2019 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

from Rep Deb Ruggiero

Rules Reform

This legislative session has been one of the more productive in my service as your State Representative. In part, thanks to the recommendations and vigilance from Democratic members of the Reform Caucus. Early in the session we championed a change in the House Rules that any bill amended must be posted 24 hours prior to a vote. For the first time in decades the House Rules were not suspended so that meant bills had to be posted for 48 hours on the House Calendar.  It meant we ran out of time for some good bills that didn’t pass this session like the parentage adoption bill, but it also meant a slew of ‘bad bills’ didn’t get passed! 

Personal Rights

Some major accomplishments include passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act, codifying Roe v. Wade and ensuring a woman has a choice around her body, her health, and her reproductive rights. It passed the House and Senate on June 19th, the Governor signed into Rhode Island law that night.    

Rhode Island’s statute of limitations on sexual abuse was extended to 35 years, a major victory for victims of childhood sexual abuse. 
After years of debate, the bill to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products passed in the budget.  Even though half the population must buy tampons and pads each month as a medical necessity, they were not considered ‘necessary items’ like lip balm and condoms, which are not taxed. As of July 1st, there’s no sales tax on menstrual products. Period.

Budget Highlights

The Speaker removed the $1.3 million he put into the state budget for a Cranston chiropractor following the controversy around taxpayer dollars funding a private business. The money was used, in part, for pay raises to the direct service providers who care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

A long overdue step to refine the 9-1-1 system is now law, with bipartisan support. Fees will be reduced from one dollar to fifty cents and the money will be directed into a restricted receipt account, complying with federal regulations.  Lost revenues will be recouped with a surcharge of 50 cents on landlines and 75 cents on mobile phones that will go into the general fund.  The state spends $100 million a year on public safety. This budget also includes $220,000 to train 911 call takers to respond to cardiac arrests and other medical emergencies.   

I lobbied very hard to restore the $200,000 funding to the Nonviolence Institute after it was removed from the budget; I was pleased to see that it had been restored in the budget. 

Education

Education aid increased $33 million with $2.9 to fund pre-kindergarten. Several education reform bills passed including reforms to school curriculum, fast-tracking the principal certification process, and greater management of schools at the local school level.

URI will have a 17 member Board of Trustees instead of reporting to the Council on Post-Secondary Education, which oversees RIC and CCRI. The URI board will allow the state’s sole university to be nimble in its decision-making as a research institution and an economic driver for the state. 

Legalization of Marijuana

The legislature did not agree with the Governor’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. That means the debate will continue next legislative session. 

Article 15 of the budget added 6 more medical marijuana centers in the state. I spoke on the House floor of my deep concerns of putting the cultivators, many small businesses, out of business.  The state created the cultivator industry two years ago by licensing 46 cultivators and there are 35 licenses pending. By law, cultivators can only sell to medical marijuana centers.  If these 9 compassion centers can grow and cultivate their own product, then there’s no incentive to buy from the 46 licensed cultivators who employ over 200 people in the state and have invested millions to establish this industry. 

There may also be a separation of powers issue since the Article states the legislature shall approve the Rules and Regulations. The jury is still out on this issue!

Business Sustainability

My bill to help businesses in the state that wish to stand out as sustainable and practicing corporate responsibility passed. It was ten months of meetings and discussions with all the stakeholders including the RI Manufacturers, environmental groups, DEM, and Secretary of State.  

Sustainability and corporate responsibility aren’t just buzz words. They’re business practices in the 21st century if companies want to attract young employees, investors, and customers. The company’s board of directors must create standards and metrics to measure the changes in the company and they must be approved by DEM’s Green Certification Program.

Middletown and Jamestown

Local bills I put in on behalf of my two Town Councils passed. That includes the charter changes in Middletown’s last election and the tax exemption for Jamestown’s veterans. 

It was a very successful legislative session. I’m spending the summer writing legislation suggested by several different constituents that I’ll submit in January of 2020. If you have any suggestions or questions, please call or email me. I love hearing your input. I’m honored to serve as your State Representative. Have a great summer!  

Stay well, 
Deb Ruggiero
Call – (401) 423-0444
Email – rep-ruggiero@rilegislature.gov

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