsocket Education & Industry Center. The rent in year 1 could be no more than $180,600 and no more than $247,000 by year 10.
Anyone wishing to testify on either issue should submit written testimony to email@example.com . For those who would prefer the option to provide verbal testimony please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information: Bill # (or specific topic) you are testifying on For/Against Your Name and Phone number (to be reached for your testimony) Affiliation: (if any) Deadline to request verbal testimony is Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 11am.
New bills filed last week:
House Bill No. 8085 Williams, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- WORKERS' COMPENSATION (This is the annual workers' compensation omnibus bill. It would slightly alter the process and type of benefits for which work-related injured employees of uninsured employers may seek compensation.)
Senate Bill No. 2915 Ciccone, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- WORKERS' COMPENSATION (This is the annual workers' compensation omnibus bill. It would slightly alter the process and type of benefits for which work-related injured employees of uninsured employers may seek compensation.)