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Rhode Island Senate meets for special session

General Assembly passes gun safety, paid sick leave bills after leaving issues unaddressed in June

Though the State House does not regularly meet in September as a part-time General Assembly, a legislative session of the Rhode Island General Assembly was held last Tuesday to resume issues left unaddressed in June, when legislative talks were diverted to discussions of budget.

This session saw a number of significant bills passed, including one regarding paid sick leave, a gun safety measure aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, as well as modifications of the probation and parole system.

The sick leave bill, sponsored by Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, and Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12, D-Providence, passed in both chambers. This bill will provide paid sick time to Rhode Island employees. It also aims to ensure that employees will be able to take off time to care for their personal well-being, as well as their families, without fear of monetary repercussions.

“This bill protects all Rhode Islanders in terms of public health and providing for their families. It means working people — especially those in lower-wage positions that lack benefits — will finally have the ability to take care of themselves or their families when they are sick,” Goodwin said in a press release. 

Paid sick leave will be an option to over 90 percent of Rhode Island employees, and violating employers will be subject to fines between $100 and $500 for every day that they’re found to be in violation of the legislation, according to the press release. Regunburg said, “with this legislation, we’ve got an opportunity to make a concrete, positive impact on over a hundred thousand Rhode Island workers.”

The bill is planned to come into action July 2018 and will provide those eligible with three earned sick days in a year. Gradually, this number will be phased up to five sick days, which will take effect in 2020, according to the press release. 

Some legislators raised questions, however, regarding the financial efficiency of this approach. “We are killing businesses,” Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, Coventry and Glocester, said, after commenting that the move would negatively affect him as a business owner.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi ’07, D-Narragensett and South Kingstown, and Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, sponsored legislation that focuses on protecting victims of domestic violence by prohibiting  those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence  offenses as well as those who have received court-issued final protective orders from possessing guns, according to a press release.

Tanzi called the bill a “life-saving piece of legislation,” adding that “this bill will help keep victims of domestic violence safe by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.”

A victim of domestic violence is under more risk when their abuser is in possession of a firearm, according to the press release. The bill implements measures to ensure that abusers are not only prohibited from owning firearms, but also required to turn their existing weapons in.

Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-Coventry, Warwick and West Warwick, who opposed the bill, said she disagreed with the bill regarding the Second Amendment, noting that the bill would be infringing on a citizen’s constitutional right to bear arms.

There were also six bills passed to modify Rhode Island’s systems of probation and parole. According to a press release, the bills were part of a package presented by Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, which is charged with overhauling Rhode Island’s criminal justice system in a manner “that would relieve pressures from the correctional system while increasing public safety.”

One of the bills passed will create a “batterer’s intervention program fund,” while another will expand the maximum compensation allotted to victims of crimes. The package will also modify sentencing and execution guidelines for criminal procedures, create a diversion program that allows for defendants to undergo substance abuse screening as well as counseling and clarify the definitions of specific crimes under general laws.

Sen. Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, a sponsor of these bills, called the package “a collective effort to modernize Rhode Island’s broken criminal justice system.”

A host of other issues were discussed during the session. Amongst other bills that passed was a bill that prohibits smoking e-cigarettes in schools and puts in place more packaging rules, one that aims to ban dangerous chemicals in some furniture products and a bill that accelerates animal adoptions.


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