In a special session that began Tuesday night and is expected to continue through Thursday, the Rhode Island General Assembly has already addressed a wide variety of issues, including bills on the state name, indoor prostitution and driving while texting. The special session marks the return of the state Senate and House to the State House after a four-month break.
The House voted Wednesday night to adopt a measure that would allow Rhode Island voters to strip the words "and Providence Plantations" from the state's official name. As a result of the vote, the decision to change the state name will now be in voters' hands in the 2010 elections.
In a June vote, the House and Senate approved different versions of the bill. The House's 52-4 vote on Wednesday remedied the difference.
Also Wednesday night, the House voted 59-8 to pass a bill to outlaw indoor prostitution in Rhode Island. The vote represents a significant step toward the measure — which includes criminal penalties for prostitutes and their customers — becoming law. Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill.
The legislation now awaits approval by the Senate and a signature from Governor Donald Carcieri '65, who has already said he approves of the measure.
In another important decision, the House Corporations Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit Rhode Island drivers from text messaging while driving. A full House vote on the measure is slated for today.
Under the legislation, individuals caught texting behind the wheel would face fines of up to $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $125 for a third offense. Drivers would still be allowed to use handheld cell phones and smart phones to place phone calls.
The bill outlaws writing, sending and reading text messages while driving.
The Senate has approved the bill, which the House will vote on today.
At the end of this week's proceedings, the General Assembly will break again until January.
Any legislation that is not resolved by the end of the special session would need to be re-introduced in 2010 in order to remain active.
But despite Wednesday's full calendar, discussions are far from over. Legislative leaders have scheduled hearings or floor votes for 196 individual proposals, according to the Providence Journal.
Two bills that could cost Brown and its students millions were noticeably absent at Wednesday's session, and there are no plans to discuss the legislation today, House Spokesman Larry Berman told The Herald last night.
One bill would allow cities to assess a "student impact fee" of $150 per semester for out-of-state students who attend private colleges in Rhode Island. The other proposed legislation would allow cities to collect a fee of up to 25 percent of property taxes from nonprofits with properties valued at over $20 million.