Under the Dome: 3/19/2018

    March 19, 2018
    An Update from the State House

    Last Week – More Snow and Testimonies
    What we hope will not become a reoccurring theme in UTD is a cancellation due to snow
    storms; but the possibility remains in the upcoming week. Last Tuesday all hearings were again
    postponed thanks to Mother Nature. However, the Wednesday Senate Labor Committee
    minimum wage hearing changed the quiet halls into an active scene. Business groups –
    including the Chamber – testified against the bills siting increased costs and the added
    difficulties associated with compensating those workers who already make over minimum wage
    today. RI Working Families argued that employees should be able to raise a family by working
    one job and later took to Facebook by referring to the Chambers, as well as a respected business
    owner who testified against the bills, as “clowns” and posted a video of Krusty the Clown from
    the Simpsons.
    The Chamber also testified against H.7827 (Reps. Handy, Regunberg, McKiernan Barros and
    Williams) which creates what is called the Rhode Island Global Warming Solutions Act. While
    this bill was featured last week in UTD, what was not said is that the bill would require 5% of all
    cars sold in RI to be electric vehicles by 2025, 40% by 2035 and 95% by 2050. All buildings –
    residential and commercial would have to switch to electric heat: 10% by 2025, all new
    buildings after 2035 and 100% of all buildings by 2050. If the government failed to reach those
    targets, ay person could sue to enforce the law. The latest federal Energy Information Agency
    shows that Rhode Islanders have the 5 th highest electric rates in the country. The RI
    Environmental Coalition is pushing the bill, led by the Conservation Law Foundation.
    Lastly, the hearing on the plastic bag bill, H.7851, was postponed at the sponsor’s request. It
    will be rescheduled in the future.

    What’s Going On This Week
    On Tuesday, March 20 th , the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear S.2529
    (Senators Euer, Goldin, Sosnowski, Coyne, and Seveney). If passed, all insurance plans, starting
    January 1, 2019, would be required to cover contraceptive drugs and devices. Curiously, plans
    must also cover voluntary sterilization procedures except male sterilization coverage under high
    deductible plans. No co-pays, deductibles, or cost sharing provisions may be charged by the
    insurance carrier/provider to the patient. The cost impact of the potential new mandate is
    unknown at this time.
    Wednesday, March 21 st promises to be a very busy day. The House Finance Committee will be
    taking testimony on Governor Raimondo’s proposal to pass yet another 25-cent per pack
    increase in the cigarette tax. This follows a 50-cent increase implemented in last year’s budget.

