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Metro Roundup, Jun. 18

State legislators announce $13.1 billion budget proposal

Rhode Island legislators unveiled a $13.1 billion proposed state budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, WPRI reported. The budget, which exceeds the $11.2 billion proposal from Gov. Dan McKee by roughly $2 billion, includes increases in spending for education and social services in the Ocean State.

The budget does not include tax increases which were previously on the table, such as an income tax increase or a tax on sugary drinks. Housing, a top priority for House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, D-Warwick, also featured prominently in the bill.

The budget will likely be debated on the House floor before a vote next week. After that, it will go to the Senate and then the governor’s desk.


Bill legalizing marijuana to advance to Senate-wide vote

The R.I. Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to advance a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state, meaning the bill will be voted on by the entire body, the Providence Journal reported.

The forthcoming vote with the entire Senate will be the first time either R.I. state chamber has voted on the issue of marijuana legalization. The bill reserves a third of marijuana dispensary licenses for communities who have been most impacted by the war on drugs.

There are two other bills circulating in the State House that would legalize recreational marijuana: One was submitted in Governor Dan McKee’s budget proposal while the other was proposed by several House members. 

There is not yet consensus among legislative leaders on which proposal will win out, but House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said Monday that lawmakers “will take our time and make sure all proposals are carefully vetted and are in the best interest of the State of Rhode Island."


R.I. House passes bill allowing remote voting

The R.I. House overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday allowing military and disabled voters to cast their ballots entirely electronically, the Providence Journal reported.

The bill, which is designed to simplify the voting process for military and disabled voters, passes through the legislature at a moment when voting rights are being restricted in other states around the country. Nonetheless, voting rights advocates and election officials in R.I. say the bill is misguided because electronic voting is not secure.

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea initially supported the bill, but withdrew her support before the vote in a letter to House leadership, saying “more work is needed before passage of this bill.” The Board of Elections voted Monday to oppose the legislation and John Marion, executive director of Common Cause R.I., a voting rights advocacy group, expressed his qualms with the bill to The Journal.

"We believe that the electronic return of the ballot is too risky," he said.


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