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Seveney bump stock bill passes Senate

The Senate today approved two bills to prevent gun violence and mass shootings, a ban on bump stocks and other rapid-fire gun modifications and “red flag” legislation that allows courts to disarm individuals who are believed by law enforcement to represent a violent threat to themselves or others.

The bills will now go to the House, which has passed companion bills to each of them.

Senator Goodwin’s bill is known as a “red flag” law because it allows police to seek from Superior Court an “extreme risk protective order” that prohibits an individual from possessing firearms, based on threats and other warning signs that the person might commit violence.

Senator Seveney’s legislation (2018-S 2292A) would ban bump stocks, binary triggers or trigger cranks on semi-automatic weapons.

A bump stock is an attachment that allows the shooter to fire a semi-automatic weapon with great rapidity. It replaces a rifle’s standard stock, freeing the weapon to slide back and forth rapidly, harnessing the energy from the kickback shooters feel when the weapon fires.

“While federal law bans fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986,” explained Seveney, “the bump stock and other modifying devices do not technically make the weapon a fully automatic firearm, even though it allows a weapon to fire at nearly the rate of a machine gun. This law would effectively ban these horrific devices in Rhode Island.” 

In last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, 12 of the rifles in the gunman’s possession were modified with a bump stock, allowing the weapon to fire about 90 shots in 10 seconds — a much faster rate than the AR-15 style assault rifle used by the Orlando nightclub shooter, which fired about 24 shots in nine seconds.

The bill would make it unlawful to possess, transport, manufacture, ship or sell a bump stock, regardless of whether the person is in possession of a firearm. Those violating the provisions, would face imprisonment for up to 10 years, or a fine up to $10,000, or both. It would also make it unlawful and apply the same penalties for any person to modify any semi-automatic weapon to shoot full automatic fire with a single pull or hold of the trigger.

The legislation would also ban binary triggers, which is a device designed to fire one round on the pull of the trigger and another round upon release of the trigger, effectively doubling the weapon’s shooting capabilities; and trigger cranks, which attach to the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon and cause the weapon to fire by turning the crank handle.

The measure is cosponsored by Sens. Coyne, DiPalma, Pearson and Conley,. It now movesto the House, which has passed similar legislation (2018-H 7075Aaa) introduced by Rep. Robert Craven (D-32).

Both bills have the support of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.

“I applaud the Senate for taking an important step to enhance our gun safety laws public safety by establishing a legal process to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves or others,” said Kilmartin. “While there is no one answer to ending the epidemic of gun violence in our country, I believe measured approaches such as the red flag law and banning bump stocks will improve public safety while also protecting the rights of legal gun owners.”

Editorial note: Written from a news release,

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Seveney mental health primary care parity bill passes Senate

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation introduced by Sen.  Jim Seveney (D-11) that would require health insurers to include behavioral health counseling as a primary care visit.

Under the provisions of the bill (2018-S 2540Aaa) behavioral health counseling visits and medication maintenance visits would be included as primary care visits for patient cost-sharing requirements under the provisions of a health plan.

“There are certain constraints on the health care system when it comes to mental health,” said Seveney. “This legislation looks to improve mental illness prevention and intervention by ensuring parity of cost sharing as it pertains to behavioral counseling visits.”

The legislation would also require the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner to include in an annual report to the governor and General Assembly recommendations to ensure the health insurance coverage of behavioral health care under the same terms and conditions as other health care, and to integrate behavioral health parity requirements into the insurance oversight and health care transformation efforts.

“By making sure the foundation of mental health care is a solid one, we can build upon it to improve the health care needs of all Rhode Islanders,” said Seveney. “This is an important step in better integrating behavioral health and primary care.”

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation (2018-H 7806) has been introduced by Rep. Grace Diaz (D-11).

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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Senate passes Seveney bill to fund drug prevention efforts

The Rhode Island Senate today passed legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Seveney (D-11) that would change the way drug awareness programs are approved and funded.

