NEWS

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

Ruggiero bill seeks consumer protection for solar customers

Rooftop solar arrays have been popping up all over Rhode Island, bringing clean energy and decentralizing generation to enrich the state’s electric resources, all while creating thousands of new jobs with dozens of solar installation companies.  But like in any other rapidly expanding industry, there have been some complaints from customers who say their experiences have not been all sunshine and lower electric bills.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero — a strong proponent of renewable energy who has sponsored laws that helped pave the way for the industry’s rise — is urging state regulators to implement consumer protection measures to ensure that Rhode Island solar customers are getting what they’re promised.

“While there are excellent opportunities and incentives that can make residential solar projects very rewarding, there are many installers doing the work now, and they are not all equal. Consumers need some assurance that the installer is offering them a product that will work for their site. They deserve an honest representation of the energy and savings their system is likely to produce. They need to know the risks, too. If companies want to benefit from our state’s incentive programs, they must be willing to adhere to good business practices that protect consumers,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).

She has proposed legislation (2019-H 5991) seeking to have the Office of Energy Resources adopt greater consumer protection measures for homeowners who invest in solar. She is optimistic that the adoption of a disclosure form will protect Rhode Islanders from unfair practices by installers. If not, she plans to introduce more stringent requirements, she said.

 

DECK PROJECT WORK on Newport Bridge Begins SUNDAY MAY 12th

Deck Work on Newport Pell Bridge begins Sunday May 12th.  In my meetings with RITBA they say there will NOT be any lane closures during rush hours for initial phase of the work (work will be done mostly at night).   During non-rush hours 9am to 3pm and overnight from 7pm to 5:30am there WILL be lane closures.

There are two public hearings next week for more details and if you’d like to ask specific questions:

TUES. MAY 14th    6pm  at CCRI Newport Auditorium  

WED. MAY 15th   6pm at RITBA headquarters in Jamestown

Please call or email me anytime.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

Legislative Highlights and Update from State House

It’s been a busy few months at the State House!

Here are some of the legislative highlights – including my OP ED on the Governor’s budget which you can read here.
 

Reproductive Rights

The Reproductive Privacy Act passed in the House (44- 30) after a long 4- hour, respectful debate. This is so personal on both sides of the issue.  I voted to preserve in state law the federal law and Constitutional right that a woman has to make her reproductive health decisions. It is a decision between her and her family and doctor. The government does not belong in the bedroom or the medical office.  

Online Gambling

If you remember, the legislature moved quickly last session to legalize sports betting. Just in time for people to bet on the Patriots in the Super Bowl (the state lost $2.3 million in payouts because everyone bet on the Pats to win and they beat the point spread). 

This week, the House approved Online Gambling (H5241 SubA). This enables Twin River to set up an APP for people to wager on their phone. A person has to go into the casino to set up the account with an ID. Bets can ONLY be placed in RI (and with IP addresses and geo-fencing it’s easy to determine if someone is in the state).

As I said on the House floor, ‘this is worrisome because it makes gambling so easy. However, gambling is here in RI and we cannot legislate common sense.’ My concern is a joint account.  How does the spouse escape liability from someone else’s gambling debts?  

So, I plan to writing consumer protection and gambling addiction legislation; similar to the consumer protection law that I sponsored in 2014.  It says that a casino cannot attach a lien on someone’s home for casino debt. Prior to that, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun were using real property as collateral for a line of credit at the casino.  Spouses had no idea there was a line on the property until they tried to refinance or sell.   
Very positive reaction to two of my bills hears in Committee in the last weeks.

H5447 – BIODIESEL HEATING OIL ACT – would add more biodiesel to heating fuel. Currently, there’s 5% mix and this would gradually increase every 3 years until it reaches a 20 percent blend in 2027. Massachusetts already has a 10% biodiesel blend. The reason for the blend is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is supported by RI Oil Heat institute which represents the home heating oil distributers; they want to be part of the solution. Biodiesel is actually cleaner than natural gas at a 17% blend. 

H5145 – TRANSPARENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY STANDARDS FOR RHODE ISLAND BUSINESSES ACT is enabling legislation that reflects RI’s initiative to support sustainable businesses practices. Social responsibility and sustainability are not just buzzwords, but business practices for long-term growth, profit, and attracting new employees and customers. I’ve been working with the Rhode Island Manufacturers and environmental groups for ten months putting this together.  The company’s board would develop standards and metrics – from replacing inefficient lighting, sealing air leaks, to using safer, less toxic cleaning products – and making this public through the Secretary of State’s office.  Rhode Island would be the 3rd state in the country to have a Sustainability and Transparency Act (Delaware and Massachusetts are the other two). 
 

I Welcome Your Feedback.


I really appreciate hearing from you on so many of these issues.

