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Final votes on the budget, retirement homes, criminal records

PROVIDENCE − Rhode Island’s part-time legislative session is headed toward a finish on Thursday evening.

Barring some unforeseen problem, the session that began in January will end after a flurry of votes on a record-high new $13.96 billion state budget, a Citizens Bank tax break, a flurry of bills where the generous — and always persuasive — car industry prefers. body shop and a shield law for doctors who perform abortions and provide gender-affirming care.

Before the final day of House and Senate sessions began, Gov. Dan McKee signed new safe gun storage requirements that emerged from a series of potentially preventable tragedies, overriding strong objections from legislative Republicans and other gun rights advocates .

“We did it,” South Kingstown Councilwoman Patti Alley said to cheers and more than a few tears in the packed State House chamber where the signing took place.

Alley championed the fight for safe gun storage initiated by State Rep. Justine Caldwell after her own sister, Allyson Dosreis, committed suicide with her partner’s unlocked gun on June 26, 2020 at a particularly low point in their “tumultuous and toxic relationship.” “

“One of the first things I learned after Allie died was that Rhode Island had only weak laws regarding gun storage and that existing law would do nothing to hold her partner accountable for his reckless actions,” she said.

McKee wore a red Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence T-shirt for the signing of the new law requiring the locked storage of firearms when not in use.

Then we continued with the business of the last parliamentary day.

That included a 32-4 vote by the Senate to officially confirm the acting head of the state prison system, Wayne Salisbury, after a failed campaign by the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers to derail McKee’s nomination.

Citizens

Under threat that Citizens Bank could move some or most of its 4,000 employees across state lines, lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that is expected to cut taxes by $16 million a year.

The House vote was 64-2, with six lawmakers not voting. The Senate vote on a matching bill was 30-6, but neither had fully passed by the time lawmakers arrived for dinner.

Despite the overwhelming vote, many progressives were uncomfortable with the idea of ​​being pressured to give the banks a tax cut.

“I never thought I would see the day that the state government, our state government, would allow itself to be extorted by the corporate sector,” Rep. Enrique Sanchez, D-Providence, told House colleagues before voting no on the bank account . “That’s what this is.”

The bill would allow bank taxes to be calculated entirely on income instead of also taking into account ownership and employment, which Citizens executives say penalizes them to keep a large workforce here.

Citizens sought it after losing access to a stimulus program that lowered taxes for years.

In the Senate, Senator Sam Bell questioned the premise that Citizens is actually considering more than a small number of workers across the border in Massachusetts, which has higher income tax rates and just implemented a “millionaires tax.”

But Sen. Sam Zurier, also a Democrat from Providence, said he would reluctantly vote yes because the possibility of Citizens moving its headquarters and back-office staff across the border was too great to take a risk.

“I have to vote yes because I don’t want to be the one who loses citizens,” he said.

Expulsion

Bills to expunge many more criminal records from public view – and allow convicted criminals to tell anyone who asks, including a prospective employer or voter, “I have never been convicted of a crime” – made progress in House of Representatives.

The House approved a scaled-down version of a bill championed by attorney-lawmaker Jason Knight to remove the barrier to eradicating a crime if the individual has been convicted of another crime. His bill would allow for the expungement of a single misdemeanor and a single non-violent misdemeanor offense 15 years after the completion of the latter sentence.

Knight, D-Barrington, tried but failed to get leadership support for eliminating a misdemeanor charge when a person has committed multiple offenses.

The sticking point for some lawmakers, including Rep. Cherie Cruz, D-Pawtucket, was the 15-year waiting period, which is five years longer than someone with only a felony conviction would have to wait under current law. .

Despite Rhode Island’s decade-old ban-the-box law that prohibits employers from asking job seekers about their job applications if they have ever been arrested or convicted, Cruz said:

“I can only speak (as) someone who has (had) the experience of… a criminal record, (as) someone who has waited decades for a chance to find work, a chance to get me out… public assistance and a chance to find housing easily. A chance to be here with all of you today.”