The bill (2018-S 2025Aaa) would amend the Rhode Island Student Assistance High School/ Junior High/Middle School Act to regulate and update the administration of the programs.

“Currently, there is little to no state money that’s allocated to substance abuse prevention in Rhode Island outside of the annual federal SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) grant,” said Seveney. “With passage of this bill, we’ll fix the flaws in the existing law and ensure that the programs are administered effectively.”

The legislation would place approval of drug awareness programs for minors charged with civil marijuana offenses in the discretion of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). It would also redirect funds from certain civil fines imposed to the general revenue fund to be expended by BHDDH to fund substance abuse and student assistance programs for youth.

“There’s supposed to be a fee on every moving violation that the Traffic Tribunal processes to go partly into a restricted receipt account and partly into the general fund to be managed by BHDDH,” said Seveney. “That money could amount to something approaching $1 million. Currently, we do not collect it. With passage of this legislation, we will. It also assesses 50 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana fines that the Traffic Tribunal processes and puts it into the same fund.”

The act would also mandate that BHDDH establish funding criteria for distribution of funds and require that municipalities that receive the funds file annual reports verifying that the funds are being used for substance abuse prevention programs. It would also make high schools eligible for the program; currently the law mentions only junior high and middle schools.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration, where similar legislation (2018-H 7221) has been introduced by House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (D-70).

Editorial note: Written from a State House news release.

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Rep. Ruggiero OpEd: Play Ball! But Where?

By Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-74)

ruggiero_oped.jpgI love it when my constituents provide input on issues. The PawSox stadium has brought many emails and calls from both sides of the bench. Many have argued about the economic importance of the PawSox to our state. I’ve sat through many, many hours of testimony in the House Finance Committee and asked many questions. Now that the bill has been sent to the House, my committee will have more hearings, during which I’m confident we can continue to improve the proposal and make it a better deal for taxpayers.

My first question was “Can Pawtucket afford this?” If they default, the taxpayers of the state are the back stop. Their fiscal analysis shows they can support the $18 million in bonds to pay back. Also, part of the deal includes PawSox developing 50,000 square feet for retail in Pawtucket, so the city will see tax incremental funding as well.

I would like to see the PawSox backstop the city of Pawtucket in the event that they default. The Pawsox could put $18 million in escrow, as security, in the event that the city of Pawtucket defaults on its notes. Each year that the city of Pawtucket meets its financial obligations (without taxpayer help), that portion of the security deposit is returned. Make sense? The owners are multimillionaires, and they can afford to have more skin in the game. Besides, staying in Pawtucket benefits them, because it would cost them significantly, probably millions, to rebrand themselves in New England as the WorSox (home team to Worcester, Mass.)

I don't know if people realize that the $45 million that the PawSox are putting in for this deal (including buying the land) is 54 percent -- the most of any Triple A deal in the country; most Triple A teams have put in 25-30 percent of the public/private partnership.

Then I asked, “Would the debt service be too much for the state?” Rhode Island currently gets about $2.1 million in revenues from McCoy today (with 400,000 attendees in 2016, and that’s the lowest since 1992!) The state’s debt service under the new deal is $1.6 million a year-- well below the annual income that the state already yields.

This is NOT 38 Studios. Curt Schilling was an amateur businessman with an unreleased video game who was over his skis compared with a Triple A team with over 40 years of history in the state. It is public/private money for a public use with public benefits. And to ensure 38 Studios never happened again, the legislature passed a statute limiting any state funds to no more than $25 million. Someone once said, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.”

Finally, looking to the future, I wondered if the state were to not authorize this public/private partnership with PawSox and the city of Pawtucket, would Pawtucket suffer extensive blight and an economic downturn in 4 or 5 years? Pawtucket has already lost Memorial Hospital and the Gamm Theatre, and Hasbro is considering a move. On the other side, there are some pretty cool local breweries in Pawtucket attracting a young, professional clientele.

