An Update from the State House
Chamber Testifies on Bills
It was a busy week at the state house as the Chamber testified on the following bills:
Senate Bill No. 2569, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Workers’ Compensation, adds responsibility to the workers’ compensation administrative account. This account is funded by a 6.5% assessment on the workers’ compensation premiums for employers in Rhode Island. RI currently has one of the highest assessments in the country. The account pays for programs such as the Donely Rehabilitation Center, the activities of the workers’ compensation court, and related administrative tasks assigned to the Department of Labor. S.2569 proposes to add the requirement to fund the “Rhode Island Uninsured Employers’ Fund” (RIUEF). RIUEF is intended to provide financial assistance to employees who are hurt while working for employers who failed to secure workers’ compensation insurance. Nothing in the bill suggests how much the assessment would increase in order to adequately fund the RIUEF; and the Chamber, while expressing its opposition to this bill, pointed out that it is unfair to charge employers that are rightfully purchasing workers compensation insurance for those employers that are scamming the system. The Senate Labor Committee sent S.2569 to the Workers’ Comp Advisory Council for their input.
Article 13 – minimum wage increase. The Chamber testified against yet another increase in the minimum wage. On January 1, 2013 the minimum wage was raised to $7.75 an hour. A year later it went to $8.00 an hour. In 2015 the wage rose to $9.00, followed by an increase last year to $9.60 an hour. Today Rhode Island is tied for 5th highest state minimum wage in the country. (A couple states will see increase next year, however, so the rank will change). The Chamber urged the Finance Committee members to take a break from increases, reminding them that businesses need reliability and consistency to be productive. The Chamber also noted increases in the minimum wage also can result in increases in wages for other employees in the company. Since the money must come from somewhere – not out of the sky – prices for goods and services are likely to increase.
H.7325, An Act Relating to Health and Safety – Energize Rhode Island: Clean Energy Investment and Carbon Pricing Act of 2016. After completing further research, the Chamber testified against the passage of H.7325. The bill establishes a fee on companies that sell fossil fuels in the state, paid at the point of sale within the state for consumption or distribution within the state. The cost would obviously be passed along to consumers; or, in the case of gasoline stations, would most likely cause them to lose so much business to neighboring states, that they would close. The proponents of the bill supplied a REMI study suggesting that a series of tax increases on carbon use in the state would lead to increase economic activity and more jobs. However, the study failed to discuss how the increase in energy cost would affect the economy.
According to the legislation, the tax would initially be set at $15.00 per ton of CO2 equivalent and would be adjusted annually at the rate of inflation beginning in 2019. Revenues generated by the new tax would be deposited into a clean energy and jobs fund, with 25 percent of funds used for various energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, 30 percent being used to provide dividends to employers in the state, 40 percent being used to provide dividends to residents of the state, and 5 percent being used for administrative costs.
Below is a table showing the additional cost for each fuel based on the tax with escalation as proposed over time:
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. 7889, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS IN TRADE AND INDUSTRY (Repeals the apprenticeship program fee which shall be paid by each program sponsor and it would also repeal the apprenticeship registration fee which shall be paid by each indentured apprentice.)
House Bill No. 7890, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - GOVERNOR'S WORKFORCE BOARD (Requires the state career pathways system of the workforce board to create pathways and workforce training programs to fill skill gaps and employment opportunities in the clean energy sector.)
House Bill No. 7896, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY -- PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY PROGRAM FOR PRINTED PAPER AND PACKAGING (Establishes a producer responsibility program for printed paper and packaging.)
Senate Bill No. 2683, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - PROPERTY SUBJECT TO TAXATION (Exempts the real and personal property owned by Mount Saint Charles Academy located within the city of Woonsocket from all municipal taxes due and payable on and after July 1, 2018.)
Senate Bill No. 2686, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - SALES AND USE TAXES - LIABILITY AND COMPUTATION (Adds convenience stores to the definition of eating and/or drinking establishments where the local meals and beverage tax shall apply to purchases of a meal or beverage.)
Senate Bill No. 2721, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS-HEALTHY AND SAFE FAMILIES AND WORKPLACES ACT (Requires all employers to provide their employees with a minimum level of paid sick and safety leave including time to care for the employee’s family members.)
Senate Bill No. 2723, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS --TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE (Expands TDI benefits, change the calculation of the taxable wage base; to state and municipal employees; increases the maximum number of weeks an employee can collect TDI and TCI; and expands TCI benefits for the care of siblings and grandchildren.)