By the time the Rhode Island General Assembly returns to the State House for a two-day session on Oct. 28, the building's halls will have been empty for more than four months. And when the legislature — which hastily left the Capitol June 26 — returns, it will face a host of contentious bills that have sat dormant during the extended summer vacation.
The divisive matters at stake if the Assembly fulfills its promise to meet late next month include a push by lawmakers to make indoor prostitution illegal and a drive to drop the last three words from the official state name — Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Lawmakers will also vote on a bill first proposed by Providence Mayor David Cicilline '83 geared toward levying a "student impact fee" on all out-of-state students attending Rhode Island's private colleges and universities. The bill would require universities to pay $150 per student per semester to the state in an attempt to help alleviate Rhode Island's budget deficit.
According to an article in Monday's Providence Journal, Rhode Island's part-time legislators — who receive an annual salary of about $14,000 — usually meet three days a week between the first Tuesday in January and the end of June. During years with particularly pressing concerns, lawmakers usually return in July to settle unresolved matters.
But this year, however, despite promises to return to the Capitol, the General Assembly took a prolonged vacation, citing an inability to find a convenient time that satisfied lawmakers' various summer vacation plans, according to the Journal.
During their last session, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed bills to close a loophole that has allowed indoor prostitution to persist in the nation's smallest state. But they will have to merge the individual bills — which differ in the specified types of punishments allowed for customers and prostitutes — before a copy can reach the desk of Gov. Donald Carcieri '65.
The House and Senate also passed identical bills eliminating the last three words of the state's official title. If each house passes the final version of the bill, state residents will vote on the issue in a November 2010 referendum.