When you come into Rhode Island from Boston, the gateway to our state is Pawtucket and that old Apex building! Would Rhode Islanders regret and become resentful if the PawSox became the WorSox? Has Brooklyn ever gotten over losing the Dodgers?

The House Finance Committee will work to make the Senate bill a better bill for Rhode Island taxpayers. I suspect there will be more change-ups in this saga, but the first pitch will be thrown in 2020. The question is where?

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, chairwoman of House Committee on Small Business, serves on House Finance and represents Jamestown and Middletown in District 74. She can be reached at rep-ruggiero@rilegislature.gov or 423-0444.

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Sen. Seveney intros bill to ban ‘bump stocks’ on semi-automatic weapons

Jim_campaign_medium.jpgSen. James A. Seveney (D-11) has introduced legislation that would ban ‘bump stocks’ on semi-automatic firearms.

A bump stock is an attachment that allows the shooter to fire a semi-automatic weapon with great rapidity. It replaces a rifle’s standard stock, freeing the weapon to slide back and forth rapidly, harnessing the energy from the kickback shooters feel when the weapon fires.

“While federal law bans fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986,” said Seveney, “The bump stock does not technically make the weapon a fully automatic firearm, even though it allows a weapon to fire at nearly the rate of a machine gun. This law would effectively ban these horrific devices in Rhode Island.”

In last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, 12 of the rifles in the gunman’s possession were modified with a bump stock, allowing the weapon to fire about 90 shots in 10 seconds — a much faster rate than the AR-15 style assault rifle used by the Orlando Nightclub shooter, which fired about 24 shots in nine seconds.

The legislation would make it unlawful to possess, transport, manufacture, ship or sell a bump stock, regardless of whether the person is in possession of a firearm. Those violating the provisions, would face imprisonment for up to five years, or a fine up to $15,000, or both.

Editorial note: From a state house news release.

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OpEd: Manufacturing is REAL in Rhode Island

ruggiero.jpgBy Deborah Ruggiero

Manufacturing in Rhode Island is alive and well, but not the manufacturing from the days of our grandparents. Technology has changed how we do business today and how we live.

Today’s manufacturing requires knowledge in technology, math, ladder logic, G-code, lean manufacturing principles and CAD programs. Manufacturing represents 15 percent of the state’s economy with over 1,600 manufacturers in Rhode Island ranging from sole proprietors to companies with over 100 employees.

The number one challenge I hear from manufacturers is finding qualified candidates to expand their business. The biggest asset of any company is its people. And let’s be real, because not every high school student is going to college. That’s why the Governor’s Manufacturing Initiative in this year’s budget is so important. The General Assembly approved $3.65 million to upgrade Davies Career and Technical High School to create a state-of-the art Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Investing in manufacturing to train high school students exposes them to careers that will help them in the future. It also helps manufacturers —from craft breweries to precision manufacturers — employ a skilled and qualified workforce to meet the demand of their customers.

Many young people don’t know what opportunity looks like today. The new manufacturing in Rhode Island is in defense, marine and infrastructure technology and cybersecurity. Rhode Island is a defense and undersea technology leader not just in New England but throughout the country.

Everyone starts somewhere. So start by talking with Dave Chenevert at Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and enroll in its apprentice program called WE MAKE RI. It has a 95-percent graduation rate and RIMA gets its apprentices jobs. (www.WeMakeRI.com)

More young people should tour Taylor Box in Warren and talk to Dan Shedd, owner of a third-generation family business. He’s survived recessions, expanded his manufacturing facility, and continues to look for good talent for his growing business in this new economy.

Let’s drive economic growth by creating a skilled workforce while expanding manufacturing in Rhode Island. It’s the future. It’s the new economy. It’s good-paying jobs and in our own backyard.

