Under the Dome: Week of 3/26

    March 26, 2018
    An Update from the State House

    Last Week – Weather Alerts and Testimonies
    Last Wednesday arrived with yet another cancellation due to the prediction of a snow storm. All
    hearings were again postponed. The Senate Labor Committee rescheduled its hearings for
    Wednesday, March 28 th as did the Senate Committee on Environment and Energy.

    What’s Going On This Week

    Tuesday, March 27 
    The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting to consider a number of bills, one of which is
    S.2699, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Fair Employment Practices – Sexual
    Harassment (Senators Goldin, Goodwin, Coyne, Lynch Prata and Gallo). S.2699 requires all
    businesses with 4 or more employees to have a written policy on sexual harassment in the
    workplace (current law is 50 or more employees). The policy must include: A statement of the
    range of consequences for employees who are found to have committed sexual harassment; a
    description of the process for filing internal complaints about sexual harassment and the work
    addresses and telephone numbers of the person or persons to whom complaints should be made;
    and the identity of the appropriate state and federal employment discrimination enforcement
    agencies, and directions as to how to contact these agencies. The policy must be given to each
    employee. Employers must conduct sexual harassment training programs for their employees by
    September 1, 2018 and within one month of hire for new employees after that date. The
    Department of Labor, together with the Commission for Human Rights, have enforcement

    Wednesday, March 28 
    The Senate Labor Committee will take testimony on two bills Wednesday, March 28 th . 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. The Chamber opposes S.2188.

    Thursday, March 29
    The House Finance Committee will meet around 4:30 p.m. in Room 101. H.7427 (sponsored by
    Reps. Donovan, Ruggiero, Ranglin-Vassell, Shekarchi and Blazejewski), the companion bill to
    S.2475 (see explanation above) will be heard; as will H.7544 (Blazejewski, Maldonado,
    Winfield, Casimiro and McEntee) which allows employees to qualify for 6 weeks of TDI
    benefits to care for ill siblings, foster siblings, step-siblings or grandchildren. H.7893 (by Reps.
    Williams, Morin, Vella-Wilkinson, Walsh and Hull) allows employees, who believe they are
    owed wages, to place a lien on the owner’s property by first personally serving a written notice
    to the employer stating the facts surrounding the owing of wages and a description of the
    property on which a lien might be placed. If the owner fails to dispute the lien by filing a
    complaint in the appropriate court within 30 days of receiving the notice, then the employee can
    record the lien. The Chamber opposes all of these bills.

    The following bills were filed last week:

    Senate Bill No. 2657
    BY  Morgan, Paolino, Raptakis, Gee, Lombardo
    (Provides that corporations with less than fifty (50) employees shall not be subject to the four
    hundred dollar ($400) minimum corporate tax.)

    Senate Bill No. 2708
    BY  Morgan, Paolino, Raptakis, Cote
    employers in Rhode Island to participate in the E/Verify employment authorization program and
    establishes deadlines to do so.)