Here are the highlights from news and events that took place in the Rhode Island General Assembly this year.
§ The General Assembly approved an accelerated phase-out of the motor vehicle excise tax, eliminating it one year ahead of schedule.
§ Legislators added a one-time child tax credit of $250 per child, for up to three children per family, for those meeting the income guidelines.
§ Lawmakers added $4 million to increase the “circuit breaker” tax credit available to qualifying elderly and disabled residents, raising the maximum credit from about $400 to $600 beginning in tax year 2022 and indexing that amount to inflation.
§ Legislators allocated $250 million from the American Rescue Plan Act funds for affordable housing and addressing homelessness, including $30 million for down payment assistance for homebuyers and $10 million toward housing for the homeless.
§ The General Assembly streamlined the procedure for approval of the construction of low or moderate income housing and updated the state’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Act.
§ Lawmakers elevated the position of Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Housing to Secretary of Housing, a cabinet-level position within the executive branch of government, and created a new Department of Housing.
JUSTICE and PUBLIC SAFETY
§ The General Assembly approved a law to legalize, regulate and tax adult recreational cannabis use in Rhode Island and automatically expunge previous criminal records relating to marijuana possession.
§ The General Assembly approved bills to ban large-capacity gun magazines, limit sales of guns and ammunition to adults over 21 years old, and penalize the open carrying of loaded rifles and shotguns in public.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation that allows the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue driving privileges to undocumented residents in the state.
§ Legislators voted to substantially increase renewable energy production and supply by requiring that 100 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity be offset by renewable production by 2033.
§ Rhode Island will open the door to significantly more renewable energy for the state under legislation passed by the General Assembly seeking the development of 600 to 1,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity.
§ The General Assembly approved the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, which is designed to reduce the use of plastic checkout bags by retail establishments by offering recyclable bag options and providing penalties for violations.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation prohibiting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from food packaging made or sold in Rhode Island beginning in 2024, and legislation that would provide for the Department of Health to take action to establish maximum contaminate levels for PFAS in drinking water and set interim standards.
§ Lawmakers included in the budget numerous increases to providers of health care, home and community services for children, elderly, developmentally disabled individuals and low-income Rhode Islanders, and asked the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner to conduct a study on appropriate reimbursement rates in the future.
§ The budget included $168 million for upgrades to Eleanor Slater Hospital, including $108 million to construct a new long-term acute care hospital at the Zambarano campus in Burrillville.
§ The General Assembly strengthened the hospital merger review process, prohibiting an expedited review under the Hospital Conversion Act when the combined hospitals after a merger would account for 20 percent or more of the hospitals in the state.
§ The budget includes $30 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds to support community behavioral health care clinics.
§ The budget also funded two full-time positions for a mental health treatment court pilot program.
§ The General Assembly passed legislation that would address the shortage of mental health counselors by creating a two-tiered licensing structure to allow applicants as mental health associates to practice under supervision prior to becoming a licensed counselor or therapist.
§ The budget fully supported the state education funding formula, providing $17 million more than the previous year.
§ The budget makes a commitment to nearly double the number of voluntary, free, high-quality pre-kindergarten seats to 5,000 statewide over five years.
§ Voters in November’s election will be asked to approve a $250 million bond for kindergarten through Grade 12 school construction projects. An additional $50 million was committed in the budget for school construction.
§ A second ballot question in November will seek approval for $100 million in borrowing for new construction and repairs at the University of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay campus. Another $12 million out of capital funds will be used for construction at the Community College of Rhode Island.
CHILDREN and FAMILIES
§ The budget funded increases for families in Rhode Island Works, raising the monthly income disregards, raising the resource limit from $1,000 to $5,000, increasing the lifetime limit from 48 to 60 months, expanding eligibility to more families and allowing parents to remain in the program while finishing a second year at CCRI.
§ Lawmakers increased the rates the state pays for child care services and expanded eligibility for child care assistance.
§ Legislators included a pilot program to grant SNAP recipients a 50-cent credit for to their EBT card for every dollar used to purchase fruits and vegetables, subject to limits.
§ Legislators added a provision to dedicate $100 million to the unemployment trust fund to reduce businesses’ unemployment tax rates for 2023.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation that will permanently allow restaurants and brewpubs to sell wine, beer and mixed drinks with takeout food orders.
§ Legislators approved a bill to provide protections to allow restaurants to continue approved outdoor dining during the pandemic until April 1, 2023.
§ Lawmakers budgeted $70 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for Blue Economy investments, including ports and shipping defense, marine trade, ocean-based renewables, aquaculture and tourism; another $60 million from ARPA to support infrastructure at the Port of Davisville; and $46 million from capital plan funds for rehabilitation of the Port of Galilee.
§ Lawmakers approved consumer protections for solar energy system consumers providing the rights concerning disclosures, cancellation and liens.
§ The Assembly approved legislation developing standards and enforcement protocols for the use of online or remote assessment mechanisms to conduct an eye assessment or to generate a prescription for contact lenses or visual aid glasses in Rhode Island.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation designed to help curb the theft of catalytic converters.
§ The General Assembly gave its approval to legislation to extend by one year changes to unemployment regulations to put Rhode Islanders back to work and allow them to make more money.
§ Legislators approved a measure forbidding employers from receiving any portion of the tips given by customers to their tipped employees, with limited exceptions for credit card service charges on them.
§ The General Assembly passed legislation to repeal a law allowing employers to pay workers with disabilities below the minimum wage.
ELECTIONS and GOOD GOVERNMENT
§ The General Assembly allocated $61.8 million from general revenues to the state pension system to pay off the liability remaining from when the state’s contributions to its employees’ pension fund were deferred in the fiscal crisis of 1991 and 1992.
§ The General Assembly passed the Let RI Vote Act to improve access and opportunities to vote in Rhode Island. The legislation expands voter access while ensuring the integrity of Rhode Island elections.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation to allow for the early certification of mail ballots. The law would also establish a new and more comprehensive mail ballot voter signature verification process.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation to lower the age at which a victim can be considered an elder under the state’s elder financial exploitation law from 65 to 60.
§ The General Assembly passed legislation to make it easier for senior citizens to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by requiring the Department of Human Services to develop a plan to streamline the application, certification and recertification process.
§ Lawmakers raised from $15,000 to $20,000 the amount of annual pension income that is exempt from state taxation.
§ Legislators eliminate state income taxes on military pensions.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation to make it a crime to fraudulently represent oneself as an active or veteran member of the military or armed forces for the purpose of obtaining money, property or other tangible benefits.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation that creates a special motor vehicle registration plate for recipients of the United States Bronze Star Medal.
§ The budget includes a year-long pilot program to provide free service on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s busiest route, the R line that runs from Pawtucket to Cranston.
§ Lawmakers approved a waiver of the fee for newly redesigned license plates.
§ Legislators increased the length of time automobile buyers have to obtain their new registration from the Division of Motor Vehicles to 30 days.
§ The General Assembly approved legislation to allow police dogs injured in the line of duty to get emergency first aid from EMTs and be transported by ambulance to veterinary hospitals.
§ The General Assembly passed legislation to exempt nonprofit and not-for-profit food banks from the registration requirements under the “solicitation by charitable organizations” statute.
§ The General Assembly passed legislation to establish new requirements for the provision of care to abused animals.
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