Here are highlights of legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2017.
- Legislators set into motion a complete phase-out of the car tax over 6 years, with annual reporting on the fiscal impact.
- Lawmakers approved a 90-cent minimum wage hike over two years, making 2019 the sixth year out of seven that that the Assembly raised the minimum wage.
- The Assembly approved a new law requiring that companies of 18 or more employees provide a minimal amount of paid sick time, and allow similar amounts of unpaid sick time without reprisal for employees at smaller firms.
- Lawmakers passed legislation that will allow citizens to automatically register to vote when applying for a driver’s license, its renewal or a personal identification document.
- The Assembly passed a law requiring the Board of Elections to establish a post-election audit program to make sure that the equipment and procedures used to count votes during an election are all working properly.
- The General Assembly passed legislation to provide for the release of certain records pertaining to the investigation of 38 Studios.
PUBLIC SAFETY/ JUSTICE
- Lawmakers passed the Protect Rhode Island Families Act to prohibit gun possession by domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to court-issued final protective orders.
- The legislature outlawed the use of any non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel or in emergency situations. The new law goes into effect June 1, 2018.
- The General Assembly passed several bills to overhaul Rhode Island’s prison and parole system by applying the “Justice Reinvestment” approach to relieve pressures from the correctional system while increasing public safety.
- The Assembly enacted numerous bills to alleviate the opioid epidemic, particularly targeting deadly fentanyl, making electronic prescriptions the standard and ensuring doctors discuss addiction risks with patients before prescribing opioids.
- Raises for state-subsidized home health care workers and those who serve the developmentally disabled were included in the budget bill.
- Legislators passed a bill requiring public places that hold 300 or more people to maintain an automated external defibrillator on site.
- The Assembly passed legislation to facilitate economic growth in plant-based industries and agriculture in Rhode Island.
- Lawmakers paved the way for Rhode Island to become an early adopter of 5th generation mobile networks (5G) – the next generation of wireless networks.
- The legislature passed a law to speed up the regulatory process for developments, reducing the time it takes for developers to get certifications, decision-making and recordings of decisions.
- The General Assembly, with passage of the FY 2018 state budget, fully funded the seventh year of the 10-year phase-in of the state education funding formula, increasing education aid by $46 million.
- Also within the FY 2018 budget, the legislature approved a four-year pilot program to provide two years’ free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island, with requirements that students maintain a 2.5 GPA and stay in Rhode Island following graduation.
- Legislators passed a bill that requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to consider incorporating substance abuse and suicide prevention education into the health education curriculum.
- Children under 2 are now required to be in rear-facing car seats under a new law approved by the General Assembly.
- Lawmakers banned the use of conversion therapy on minors by licensed health-care providers. The discredited practice seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- A new law approved by the Assembly allows the Crime Victims Compensation Fund to be used to help child witnesses of homicide or domestic abuse.
- The General Assembly restored a program that provides no-fare Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) bus passes to low-income elderly and disabled people. The plan approved by lawmakers will fully fund the program for two years at the cost of $5 million per year.
- Legislation was passed that would allow anyone age 60 or older a three-day window in which to cancel any contract with a licensed contractor if that contract originated from in-home solicitation.
- The legislature approved legislation that 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.
- Legislation that expands the eligibility for a special license plate for Gold Star Families to other family members was passed by the General Assembly.
- The General Assembly passed legislation that would grant in-state tuition status at state operated schools to active duty and reserve members stationed in Rhode Island.
- The Assembly passed a law to increase local renewable energy generation in Rhode Island by expanding the state’s remote net metering program to allow participation by educational institutions, hospitals and nonprofit organizations, including churches.
- Lawmakers paved the way for state agencies to create rules and regulations to formulate a statewide solar energy permit application.
- The Assembly passed a law that creates an exemption to the land use change tax for farmlands that establish renewable energy systems.
- Lawmakers approved legislation to speed up the process of adoption for any animals that are abandoned or impounded.
- The legislature passed legislation that would make it a violation to keep any dog outside when the ambient temperature is beyond certain standards for the weather safety scale if the dog is showing signs of poor health due to the weather conditions.
- The Assembly approved legislation to add animal hoarding to the list of cruelty to animal offenses and allow courts to consider whether the defendant’s behavior might be the result of a mental disorder when sentencing.