The governor has signed into law legislation sponsored by Sen. Marc A. Cote and Rep. Michael A. Morin to boost employment and business opportunities for veterans in Rhode Island.
The bill, which the General Assembly approved in June, gives veteran-owned small businesses a preference in the state purchasing process, akin to the benefit that is awarded women-owned and minority-owned businesses. The legislation sets a goal that at least 3 percent of the total value of all state contracts available to businesses in each fiscal year be awarded to those owned by veterans.
The legislation (2017-S 0085A, 2017-H 5280A) is meant to strengthen opportunities for veterans, many of whom have been discharged from active duty to a job market in which landing full-time employment is a serious challenge.
“Rhode Islanders are very appreciative of veterans. I’m sure our citizens will be proud that the state contracts that their tax dollars fund will have the additional benefit of supporting veterans under this bill,” said Senator Cote (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), who has been pushing for the bill since 2014. “One of the best ways our state can thank veterans for the sacrifices they made for our country is to help ensure they are employed after they are discharged. A veterans’ preference in state contracts is a way we can leverage the state’s buying power to do just that and help veteran-owned businesses succeed.”
Said Representative Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket), “A veteran’s preference is a way to use the power of state contracts in a way that upholds our state’s values of supporting our veterans. But we think it’s also a smart investment for the state. Veterans have already proven themselves disciplined, hard workers who are committed to the job. That’s exactly what we should be looking for when we sign contracts.”
The legislation was among the recommendations made in a 2013 Senate report titled “The Rhode Back Home,” which analyzed current services and benefits for Rhode Island’s veterans and proposed new ones. The report recommended policy and legislative changes to assist with the reintegration of veterans back into society through increased access to benefits, state purchasing preferences for veteran-owned businesses, increased access to educational opportunities and streamlined availability of essential medical and human service benefits.
Senate Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), who is a cosponsor of Senator Cote’s bill, noted how the Senate’s work coincides with efforts on the federal level to streamline the veterans’ service process and improve the quality of and access to veterans’ benefits. He added that that the legislation recognizes the unique asset that Rhode Island’s veterans are to the state’s economy.
Besides Chairman Felag, the bill is cosponsored by Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), Rep. Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket), Rep. Robert D. Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland), Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket) and Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls). Similar legislation (2017-H 5090) was also introduced in the House by Rep. Robert B. Lancia (R-Dist. 16, Cranston).