    Today, Rhode Islander’s pay $4.25 in tax for each pack of cigarettes purchased. For
    convenience store operators, cigarettes are the second highest selling item inside the store walls –
    second to lottery tickets.
    The Senate Labor Committee will take testimony on two bills Wednesday. S.2475 (Senators
    Goldin, Goodwin, Ruggerio, Lynch Prata, and McCaffrey) requires employers to pay employees
    at the same wage rate if they have the similar skills, efforts, responsibilities, and work in similar
    working conditions. A wage differential is allowed if: (1) a seniority system exists (although
    pregnancy leave, medical leave and family leave can’t affect the seniority calculation); (2) a
    merit system has been adopted; (3) a system exists that measures quantity output – and the
    business can prove it is a fair calculation; or (4) some other system that the business can prove is
    based on necessity and that the system is not based on gender or race. If an employer is deemed
    to be in violation of this act, the employer can not cure the situation by lowering the wages of
    other employees. If an applicant requests a copy of the wage ranges for all comparable jobs in
    the company prior to the employer asking the applicant about wage expectations, that request
    must be honored; and every employee has the right to ask for the company’s current wage range
    comparisons annually. Finally, any employee that successfully challenges his/her wages is
    entitled to unpaid back wages, benefits, other compensatory damages and liquidated damages
    equal to three times the unpaid wages and benefits owed. The Chamber opposes S.2475.
    S.2638 (Senators Goodwin and Goldin) requires businesses with 100 or more employees to file
    an annual report with the Department of Labor. The report must contain information regarding
    the compensation and hours worked by employees broken down by gender, race, ethnicity, and
    job category. Should an employer fail to submit the report, the Department can file and action in
    court to compel the company to comply. The Chamber opposes S.2638.
    The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture will take testimony on S.2188 (Senators
    Calkin, Miller, Sosnowski, Coyne, and Seveney). This bill creates the “Energize Rhode Island”
    program. The costs associated with S.2188 would place high financial burdens on businesses
    that rely on carbon based fuel for transport, heat, or electricity. The bill imposes a $15 per ton
    carbon tax on all fossil fuels that escalates $5 per ton every year thereafter until the rate equals
    $50 per ton. Once the $50 per ton rate is reached, the tax would raise annually according to the
    rate of inflation. The implementation trigger date is dependent upon passage of a carbon fee of at
    least $5 per metric ton in Massachusetts and one other New England state. Electric companies
    would pay the tax on behalf of their customers which would then be passed along to the
    consumer. The goal is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. The taxes collected are placed into the
    Energize Rhode Island Fund. Twenty-eight (28%) would be used to fund climate change
    resiliency projects and renewable energy programs. Thirty percent (30%) is slated to be returned
    to businesses based on FTEs. Forty percent (40%) would be returned to Rhode Island residents
    over the age of 18 either through a tax credit or a dividend. Heads of households would receive
    an extra “bump” for every dependent under the age of 18. Up to two percent (2%) would go to
    administrative costs.

    If passed, Rhode Island would be the first state in the country to have this legislation on the
    books. Below is a chart (information was provided to the Chamber in 2017) showing the
    MINIMUM tax that would be proposed – just on a few fuel sources under the bill because we
    cannot predict what the inflation rate will be in future years. The Chamber also does not have
    the cost information associated with electricity rates and natural gas. The Chamber opposes
    the passage of S.2188.

    Thursday, March 22 nd will find the House Labor Committee taking up a number of bills of
    interest to the business community. H.7024 (Reps. O'Brien, Marshall, Corvese, McNamara, and
    Slater) makes it unlawful to subject an employee to an abusive work environment. An employer
    will be vicariously liable for the abuse to an employee unless the employer can prove “the
    employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and to promptly correct any actionable behavior”
    or that the abused employee failed to take advantage of opportunities provided by the employer.
    A private right of action is the sole remedy for the complaint. H.7115 (Reps. Ranglin-Vassell,
    Regunberg, Ajello, Donovan, and Perez), H.7116 (Reps. Perez, Vella-Wilkinson, Hull, and
    McKiernan) and H.7242 (Reps. Vella-Wilkinson, Lombardi, Casimiro, Hull, and Jacquard) all
    prohibit an employer from requesting salary history or benefits information -whether orally or in
    writing – from job applicants. These bills are meant to combat wage inequality. H.7427 (Reps.
    Donovan, Ruggiero, Ranglin-Vassell, Shekarchi, and Blazejewski) is the same bill as S.2475
    (see Senate Labor Committee above).

    The following bills were filed last week:
    House Bill No. 7970
    BY  Tobon, Cunha, Edwards, Maldonado, Marshall
    TIME-SHARE ACT (Amends several processes relative to the termination of a time-share
    agreement and the division of the ownership interests thereto.)

    House Resolution No. 7975
    BY  Marszalkowski, Morin, Tobon, O`Grady, Newberry
    commission to study and provide recommendations to encourage economic development within
    the Blackstone Valley, and who would report back to the House of Representatives by February
    5, 2019, and would expire on May 5, 2019.)
    Senate Bill No. 2638
    BY  Goodwin, Goldin
    DATA COLLECTION AND REPORTING (Requires an employer of 100 or more employees to
    annually report information regarding the compensation and hours worked of employees by
    gender, race, ethnicity, and job category to the department of labor and training.)