“The whole point of a record expungement is so that people can get their lives back, as quickly as possible, to reduce the barriers to housing, employment and raising their families. Those same barriers that I faced,” said Cruz, who voted no. the vote was 51 to 19. The bill was then sent to the Senate.

Then came House votes on concurring bills from Sen. Matthew LaMountain and Rep. Carol McEntee to expedite the date for the expungement of multiple convictions for crimes downgraded from misdemeanors to misdemeanors in recent years, such as certain drug offenses.

Rhode Island’s current expungement law has already resulted in the removal of tens of thousands of pubic registries from public view. Attorney General Peter Neronha failed this year to open these sealed documents to authorities reviewing applications for weapons permits.

It never made it out of committee after legislative hearings that drew comments like this from Michael Luciano of Cranston: “This is another attempt to put roadblocks in the way of people who want to protect themselves.”

Housing

The Senate approved most of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s package of housing bills, including legislation allowing accessory apartments or granny flats.

The only bill in the House package that the Senate significantly amended would have allowed manufactured and mobile homes in residential areas.

Can someone ‘come in and put a trailer in my neighborhood’ where there are traditionally built single-family homes?” Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, asked about the bill.

Answer: Yes, but unlike Shekarchi’s version, the Senate version made allowing manufactured housing optional for local officials, undermining much of the point.

Senate Republicans opposed the idea of ​​allowing new outbuildings that rental property owners could use for profit.

“This will have a negative impact on single-family neighborhoods,” said Sen. Gordon Rogers, R-Scituate. “Investors can buy a house and turn it into rental properties.”

Senate Democrats had tried to require additional apartments to be used only on owner-occupied properties, but Shekarchi said that would not help lower housing costs.

“It’s time,” said Sen. Meghan Kallman, D-Pawtucket, about legalizing granny flats, AARP’s top legislative priority. Research shows that allowing ownerless residents is “important for housing production.”

Auto body bills

And then there are the last-day auto body bills (and yes, there are more than one), creating new violations under the state’s Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act for auto insurers who refuse to pay for honor certain aftermarket parts or reimbursement. “direction to pay” directly to an auto body shop.

For the record, auto body shop owners, who have made $62,000 in political donations in the first three months of this year, and the former state lawmaker who lobbies for them in the State House, Robert Jacquard, say these are consumer bills.

The auto insurance lobby says these annual mandates will drive up RI’s already high auto insurance rates.

Watchlist

Here are some other bills headed for the final vote:

  • A proposed “shield law” to protect doctors and other medical professionals in Rhode Island from “hostile lawsuits” for offering legally protected procedures such as abortion and gender-affirming care.
  • A final signing of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s No. 1 priority: legislation that would allow homeowners to add apartments, also called “granny flats,” within the existing footprint or into a pre-existing structure on their property without special permission from the municipality.
  • Legislation to initially extend the paid time off covered by the state’s Employee-Subsidized Temporary Caregiver Insurance Fund from six weeks to seven weeks, and then to eight weeks.
  • A green light to put a question on the November ballot asking voters whether they want a Constitutional Convention, and to set up a “preparatory committee” in advance to “gather information on (potential) constitutional issues” .
  • The proposed creation of a Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, run by one or more private investment and communications companies selected by the state treasury, for the estimated 47% of RI workers in jobs not covered by a pension plan.

In what could be an early harbinger of next year’s legislative battle, the House Finance Committee unanimously passed a bill from South Kingstown Rep. Thursday afternoon. Teresa Tanzi that would strip Bally casinos of their exemption from the state’s indoor smoking ban.

Bally’s has resisted efforts by some employees and progressive lawmakers to end smoking there, arguing that smoking is one of its competitive advantages over larger casinos in Massachusetts and Connecticut. And the gambling company has been able to rely on the Senate to overturn a smoking ban for years.

The House did not bring up the bill for a full vote.

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