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Spotlight on the Statehouse: Feb. 3, 2016

Wage Increases

Gov. Gina Raimondo will push for an increase in Rhode Island’s minimum wage from $9.60 to $10.10 per hour, she said at the State House last week. Last year, state lawmakers did not agree to her proposal, but Raimondo pledged to make the push again this year.

Business owners have argued that they are forced to lay off employees when the minimum wage is increased. They contend that the legislation would most likely increase the unemployment rate among young people. But Raimondo stated that there is no concrete evidence to support that claim. On the contrary, she said, a growth in minimum wage corresponds to a wealthier economy for the state, the Providence Journal reported.

“You shouldn’t be working full time and living in poverty,” Raimondo said at the event at the State House Friday. Higher wages will help those “who are working full-time and barely making ends meet,” she added.

Expungement of criminal records

After a 70-to-1 vote, the House passed legislation that allows judges to erase records of criminals who deferred their prison sentences. Given how specific the terms are for the crime, only around 100 people will be affected by the legislation.

The legislative effort has sparked debate on the effects of sealing crimes. Some argue that if crimes such as child abuse or child prostitution are hidden from public records, past criminals might be allowed to work in jobs from which they would otherwise be disqualified.

The only person who voted against the legislation is Rep. Karen MacBeth, D-Cumberland, who told the Journal she did not vote in favor “because if (the record) is expunged, and the person does something again, it wouldn’t be a second offense but a first offense again. This bill included felonies.”

Making standardized testing affordable

Raimondo intends to make the SAT and the PSAT free for all public school students, she announced at Smithfield High School Monday.

“If you want a good job in the economy, you need to receive an education beyond high school,” she said in a calculus class, the Journal reported Feb. 1.

The SAT and PSAT, which cost $54 and $15 respectively, present a significant financial barrier to students from low-income families who want to attend colleges that require those tests for admission. Raimondo will set aside $500,000 in her 2016-2017 budget to provide free testing for around 20,000 students. The free tests will be available for students this fall.


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