Spotlight on the Statehouse: Jan. 23, 2014

Metro Editor
Thursday, January 23, 2014

The General Assembly opened its 2014 legislative session Jan. 7. The Assembly received the proposed 2015 budget from Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 at his annual State of the State address Jan. 15. Among the legislation filed by state senators and representatives since the start of 2014 are bills on the state’s economy, tax structure, environment and criminal justice system.


Rhode to Work

The Senate released its annual “Rhode to Work” report Jan. 21 at a Statehouse press conference. The report was created in response to the concerns of business leaders claiming a lack of skilled workers for vacant job opportunities in the state, said Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. Bills will be introduced in the next several weeks to address issues raised by the “Rhode to Work” report based on an “inability of unemployed Rhode Islanders to find jobs that fit their skills, and concerns that the state’s workforce is not prepared for the demands of tomorrow’s economy,” according to a press release.

Legislators will work on creating a comprehensive job training program, creating more high school internship opportunities through the program and “expanding the state’s current apprenticeship tax credit,” according to the release. Proposed legislation would also address workforce education programs — particularly “by offering a $1 million incentive to begin a disruptive new career and technical program that fits the needs of the modern workforce.”

Rhode Island’s 9 percent unemployment rate is currently the second highest in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


State of the estate tax

Two different bills have been introduced in the House to reform the estate tax policy in Rhode Island. The current threshold for the inheritance tax is $675,000 but has increased to $921,000 given current inflation rates.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown and Middletown, proposed a measure Jan. 7 to make inheritances valued at $1.5 million or greater subject to the estate tax. Ruggiero’s legislation specifies that people would be taxed only on the amount of their estate exceeding the $1.5 million benchmark. Rep. Robert Craven, D-North Kingstown, proposed a reform that would raise the benchmark at which people would be liable to pay the estate tax to $2 million.

“A $2 million threshold is not only what I would consider just, but it is also a more appropriate figure for today’s economic reality,” Craven said, according to a press release.

Both bills state that these reforms will make Rhode Island’s estate tax policy more competitive with thresholds across the country and attract businesses. In particular, the measures could benefit Rhode Islanders who inherit small businesses and those discouraged from living in Rhode Island because of the current inheritance tax policy, Craven said.

“Our state is simply out of line with the rest of the nation on this exemption, and it would benefit our state as a whole if we caught up,” Ruggiero said, according to the release.


(Food) waste not, want not

Rep. Donna Walsh, D-Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly, New Shorham, filed a bill Jan. 9 to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee to develop a compost collection system for non-residential personnel, such as large businesses and universities. The bill’s purpose is “to minimize the production of greenhouse gases, recover the nutrient value of food residuals” and “promote the creation of green jobs” by creating a new industry to collect food waste, according to the bill’s text.

The bill also requires future compost-processing facilities to use organic methods for treating food waste. The year by which an institution will be required to adhere to the law will depend on the amount of food residuals it produces. The largest producers of food waste would have to abide by the requirements starting in 2015 and the majority of businesses and institutions in the state would have to comply by 2021.

Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts already have similar legislation to address the collection and processing of food waste.

Though the bill does not apply to residents, Walsh said she hopes her composting proposal can encourage individuals to consider their own food waste production, according to a General Assembly press release.


Proposed parole controls

Several bills have been proposed in the Senate and House to reform the state’s registry for convicted felons and the parole eligibility requirements, according to a press release from the General Assembly.

Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich, and Rep. Raymond Hull, D-Providence, have both introduced bills to add criminals convicted of first- or second-degree murder to the state’s existing registry and notification system, which currently only applies to sex offenders.

“The public has a right to know that someone who has committed a murder is living in their neighborhood,” Raptakis said, according to the release.

There is also proposed legislation to change the parole eligibility requirements for convicted murderers. The House bills — introduced by Raptakis in the Senate and Rep. Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick — propose delaying the time of the first parole board hearing for those not sentenced to life imprisonment. This hearing determines parole eligibility and under the proposed legislation would not occur until the convicted individual served at least half the sentence.

“This is about fairness in sentencing and requiring individuals convicted of a truly horrible crime to serve a significant amount of time in jail,” Serpa said, according to a press release. “The public expects these individuals to pay an appropriate price for the wrong they have done, and that doesn’t always happen.”

Another bill introduced by Hull and Raptakis would prohibit those sentenced to life imprisonment from being eligible for parole until they have served 30 years of their sentence or 30 years for each life sentence if they are serving consecutive life sentences.

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