There are a number of bills currently active in the Rhode Island General Assembly, spanning topics such as healthcare, police accountability and voting. Bills meant to address issues of shoreline access, LEOBoR and prescription drug affordability have recently gone through parts of the legislative process or are under active consideration.
Shoreline access: H5174, S0417
The Rhode Island General Assembly is considering legislation that would clearly define the boundary between private and public property along the state’s shoreline for the third year in a row.
Initially introduced in Jan. 2022 as House Bill 8055 by Representatives Terri Cortvriend (D-Middletown) and Blake Filippi (R-Block Island), the legislation would establish that the public has the right to use any sandy or rocky shoreline up to 10 feet above the “recognizable high tide line.” A study commission chaired by Cortvriend and Filippi heard testimonials from legal experts, scientists and the public and decided near-unanimously on a path forward including the bill.
In 2022, an amendment to the bill reduced the buffer zone size from 10 feet to six feet, and it passed unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee May of that year. The Senate did not hear the bill before the end of the legislative session in June, and it was reintroduced in Jan. 2023 as H5174 to the House. The bill passed in the House on April 6.
Senator Mark McKenney (D-Warwick) — who joined a special legislative commission on shoreline access in 2021 — also introduced another version of the bill in the Senate. This version, S0417, would establish the public’s right to use the shoreline up to the vegetation line, covering more area than the House bill.
A majority of the Senate — 20 members — have signed on as cosponsors of S0417, and McKenny expects the hearing for the bill to take place in late April or early May.
Since the two bills differ in language, next steps are unclear if the two bills pass both the House and the Senate.
Changes to, repeal of LEOBoR: H5888, H6200, H5567
Rhode Island is currently the only state in New England to have a Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, or LEOBoR, which provides additional protection for police officers than what is afforded to other public sector employees. That protection may soon change, The Herald previously reported, as three different bills — two which reform LEOBoR and one which repeals it entirely — are being considered in the House.
H5888 and H6200 propose reforms to LEOBoR, centered around the recommendations made by a Rhode Island State Senate task force in late 2020. Among the reforms are an increase in the amount of time an officer can be suspended from two days to 14 and an increase in the size of the hearing committee, which is responsible for disciplining officers. The proposed bills would expand the committee from three members — all of whom are current or former police officers — to five, with the two additional spots to be filled by a retired judge and a member of the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission.
The bills also give police chiefs greater freedom to vocalize their opinions about ongoing cases, which proponents argue will increase transparency. H6200 also proposes allowing police chiefs to discipline officers ahead of a decision from the hearing committee.
H5567 completely repeals LEOBoR, leaving police officers with the same rights as all other public sector employees. Rep. Jennifer Stewart (D-Pawtucket), one of the legislators who introduced the bill, characterized the need for repeal as a matter of equality, stating: “where there is Rule of Law, nobody is above the law.”
H5567, H5888 and H6200 were heard in the house on Apr. 4 and have been held for further study.
Increasing prescription drug affordability: H6159, S0799
Due to increasing prescription drug costs, many Americans struggle to afford medications and have resorted to skipping doses and not filling prescriptions. Copay accumulators and copay maximizers are relatively new programs that eliminate manufacturer assistance for specialty drugs from a patient’s copay or out-of-pocket maximum, removing support for patients who need costly medications but cannot afford them.
According to a press release from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, patient assistance programs help many Rhode Islanders afford the cost of prescription drugs. Copay accumulator adjustments are another relatively new program that allows patients to use assistance programs without counting this support towards out-of-pocket cost sharing requirements, such as deductibles. This increases out-of-pocket costs for patients and makes it increasingly difficult for those who need expensive prescription drugs — including cancer patients and patients with chronic disease — to afford their medications.
H6159 was introduced March 17 and would include costs paid by an enrollee or by a third party on behalf of the enrollee — such as through a copay assistance program — in out-of-pocket cost sharing requirements. It was heard on April 5, after which the House Corporations Committee recommended the bill be held for further study.
S0799, containing the same terms as H6159, was introduced March 23. It has since been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Rhea Rasquinha is a Metro section editor covering the College Hill, Fox Point & the Jewelry District and Brown & Beyond beats. She also serves as an illustrator. She is a sophomore from New York studying Biomedical Engineering and loves dark chocolate and penguins.