Rep.Deborah Ruggiero, (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown) is chairwoman of the Small Business Committee and serves on the House Finance Committee.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

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Seveney to host constituent meeting July 16

Jim_campaign_medium.jpgSen. Jim Seveney (D-11) will host a constituent meeting next Sunday, July 16 at Foodworks Restaurant, 2461 East Main Rd. in Portsmouth from 1:30-3pm, according to an e-mail sent this afternoon. Sen. Seveney's district includes all of Portsmouth, southern Bristol, and an area of Tiverton near the bridge.

Seveney says in the e-mail, "Needless to say, some major pieces of legislation, including the FY 2018 state budget, are in limbo and awaiting final completion. Hopefully we'll reconvene soon to finish the work left undone on Friday, June 30th.

"Come anytime between 1:30 - 3:00pm to discuss issues, expectations and the latest status on legislation of interest. I'll also share my experiences and insights gained as a first term state senator. I invite you to stop by and let me know what you're thinking."

Meeting is free and open to the public. Coffee and light snacks will be available.

Editorial note: Written from an e-mail.

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OpEd: Senate’s budget will protect taxpayers

ruggerio.jpgBy Dominick J. Ruggerio

As President of the Rhode Island State Senate, I have a responsibility to ensure we pass a balanced and sustainable budget for the state of Rhode Island. The budget adopted by the House of Representatives did not protect the state’s rainy day fund from Speaker Mattiello’s car tax phase-out in the event of a future recession or cuts to federal aid.

Like the Speaker, I support eliminating the car tax, but only if we can afford it. This should not be a new revelation for the Speaker. Since the beginning of this legislative session, I have publicly and privately expressed concerns about the sustainability of phasing out the car tax. I understand the Speaker campaigned on eliminating the car tax, but campaign promises alone cannot serve as the basis for policy formulation.

Last Friday, the Senate unanimously approved amending the budget to include a critical safeguard that suspends the car tax phase-out if state revenues can no longer support the plan. Without the safeguard, the state would have to tap into the rainy day fund, which I will not support. The Senate previously discussed this safeguard during budget negotiations and Senate Finance Committee hearings.

This safeguard was the only amendment to the budget. The Speaker’s car tax plan otherwise remains untouched, and not one dollar was changed in the $9.2 billion budget. I have great respect for the Speaker and his passion for reducing the car tax, but no one individual in the General Assembly has the authority to dictate what will or will not be in the budget. The Senate made this corrective action to protect taxpayers. Tapping into the rainy day fund could harm the state’s bond rating and our overall fiscal health.

The Speaker has not identified a revenue stream to support the car tax phase-out going forward. In fact by 2024, the car tax phase out will cost $221 million. The projected structural deficit for that year is over $300 million. Without proper safeguards or a proven reliable revenue stream, the rainy day fund could be obligated to support the Speaker’s car tax phase-out.

No one, not even the Speaker, wants to see this phase-out succeed more than I. The two communities I serve – Providence and North Providence – pay among the highest rates in the state. However, Rhode Island has a long and tortured history in its efforts to phase out the car tax. At one point, the General Assembly repealed a similar plan because of declining state revenues. I will not repeat that mistake. Taxpayers deserve predicable and sustainable tax relief.

After we amended the budget last Friday, the Senate remained in session and passed legislation to improve the quality of life of all Rhode Islanders. When the Speaker abruptly recessed the House, not only did he leave the budget unfinished – which includes his car tax plan with our safeguards – he also walked away from critical pieces of legislation. These include measures to provide paid sick leave to Rhode Island workers, take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and codify important provisions of the Affordable Care Act into state law.

We encourage the Speaker to reconvene the House to take up these matters. In the meantime, the Senate will thoroughly review all legislation that comes before us and pass that which we deem is in the best interest of all Rhode Islanders.

Dominick J. Ruggerio is President of the Rhode Island Senate. He is a Democrat that represents District 4, Providence and North Providence.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

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Canario marijuana commission bill goes to governor

Rep. Dennis Canario (D-71, Portsmouth) and Sen. Cynthia Coyne’s (D-32, Barrington) legislation (H 5551Aaa) that would create a 19-member special legislative commission to study the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island passed the General Assembly last night, according to a state house news release.

