Rhode Island General Assembly Tackles Diverse Issues in Latest Session

The Rhode Island General Assembly has been hard at work addressing a wide range of issues affecting the state’s residents. From supporting parenting teens to considering climate change in economic planning, legislators have introduced and passed bills aimed at improving the lives of Rhode Islanders. This week’s session saw progress on several fronts, with both the House and Senate taking action on key measures.

Rhode Island General Assembly Tackles Diverse Issues in Latest Session

House Approves Bill to Re-establish Academy for Parenting Teens

One notable piece of legislation approved by the House this week was Rep. Joseph M. McNamara’s bill (2024-H 7560) to re-establish the Sheila C. “Skip” Nowell Academy as a state school. This institution focuses on the diverse needs of pregnant and parenting teens, providing them with the support they need to succeed. Sen. Sandra Cano has introduced similar legislation (2024-S 2807) in the Senate, demonstrating bipartisan support for this important initiative.

Rep. McNamara emphasized the significance of the academy, stating, “The Sheila C. ‘Skip’ Nowell Academy plays a crucial role in assisting young parents as they navigate the challenges of parenthood while pursuing their education. By re-establishing this institution as a state school, we are ensuring that these teens have access to the resources and support they need to build a better future for themselves and their children.”

Senate Passes Bill to Include Climate Change in Economic Planning

The Senate also made progress this week, approving Sen. Pamela J. Lauria’s legislation (2024-S 2043A) to ensure that climate change, rising seas, and coastal resiliency are considered in the state’s economic development plans. This forward-thinking approach recognizes the long-term impacts of climate change on Rhode Island’s economy and the need to proactively address these challenges.

Sen. Lauria commented on the importance of this legislation, noting, “As we plan for Rhode Island’s economic future, we cannot ignore the reality of climate change and its potential effects on our state. By incorporating these factors into our economic development strategies, we can build a more resilient and sustainable economy that benefits all Rhode Islanders.”

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House Passes Bills on Dense Breast Notifications and Overflowing Septic Systems

The House of Representatives also approved two other significant pieces of legislation this week:

  • Rep. Rebecca Kislak’s bill (2024-H 7734A) ensures that women with dense breast tissue receive the most up-to-date notification following their mammograms, promoting early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
  • Rep. Evan P. Shanley’s bill (2024-H 7654A) grants the Department of Environmental Management the authority to drain, remove, or replace private septic systems that are in a state of overflow, protecting public health and the environment.

These bills now move to the Senate for consideration, where companion legislation has been introduced by Sen. Bridget Valverde (2024-S 2609) and Sen. Matthew L. LaMountain, respectively.

House Approves Bill Prohibiting Higher Auto Insurance Rates for Widowed Individuals

In a move to protect widowed individuals from unfair discrimination, the House approved Rep. Arthur Handy’s legislation (2024-H 7606) prohibiting auto insurers from charging policyholders more solely because they have been widowed. This bill ensures that widows and widowers are treated the same as married individuals in terms of auto insurance classification and rates.

Rep. Handy stressed the importance of this legislation, stating, “Losing a spouse is an incredibly difficult experience, and the last thing widowed individuals need is to face higher auto insurance rates simply because of their marital status. This bill ensures that all Rhode Islanders are treated fairly by auto insurers, regardless of whether they are married or widowed.”

Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Replace CRMC and Aid Those with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

Legislators also introduced several new bills this week, addressing issues ranging from coastal resource management to mental health and substance use disorders:

  • Sen. Victoria Gu and Rep. Terri Cortvriend introduced legislation (2024-S 2928A, 2024-H 7844) to replace the Coastal Resources Management Council with a new Department of Coastal Resources under the executive branch, a move supported by Attorney General Peter Neronha.
  • Sen. Linda Ujifusa and Rep. Teresa Tanzi introduced two bills aimed at improving access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. One bill (2024-S 2612, 2024-H 7876) would ensure that insurers cover mental health care at an equivalent level to physical health care, while the other (2024-S 2393, 2024-H 7624) would prevent insurers from requiring prior authorization for in-network mental health or substance use disorder health care.
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These bills demonstrate the General Assembly’s commitment to addressing the diverse needs of Rhode Islanders and tackling the challenges facing the state.

House Labor Committee Hears Testimony on Extending Minimum Wage to Domestic Workers

The House Labor Committee heard testimony this week on legislation (2024-S 2021, 2024-H 7532) sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer and Rep. Leonela Felix that would remove the exemption for domestic workers in state minimum wage law. Currently, Rhode Island domestic workers are only guaranteed the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, significantly lower than the state minimum wage.

Rep. Felix emphasized the importance of this legislation, stating, “Domestic workers are essential to the functioning of our society, providing invaluable services that allow families to work and care for their loved ones. It is unacceptable that these workers are not afforded the same minimum wage protections as other employees in Rhode Island. This bill seeks to correct that injustice and ensure that all workers in our state are paid a fair wage for their labor.”

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Rep. Felix Introduces Criminal Justice Reform Bills

In addition to her work on extending the minimum wage to domestic workers, Rep. Leonela Felix introduced a slate of criminal justice reform bills this week. These bills aim to make it easier for those released from prison to reintegrate into their communities by addressing issues such as:

  • Solitary confinement
  • Sealing of dismissed charges
  • Free phone calls for inmates
  • Elimination of cash bail for misdemeanor charges

Rep. Felix stressed the importance of these reforms, noting, “Our criminal justice system should be focused on rehabilitation and reintegration, not punishment for punishment’s sake. These bills address some of the most significant barriers facing individuals who have served their time and are seeking to rebuild their lives. By making it easier for these individuals to find employment, housing, and maintain connections with their families, we can reduce recidivism and create a more just and equitable society.”

Small Business Committee Hears from Businesses Affected by Bridge Closure

Finally, the House Small Business Committee, chaired by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, heard from small businesses that have been negatively impacted by the closure of the westbound portion of the Washington Bridge. House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian worked with Chairwoman McEntee and other East Bay legislators to set up the meeting, demonstrating the General Assembly’s commitment to understanding and addressing the challenges facing small businesses in the state.

As the General Assembly continues its work, Rhode Islanders can expect to see further progress on these and other important issues affecting the state and its residents.

For more information on any of these items, visit http://www.rilegislature.gov/pressrelease

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