An Update from the State House
General Assembly Heads Into the Final Phase of Legislative Session
Each year the General Assembly breaks in April for one week. A majority of the hearings have been held, leaving the months of May and June for bill negotiations as well as the creation of the budget. On May 7th, the House, Senate and Governor’s office and fiscal staffs will meet in what is known as the Revenue Estimating Conference. At that time, they will determine the amount of revenue available for the FY2017 budget. If the revenues are good, the budget process is obviously easier. If the numbers are lower than anticipated (which is what the rumor mill is predicting) the budget process becomes more challenging.
Because the General Assembly is on break from April 18th through April 22nd, there will be no edition of “Under the Dome” next week.
Powdered Alcohol Ban Legislation Sent to the Governor
H.7026, An Act Relating to Alcoholic Beverages was passed by the Senate and transmitted to the Governor for consideration. The Senate version S.2059, passed the House and has also been transmitted to the Governor. Both bills ban the sale and purchase of powdered alcohol in the state. The sale of product, which is expected to begin this summer, has the potential to hurt restaurants, entertainment venues and hotels as customers purchase soda or order water and then create their own cocktail by adding powder. The use of the product also raises liability issues for businesses. An individual could order one drink, appear intoxicated so that the bartender refuses to serve another drink, order a soda and add powdered alcohol thus becoming more intoxicated. If the person has an accident while driving on the way home, any injured party could sue the business. The Chamber supports passage of both H.7026 and S.2059.
House Labor Committee Heard Wage Violation Penalty Bills
On April 14th, the House Labor Committee received testimony on two bills: H.7628, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Minimum Wages; and H.8026, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Payment of Wages. Both bills address penalties for employers that fail to pay wages due to an employee.
Most of the proponents were members of RI Working Families and Jobs for Justice, organizations comprised of union groups. The committee heard stories from a few individuals, with the help of an English translator, who testified that their employer refused to pay them for the hours they worked, and that the Department of Labor was unable to help them.
H.8026 allows an employee to place a lien on property for the amount of wages owed and penalties. To establish the lien, the employee must first notify the employer by registered or certified mail, providing to the employer the amount due for wages and a general description of the property to be charged with the lien. The employer then has 30 days from the date of receipt of the notice to file a dispute in superior court. Once the employer files the dispute, the court must place a temporary lien on the property and would have to hold hearings on the dispute within the next 30 days. If the court finds in favor of the employee, the lien remains intact and the employer is charged attorney’s fees for the employee. If the court finds that the employee was acting in bad faith, or with an intent to harass the employer, then the employer can be awarded attorney’s fees. Finally if the employer fails to file a dispute of the lien within 30 days of receiving the notice, then the employee simply takes the initial notice to the town to file the lien. The wage lien is given priority status. The Chamber testified against H.8026. Members of the committee asked thoughtful questions and expressed concerns about the lack of due process afforded businesses under this proposed legislation. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText16/HouseText16/H8026.pdf
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. 8067, AN ACT RELATING TO HIGHWAYS -- PARK AND RIDE LOTS (Prohibits commercial vehicles from using park and ride lots to transport passengers to out-of-state casinos.)
House Bill No. 8068, AN ACT RELATING TO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES -- WINE DIRECT SHIPPER LICENSE (Creates a wine direct shipper license and a wine gift basket license allowing for the shipment of certain amounts of wine both in and out-of-state.)
House Bill No. 8076, AN ACT RELATING TO FOOD AND DRUGS -- MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACT (Makes the department of business regulation the exclusive government authority regarding the issuance of licenses to private and business establishments which permit the use of marijuana on their premises.)