There is only one day left of legislative session before Smith Hill lawmakers adjourn for the summer, but don’t expect to see any last-day-of-school coasting coming out of the State House today. Dozens of bills remain on the House and Senate’s to-do list, and the ones they decide to approve still need to find their way to Gov. Chafee’s desk for a signature.
The state’s most pressing concern – the budget for the new fiscal year – has already been approved, signed and sent to the printer, and hot-topic issues like the 38 Studios bond payment are now just water under the Sakonnet River Bridge.
But a handful of bills that could noticeably change some Rhode Islanders’ everyday lives are still up in the air.
Here is a look at *some* of the bills that made it through the General Assembly this week, ones that didn’t, and ones that are still waiting for a verdict. This page will be updated throughout the day.
Chafee’s last budget… Barring an unexpected State House comeback, R.I. Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed his last state budget on Thursday. As mentioned above, the budget, approved by House and Senate lawmakers last week, removes the controversial tolls from the Sakonnet River Bridge, sets aside $12.3 million for the next payment in the 38 Studios loan guarantee, and cuts the state’s corporate tax by 2 percent.
In the classroom… Two bills that would dramatically change education policy in Rhode Island are still up in the air. One would place a moratorium on the state’s highly controversial standardized testing issue; the other calls for a decrease in teacher evaluations. House members are set to vote on both bills Friday. In other education news, lawmakers also approved legislation that encourages school districts to train their counselors on collaborating with community businesses in order to help create student internships.
Newport Grand’s future… An investment group hoping to bring blackjack, craps and the like to Rhode Island’s East Bay recently called the old Newport slot parlor a “tired building,” and announced their intentions to revitalize it. They’re hoping state lawmakers give voters a second chance – a similar effort came close, but failed last year – to decide whether or not Newport should have a full-fledged casino like Lincoln’s Twin River. Lawmakers haven’t yet voted on that bill; a decision is expected Friday.
Goodbye, tolls… Part of the budget signed by Chafee called for the nixing of the still-brand-new tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, but the timing of the tolls’ demise was somewhat surprising. The fiscal year doesn’t begin until July 1, but the outgoing governor ordered the tolls taken down almost immediately. They are expected to be done away with by noon Friday.
Farewell, master lever… But not quite yet. The so-called master lever, or straight-ticket voting, refers to a voter’s option to check a single box in order to cast a vote for every candidate affiliated with a specific party. Opponents say it’s a dated practice that confuses voters and leads to unfair, undemocratic elections. Legislation passed in the House and Senate will do away with the option, but not until next year – months after voters decide the state’s next leaders.
Legislative potpourri…Want a state-issued license plate that shows off your Boston Bruins fandom? It’ll cost you an extra $40, but they should be available soon, barring a gubernatorial veto. Minors will have to leave the state if they want to buy e-cigarettes, as the General Assembly approved a bill that would prohibit the sale of the smoke-free nicotine options to anyone under the age of 18. For the second consecutive year, minimum wage is on its way up – it will be upped to $9 per hour beginning next January. Rhode Island adopted “Erin’s Law” – which means all public elementary school students will receive instruction designed to prevent abduction, exploitation or sexual abuse. And calamari fans across the state are waiting on a Senate vote to determine whether the popular squid dish is popular enough to be the state’s official appetizer.