Please feel free contact me with your thoughts or suggestions:

 

General Assembly Back in Session

from Dawn Euer

After a week long winter break, the General Assembly is back to work. Committee hearings are vitally important to the process and are scheduled for each evening after the floor session on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The committee hearings typically begin at the ‘rise’ of the Senate. The rise is defined as when the floor session ends (usually around 5 pm depending on the length of the floor schedule). Floor  and committee calendars, including links to bills that are being discussed and voted upon, are posted to the General Assembly homepage: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us

This page is updated regularly as new committees are scheduled

 
Thank you to the RI Marine Trades Association (left) for visiting the State House and discussing the important role that your members play in RI’s economy. 

Job Opportunities

Social Enterprise Greenhouse is hiring a Program Director for Newport. This is a great opportunity to work for a nonprofit supporting small businesses and social enterprises. Applications are due March 7 and more information can be found at their website: http://segreenhouse.org/about-us/team/join-our-team/#job1

Additional job opportunities around the state are posted online at the following website: 
https://www.ri.gov/employment/

 

Rep Ruggiero introduces bill tocreate business sustainability designation

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero has introduced legislation to encourage Rhode Island businesses to adopt stronger environmental standards on sustainability.  The legislation would create a voluntary, flexible program that would allow businesses to earn a sustainability designation by creating their own set of benchmarks for operating sustainably, and publicly reporting annually on their efforts to adhere to them.

Representative Ruggiero, who has been developing the legislation for a year and a half with help from the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and environmental advocates, said the bill will encourage more sustainable business practices while also helping businesses communicate with the public about their efforts.

“Sustainability and social responsibility aren’t just buzzwords. They’re now business practices that provide long-term growth, profit, environmental and societal benefits. Sustainability for a business can range from replacing inefficient lighting, sealing air leaks, recycling, replacing water mains for efficiency, and using safer less toxic cleaning products. This bill provides an avenue for 21st century businesses to attract young employees, new customers, and investors by developing sustainable standards and metrics. It’s voluntary, but a real opportunity for a business to become a meaningful brand leader,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).   Learn more.

 Learn about Jamestown’s Sustainability Initiative at Sustainable Jamestown.com.

 

 

The REFORM CAUCUS Recommends Changes to House Rules

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero speaking at The Reform Caucus outbrief

 

Our Constituents Deserve Transparency, Efficiency, and Accountability

(Providence) The Reform Caucus, made up of conservative, moderate, and progressive Democrats, announced their push for changes in the House Rules for a more open and transparent legislative process. The Reform Caucus is committed to changing the way business is conducted and after years of careful observation and first-hand experience, we are working to make it happen.

“There is a groundswell of interest from constituents for reform at the State House and the public’s advocacy is what will make this happen,” says Rep. Deborah Ruggiero – Jamestown and Middletown, “people are very aware that legislators are rushed into last minute votes on the final days of session without ample time to read legislation. That’s why we are recommending bills be posted for 48 hours so the public knows what their government is doing.

We are also recommending good government bills like creating the Office of the Inspector General and enacting line-item veto.”

Caucus Recommendations


1. Suspension of Rules for the final days of session hinders the public and legislators ability to read bills, process changes, and make thoughtful decisions. Bills need to come to the floor earlier in the legislative session.
Recommendation: Rules may be suspended only by 2/3 majority of vote in the House.

2. Sub A to any bill made public for 48 hours. Legislators need to be thoughtful and delibera-tive and not rushed into last minute votes to end session. The public and advocates deserve the same time to review and understand what their government is doing.  As legislators, we have a duty to ensure there are no unintended consequences.
Recommendation: Proposed Substitute Amendments shall be posted online, and made available to the public for 48 hours prior to any vote in committee, or on the floor.

3. Bills submitted will stay alive for the entire two year  term. This would provide greater efficiency for the committee process and not force the public to return each year to testify on perennial bills. This would free up time for committees to work more in depth on legislation and have substantive hearings to debate Sub A proposals.
Recommendation: Every bill introduced during year one of legislative term shall remain before the body for consideration in the second and final year of term.

4. Discharge Petition, Whenever a bill has the support of the majority of the representatives (38 or more House Members); the bill clearly has enough support to pass the House and deserves a vote.
Recommendation: Any prime sponsor of a bill would be allowed to circulate a separate discharge petition. If the sponsor gathered 38 or more signatures on the petition, then the bill would be brought up through the regular committee hearing process. The committee would vote to either recommend that the full house pass or send to the floor without recommendation. The committee would not be able to hold the bill for further study. Then the bill would proceed to the floor for a vote. Importantly, the sponsor of the bill could obtain signatures for the discharge petition in the normal course of business. The petition would not have to “sit on the desk” which is the current rule.

The Reform Caucus also recommends passage of ‘Good Government’ bills such as creating an Office of Inspector General, and enacting a Line-Item Veto.

The House Rules are adopted in the initial weeks of the legislative session every two years after an election. Currently, House Rules give broad powers to the Speaker of the House in appointing committee members, committee chairs, controlling the flow of bills and the passage of all legislation in the House Chamber.