An Update from the State House
Re-drafted Toll Bills Introduced
As expected, the House and Senate filed bills to allow for the collection of tolls throughout the state. H.7409, sponsored by the House Majority Leader John DeSimone and S.2246 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio where both filed January 28th. The bills allow the RI Turnpike Authority to purchase tolling facilities for bridges in the state; and allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to collect the tolls. Locations would be chosen by the DOT as long as the locations comply with federal requirements. Following an economic analysis and a public hearing, DOT would set the amount of the toll with certain restrictions in place. The maximum toll paid for crossing the state on Route 95 would be $20.00. No truck could be charged more than once per day per tolling site meaning a truck could cross a bridge from the north and south resulting in two toll charges. If that truck crossed the same bridge again in the same day, no toll would be assessed. DOT is limited by a maximum per day charge of $40.00 for crossing multiple bridges in the state. The bills state clearly that vehicles - other than Class 8 trucks and higher - cannot be tolled unless a majority of people voting in a statewide referendum approve the additional tolls. The House Finance Committee will be taking testimony on the proposal, as well as other House sponsored proposals, Thursday, February 4th, beginning at 2:30 p.m. in room 35 at the State House. The Senate Finance Committee will hear testimony on S.2246 on Wednesday, February 3rd, at 2:00 p.m. in the Senate Lounge.
Chamber Testifies Against Employer IRA Mandate
On Thursday January 28th, the Chamber testified against H.7219, An Act Relating to State Affairs and Government – Private Employer IRA Program. This bill would require every company in Rhode Island with 5 or more employees to provide information concerning the availability of an IRA program, administered by the Department of Labor and Training (DLT) and a third party financial program manager. The DLT would be responsible for setting up the program, creating the necessary enrollment documents and providing those documents to employers. Employers would give the information to each employee, and if the employee does not OPT OUT of the program, the employer would be required to set up an account, deduct 3% of the employee’s wages, and deposit those wages in the account. Each employee could choose to have a greater amount of wages withheld. Employers would also be required to keep records on each employee’s choice as an employee can change his/her withdrawal status at any time. Proponent of the bill point to the fact that individuals are not saving for their retirement years – this program would result in higher savings rates. The Chamber testified that investment opportunities already exist if employees wish to take advantage of them, and that this program mandate would place yet another administrative burden on businesses. The House Labor Committee voted to hold the bill for further study.
Carbon Tax Bill Filed
Rep. Aaron Rugenberg (Providence) filed legislation to institute a carbon tax on all fossil fuels to be collected at the “first point of sale within the state for consumption or distribution within the state.” Starting January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2018, the tax would equal $15 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. After January 1, 2019, the tax would increase at the rate of inflation. The electric companies would be responsible for collecting the tax from customers for electricity sold and generated through the burning of fossil fuel. National Grid Gas would be responsible for collecting the tax from their customers. It appears that heating fuel customers and other businesses such as Green Airport would most likely be indirectly paying the tax as the charged entity would be the supplier. Twenty-five percent of the monies raised is directed to pay for “climate resilience, energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy programs that benefit low-income residential properties and small business properties. Thirty percent (30%) would be re-distributed as dividends to employers in the state. Forty percent (40%) is re-distributed to residents of the state as dividends. And up to 5% would go toward administrative costs. It is unclear as to how much would be raised through this tax. See the link below to review the legislation.
Below is a list of new legislation that was filed this week. The list contains bill numbers, links to the legislation, and summary explanations.
House Bill No. 7326, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - LEVY AND ASSESSMENT OF LOCAL TAXES (Amends the definition of 'developmental property' in connection with the exemption from taxation for new construction to provide that such property shall mean commercial real estate, subject to certain listed exceptions.)
House Bill No. 7335, AN ACT RELATING TO CRIMINAL OFFENSES -- SHOPLIFTING (Reclassifies the offense of shoplifting from a crime to a violation for a first offense conviction punishable by a fine only, and would punish a second offense as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine only without the possibility of a prison sentence.)
House Bill No. 7344, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- EMPLOYMENT SECURITY -- BENEFITS (Eliminates the waiting period for individuals transitioning from temporary disability payments from any other state or foreign government or payments paid from the state of Rhode Island or the government of the United States to unemployment benefits.)
House Bill No. 7355, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - CAREGIVER TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE BENEFITS (Adds siblings to class of workers who can receive temporary disability for caregiver services.
House Bill No. 7356, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE - CONTRIBUTIONS (Permits employees who are covered by employer-sponsored disability insurance programs to elect to be exempt from the state TDI program.
House Bill No. 7386, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE - INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS (Requires that the designation of a worker as an 'independent contractor' form to be filed annually, with a ten dollar ($10.00) filing fee with the director of revenue, and not the director of labor and training.)
Senate Bill No. 2196, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS (Establishes a procedure for the timely payment to contractors and subcontractors in connection with state contracts).
Senate Bill No. 2235, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- PAYMENT OF WAGES (Establishes a procedure for employees to secure liens against employers for unpaid wages. Contested claims would be decided by the Superior Court.)
Senate Bill No. 2237, AN ACT RELATING TO HOLIDAYS AND DAYS OF SPECIAL OBSERVANCE-WORK ON HOLIDAYS AND SUNDAYS (Repeals §25-3-7 of the general laws which gives the director of the department of labor and training the authority to exempt certain classes of employees form receiving overtime pay for Sunday and holiday work.)