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    Legislative Update from your
    Chamber of Commerce Coalition

     

    In this edition of Under the Dome, the Chamber Coalition would like to bring a few items of interest to your attention. The first few are an explanation of, and links to, legislation that affects the business community on the tax and wage front. You will also find the Chamber Coalition’s position on the legislation highlighted for you.

     

    Legislative Committees met for many long hours this past week.  Below is an update concerning issues of interest to the business community:

    Senate Bill No. 649  SUB AAN ACT RELATING TO TWIN RIVER CASINO GAMBLING (Removes a provision in the 2005 public laws which prohibits the construction of a hotel on the Twin River premises in Lincoln, Rhode Island.) Chamber supports. The Senate Committee on Special Legislation passed the bill on April 8th.  The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill April 14th.  The Senate Special Legislation Committee is scheduled to vote on the House companion bill (H.5798 as amended) April 9th.

     

    Senate Bill No. 291  AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - MINIMUM WAGE - GRATUITIES (Incrementally raises $2.89 tip credit for  employers between the years 2016 and 2020, at which point the credit will be eliminated.)  Chamber opposes.  Senate Labor Committee members heard testimony for four hours on this issue.  Proponents accused restaurant owners of paying less than minimum wage to workers, and allowing sexual harassment to occur in their establishments.  The proponents believe that tips are essentially gifts from customers and should not be considered wages.  Opponents discussed how tipped employees are often the most highly paid employees in the business.  Eliminating tips in exchange for a consistent hourly wage will ultimately hurt all employees and cause businesses to change the model of operation.  Anyone interested in this legislation is encouraged to contact their legislators!  The bill was held for further study.

     

    Article 11, Section 3 of the budget was heard in the House Finance Committee April 7th.  Part of this section proposes to change the way hotel tax money is distributed in the state.  Under current law, the state retains $468,230 to run a state-wide marketing effort.  Stephen Pryor, Director of the Commerce Corporation testified that Massachusetts is planning to spend $16 million for a state wide campaign, while Connecticut is spending $13 million with a plan to increase that amount next year.  Under the existing budget in Rhode Island, an additional $6,537,430 million is collected in taxes and spread out over the regional tourism districts: Blackstone Valley Tourism $348,852; Providence /Warwick CVB $1,890,617; Warwick EDA $644,900; Discover Newport $2,531,155; South County Tourism Council $857,081; Block Island Tourism Council $264,825.  The Governor’s proposal would decrease the amount given to most of the councils, and funnel that money to the state wide branding effort.  To learn more about this proposal, go to

     

    http://www.commerceri.com/documents/reports/Tourism%20Marketing%20Investment%20Plan%2012-2014.pdf

     

     

    Senate Bill No. 596, AN ACT AN ACT RELATING TO COMMERCIAL LAW - GENERAL REGULATORY PROVISIONS passed the Senate Judiciary Committee April 10th.  This bill authorizes the attorney general and/or aggrieved persons to file a bad faith patent infringement suit seeking equitable and/or monetary relief including punitive damages in connection with frivolous patent infringement claims.  These suits are also known as “patent troll” lawsuits that target businesses that will likely settle instead of proceeding to costly litigation.  S.596 would be beneficial to the business community.  Chamber supports.

     

    Below is a list of legislation that will be heard in a committee next week.  The list contains bill numbers, links to the legislation, summary explanations and the Chamber’s position if applicable. 

     

    House Bill No. 5249 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5249.pdf ,  AN ACT RELATING TO HUMAN SERVICES -- PUBLIC ASSISTANCE ACT (Requires retailers to examine a photo id to verify that a buyer presenting an EBT card is entitled to use the card. It further provides that a retailer who neglects to perform such verification shall be suspended from the program for 1 month.). H.5249 will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee April 14th.

     

    Article 11, Section 15. This section creates a state property tax of $2.50 per $1000 of assessed value on non-owner occupied real property valued at $1 million or more, effective July 1, 2015.  The new tax, which the media has dubbed as the “Taylor Swift tax,” goes beyond residential mansions.  The tax would also apply to condominiums with less than six units, vacant residential land and timeshare condominiums.  Developers and real estate investors should review this language closely.  This section is will raise an estimated $11.8 million.  The Article will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee April 14th at 2:00pm in room 211 at the State House.

     

    Senate Bill No. 185, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- WORKERS' COMPENSATION -- MEDICAL SERVICES (Requires employers to pay the reasonable transportation costs for employees that travel round-trip to receive workers' compensation related healthcare services.) Chamber opposes.  This bill will be heard in the Senate Labor Committee on April 15thhttp://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0185.pdf

     

    Senate Bill No. 599, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - WORKERS' COMPENSATION - GENERAL PROVISIONS (Establishes definitions for leased and temporary employees for workers' compensation benefits. It also addresses the workers' compensation potential liability for 'special employers.') S.599 will be heard in the Senate Labor Committee on April 15thhttp://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0599.pdf