An Update from the State House
House Labor Committee Hears Paid Sick and Safety Leave Legislation – ACTION NEEDED
The House Labor Committee met for 5 ½ hours Thursday March 31st to discuss increases in minimum wage, fair pay for women, and the infamous H.7633, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act. In case you missed last week’s UTD, this bill requires employers to provide paid sick and safety leave time which accumulates at the rate of one hour for every thirty hours an employee works, up to a maximum of fifty-six hours a year. Sick/safety leave can be used for medical reasons as well as for preventive medical care, care of a family member, attend court proceedings associated with domestic violence or sexual assault, relocate due to domestic violence or sexual assault, or to care for a family member as a result of a domestic violence issue. The definition of family member includes: biological, adopted, foster child or stepchild regardless of age; biological, foster, stepparent or adoptive parent; spouse, domestic partner; grandparent, grandchild; sibling or “Any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” If an employee is absent for three consecutive days, an employer can require the employee to submit written documentation to prove the reason for the absence. Any out of pocket expenses associated with obtaining the documentation must be paid by the employer. Only five states in the country have passed a sick leave bill – California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. H.7633 is more generous than any of the 5 states; but passage of any version of the bill would make Rhode Island an outlier with most of the county.
The Proponents of the bill came out in large numbers, with most being members of a group called RI Working Families. According to their own web page, “Rhode Island Working Families is a newly formed progressive independent political organization that will fight for economic, social, and racial justice — and win. Formed by labor unions, community organizations and grassroots activists, our aim is to win policy shifts that ensure dignity and justice for working class communities, communities of color, and all Rhode Islanders.”
Thank you to all of the Chamber members who contacted members of the House Labor Committee to voice opposition to this bill. It is now time to contact your own legislator in addition to the House Labor Committee members. The Chamber opposes the passage of H.7633.
Education Commission Outlines New Plan For Schools
Newly appointed Education Commissioner Ken Wagner addressed a joint session of the House and Senate last Wednesday to unveil his proposal for the state’s education system. Calling it a School and Family Empowerment Package, the proposal allows students to choose to go to any school district that is accepting students. If a family from Central Falls wishes to attend a Cumberland school, and Cumberland has an opening, the child can transfer. It appears from the draft proposal that the money would follow the child. If a student wishes to attend a school in the same region, transportation may be covered; but if a student from Burrillville wishes to attend Westerly, transportation responsibilities would remain with the family. The plan also calls for more autonomy for schools. Decisions surrounding text books, school day logistics and personnel issues would be left to teachers and principals. Efforts are underway to look at neighboring Massachusetts and learn from their attempts to improve education. Massachusetts students are achieving higher levels of skills than Rhode Island students, with similar demographic backgrounds for many students. This will be an issue to watch in the upcoming months.
Powered Alcohol Legislation Moving
H.7026, An Act Relating to Alcoholic Beverages is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday April 5th. The Senate version S.2059, is in the House Judiciary Committee and is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, April 6th. 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.
Below is a list of new legislation that was filed this week. The list contains bill numbers, links to the legislation, and summary explanations.
Senate Bill No. 2863, AN ACT RELATING TO CORPORATIONS, ASSOCIATIONS, AND PARTNERSHIPS (Amends the statutes regarding securities and franchises in order to allow for electronic filings and to remove the filing fee for advertising.)
Senate Bill No. 2865, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - SALES AND USE TAXES - LIABILITY AND COMPUTATION (Adds 'transportation network companies', which use a digital network to connect riders with transportation, to the list of services subject to sales and use taxation.)
Senate Bill No. 2866, AN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONS -- ENGINEERS (Amends statutes governing engineers, land surveyors and landscape architects (design professionals) to eliminate outmoded, inconsistent and unnecessary regulations and bring Rhode Island in line with our neighbors to level the playing field for business.)
Senate Bill No. 2871, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION -- PERSONAL INCOME TAX (Requires employers to file state copies of federal form w-2 (wage and tax statement) with the division of taxation on or before January 31st following the close of the calendar year.)
House Bill No. 8026, 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.)