Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the General Assembly this year.
· The General Assembly approved a proposal that will repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient, bringing 90 percent of the state’s bridges into structural sufficiency by 2024.
· Lawmakers added another reduction in the state’s minimum corporate tax to help small businesses. It was reduced from $450 to $400.
· The legislature passed a plan to restructure the unemployment insurance taxes paid by employers, saving them an estimated $30 million.
· A proposal to transfer Twin River’s operations at Newport Grand to a new facility in Tiverton was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor. The measure is pending approval from voters statewide and in Tiverton.
· Legislators placed a question on November’s ballot asking voters to restore the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over the General Assembly.
· A new law will allow online voter registration.
· Lawmakers enacted lobbying reform to increase transparency and make the lobbying reporting and information system more user-friendly.
· The General Assembly unanimously voted to make it a crime to electronically track a vehicle without the consent of the owner. The bill is aimed primarily at protecting victims of stalkers and domestic violence.
· Legislators approved legislation which requires the surrender of firearms within 24 hours by anyone who is either convicted of a felony charge of domestic violence or pleads no contest.
· Lawmakers passed legislation that would make anyone convicted of sex trafficking be subject to the Rhode Island’s sex offender registration and community notification statute.
· The General Assembly passed legislation that requires training for law enforcement officers on mental health and substance abuse emergencies.
· Lawmakers approved legislation allowing Rhode Island residents who are victims of a domestic terrorist attack outside of Rhode Island, but still within the United States, to be eligible to receive victim’s compensation payments from RI’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund.
· The General Assembly passed legislation supporting the “Fitting the Description” movement and requiring law enforcement to automatically destroy all arrest records for those who are victims of mistaken or wrongful arrests.
· Lawmakers fully funded the education aid formula for the sixth consecutive year, increasing total funding by $49.3 million over this year. Legislators made some adjustments to provide more equity between districts and charter schools, and to provide relief to districts with high concentrations of English language learners.
· Lawmakers gave municipalities a say in the approval of new charter schools that are part of a network.
· The budget bill includes a tuition freeze at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island.
· Lawmakers added a performance-based component to the state funding formulas for CCRI, RIC and URI.
CONSUMER/QUALITY OF LIFE
· The budget provides a state tax exemption for the first $15,000 of retirement income for Social Security-age retirees who make less than $80,000 individually or $100,000 for joint tax filers.
· Lawmakers approved the Electric Supplier Consumer Bill of Rights to protect electricity customers.
· The budget reduced state beach parking fees to 2011 levels, cutting most by half.
· Lawmakers approved a wide-ranging package of bills aimed at addressing the region’s crisis of opioid abuse and overdoses.
· The Good Samaritan Prevention Act was reinstated and expanded to legally protect those who seek medical assistance for drug overdose victims.
· Lawmakers approved numerous changes to the medical marijuana program, including expanding it to allow its use by post-traumatic stress disorder patients.
· A new law expands Rhode Islanders’ insurance coverage for experimental uses of prescription drugs.
· Lawmakers closed a loophole in abuse reporting laws to ensure that schools report allegations of sexual abuse of children to the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
· Legislators approved legislation requiring DCYF to disclose basic information whenever any child dies or suffers a near fatality as a result of abuse or neglect — whether or not that child was in state care — within six months of the incident.
· The General Assembly banned any form of alcohol other than in an ingestible liquid state, such as powdered form.
· The Family Home Visiting Act was enacted and calls for the Rhode Island Department of Health to work with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Children, Youth and Families to develop and coordinate the standards for a system of early childhood home visiting services that would meet the needs of the state’s most vulnerable families with young children.
· The General Assembly passed legislation which requires healthcare providers to give veterans their medical records at no cost if they are used to apply for any kind of benefits.
· Legislation that enhances and protects employment rights for Rhode Island’s veterans and members of the National Guard passed the General Assembly.
· Lawmakers approved legislation prohibiting insurers from refusing to insure, limiting coverage available, charging a reinstatement fee, or increasing the premiums for automobile insurance because a person failed to maintain insurance for a vehicle due to active duty in the armed forces of the United States.
· The General Assembly passed legislation to expand several renewable energy initiatives by extending the Renewable Energy Fund for five years, making more projects eligible for long-term, fixed rate pricing, exempting residential renewable energy systems and those used in manufacturing from taxation and establishing a statewide tax rate for commercial renewable energy systems.
· Lawmakers declared a state policy goal of having 50 percent of solid waste at the state landfill be diverted through diversion, source reduction, reuse, recycling or composting by 2025.
· The General Assembly approved legislation that establishes the Rhode Island Clean Diesel Fund, which will save local trucking companies money in freight operation costs while also protecting our environment from needless and harmful diesel emissions.
· Lawmakers passed the Rhode Island Local Agriculture and Seafood Act Grants Program to increase the economic competitiveness of Rhode Island-grown agricultural products and local seafood.
· The General Assembly approved legislation that increases the punishment of animal abusers from two years to five years of possible imprisonment and from ten hours of community service to fifty hours of community service.
· Lawmakers approved a bill that prohibits the possession, sale or trade of shark fins by those without a permit and would make those in violation of the act guilty of a misdemeanor.
· The state legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of bullhooks or similar devices designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of elephants in traveling shows.