The Rhode Island General Assembly recessed their 2016 session on Saturday, June 16th at 6:11AM. The 6:11AM departure time marks the latest time in a number of years that the Assembly has recessed on the “final day” after having convened on the previous day. During this marathon push, many bills were taken up and voted on before members recessed on Saturday morning.

The 2016 session will probably best be remembered for a bill that was introduced, debated and passed at the very beginning of the session: “An Act Relating to State Affairs and Government—Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction and Maintenance Fund—Tolls,” otherwise known as the “truck toll” legislation. H 7409 Sub A As Amended and S 2246 Sub A As Amended, the primary sponsors of which were, respectively, the House and Senate majority leaders, generated considerable debate. Ultimately, both identical bills passed both chambers and were signed by Governor Raimondo on February 11, 2016. The truck toll bills authorize the collection of tolls on large commercial trucks only, while expressly prohibiting tolls on passenger cars and other vehicles. All toll monies collected are to be used for the repair and maintenance of Rhode Island bridges.

Aside from the truck toll legislation, as in previous years, the most significant bill enacted was the state budget legislation: H 7454 Sub A As Amended. Among the budget’s more noteworthy provisions are the following:

Provides for $25.5 million in new general obligation bonds, to be submitted to the voters on the November 2016 ballot, for the second phase of a project to renovate and build additions to the College of Engineering complex at the University of Rhode Island.

Provides for $20.0 million in new general obligation bonds, to be submitted to the voters on the November 2016 ballot, for the construction of one or more innovation campuses affiliated with the University of Rhode Island.

Exempts up to $15,000 of pension and annuity benefits from state personal income tax for single and head of household filers who have reached full social security retirement age and have federal adjusted gross incomes of $80,000 or less, and, married joint and qualifying widow or widower filers with joint federal adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or less. (This includes income from federal, state, and local government retirement plans, military pensions, railroad retirement benefits, and private pension plans, from the public and private sectors, which is deemed taxable income and is included in a filer’s adjusted gross income.)

Reduces the minimum corporate tax from $450 to $400 per year, effective January 1, 2017.

Increases the Earned Income Tax Credit for low and moderate wage earners from 12.5 percent of the federal credit to 15.0 percent effective for tax year 2017.

Makes changes to the unemployment insurance taxes that some Rhode Island employers pay and lowers the amount the trust fund must hold in reserve in order to save Rhode Island employers an estimated $30 million in 2017 from a reduction in unemployment insurance taxes.

Provides $2.0 million to begin a medication-assisted treatment program for opioid users at the Adult Correctional Institutions. The funds will be used to screen for opioid use disorders and conduct an assessment of new inmates to determine treatment options. The initiative will also start medication-assisted treatment prior to release with community referral for ongoing treatment.

Decreases beach parking fees collected by the Department of Environmental Management to the rates previously charged before July 1, 2011.

Aside from the budget bill, other bills of note passed by the General Assembly include the following:

Lobbying reform — Simplifies and clarifies the rules governing lobbying in order to maximize transparency, establishes a more user-friendly registration and reporting system, and, establishes a stronger investigation and enforcement process for the Rhode Island Secretary of State.

Biosimilars — Similar to the state law which allows for the substitution of brand name drugs with generic drugs (small molecule medicines/pills), this law provides a process for the substitution of brand name biologics with interchangeable or biosimilar biologics (large molecule injectable medicines).

Tiverton casino referendum — Authorizes state-operated gaming at a facility located in the town of Tiverton, subject to voter approval.

Off-label drug expansion — Provides that no health insurer issuing a policy which provides coverage for prescription drugs will be able to exclude coverage of any drug used for the treatment of a “disabling or life-threatening chronic disease” on the grounds that the drug is considered "off-label" by the FDA for that indication, provided that the drug is recognized for treatment of that indication in one of the standard (medical) reference compendia, or in peer-reviewed medical journals.

Ethics Reform – Reestablishes Rhode Island Ethics Commission oversight of Rhode Island General Assembly members “for any speech in debate,” subject to voter approval on the November, 2016 ballot.

After four straight years of raising the minimum wage, the General Assembly did not enact an increase in the minimum wage this year despite legislation introduced in both the House and Senate as well as by the Governor in the state budget bill.

Sadly, a number of bills which would have reformed Rhode Island’s probation and parole system, and promoted by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, passed the full Senate but not the House. These bills enjoyed unanimous support among members of the Rhode Island State Judiciary, Rhode Island Department of Corrections, Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, Rhode Island Urban League, and other affected groups.

Over the course of the next several weeks, those bills that were passed by the General Assembly may now be transmitted to the Governor. Once a bill is transmitted to the Governor, she has the option of signing it into law, vetoing it, or allowing it to become law without her signature.

Once the Governor has taken action on all of those bills transmitted to her office, the PLDW Government & Legislative Strategies Team will be preparing a more detailed report outlining the final status of top legislation.

While we’ve updated our clients on the status of various bills, below is the link to the 2016 Public Laws List from the General Assembly’s web site. Here you will be able to find a list of those bills passed by the General Assembly in 2016 which have already become law. The list can be viewed by three sorts: Chapter Number, Bill Number, and Subject.

Please keep in mind that this site will continue to be updated over the next several weeks as bills passed by the General Assembly are transmitted to the Governor and she takes action on them.

Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC has extensive experience as a legislative advocate for clients in the private and public sectors. Our experience and deep understanding of our clients' operations and the issues facing them enables us to communicate effectively to legislators and state agencies. For more information about PLDW's government relations capabilities and services, please contact our firm at (401) 824-5100.

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