“The potential effects of legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island would have drastic impacts to the fabric of our state and this commission is necessary to determine if those effects would come with positive or negative outcomes,” said Canario. “There is too much at stake from both a financial and a public health standpoint to rush into legalization because Massachusetts has elected to do so. This commission will take a thoughtful and data-driven approach to determine if legalizing marijuana is the right move for Rhode Island.”

“Based on my experience as a retired State Police lieutenant and a mom of four children, I understand that legalization of marijuana for recreational use could have serious public safety, public health and societal ramifications. It is imperative that we thoughtfully consider the unintended consequences and take notice from lessons learned in Colorado and Washington. We should take full advantage of other states’ experiences and learn about whether we should follow in their footsteps or perhaps take a different approach to avoid any problems they may have encountered,” said Coyne.

The commission would consist of three members of the House of Representatives, three members of the Senate, one member from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the President of the Substance Use Mental Health Council of RI or a designee, a member from a pro-legalization organization, the Executive Director of the RI Medical Society or a designee, a member of a local chamber of commerce, the Director of the Department of Health or a designee, the President of the RI Police Chief’s Association or a designee, a designee of the RI Attorney General, a member representing the medical marijuana patients of Rhode Island, an educator in Rhode Island, a mental health professional, a criminal defense attorney, and the President of the RI AFL-CIO.

The purpose of the commission would be to conduct a comprehensive review and make recommendations regarding marijuana and the effects of its use on the residents of Colorado and Washington to the extent available, and to study the fiscal impact to those states; and thereafter the potential impact on Rhode Island of legalized recreational marijuana.

Local cosponsors of the legislation included Sen. Jim Seveney (D-11, Portsmouth), and Sen. Lou DiPalma (D-12, Middletown).

The bill now heads to the governor for consideration.

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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My testimony against Rep. Mendonca's sub-minimum wage bill

mcdaid_house_labor_041317_sq.jpg
What it looks like when I testify. Photo courtesy Sen. Jeanine Calkin

Just got back from the State House where I testified before the House Labor Committee on Rep. Ken Mendonca's bill H5594 which would freeze the minimum wage for those under 20 at $9.65/hr, no matter what the general assembly does this session. He complained that people were "lighting up his twitter feed," so if any of his Portsmouth constituents are inclined to tweet at @ElectKenRI and provide feedback, you definitely should.

Here's what I said to the committee this evening:

Chair Craven, members of the committee. I’m John McDaid, a retired parent of a 17-year-old from Portsmouth. I’ve worked since I was my son’s age, and a fair minimum wage is important to me and my neighbors in Island Park, an area that committee member Jay Edwards represents.

I speak in opposition to H5594, which would limit employees under 20 years of age to the current minimum wage, no matter what increases other workers receive. This is grossly unfair. I believe in equal pay for equal work. If a 19-year-old is doing the same work as someone just a year older, they deserve to be paid the same rate. I oppose H6052 for similar reasons. The narrow purpose these bills is to deny equal compensation based solely on age. If the general assembly decides to raise the minimum wage, why would it not extend young Rhode Islanders equal protection?

Representative Mendonca’s concern trolling about the impact on jobs is disingenuous. Anyone who has studied the data should know the correlation between minimum wage increases and job loss is tenuous and inconclusive. Included in my written testimony is a study conducted by the National Employment Law Project analyzing 75 years worth of data. Quote: “basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels, even in the industries that are most impacted by higher minimum wages.” I urge the committee to consider all the facts.

As a semi-senior-citizen, I also urge the committee to consider the impact on older workers. This bill tacitly encourages age discrimination. If employers are as motivated by the bottom line as Rep. Mendonca suggests, why wouldn’t they always choose younger workers to get a lower rate?

And as a parent of a child approaching college age, I can tell you I want my kid to get every penny he deserves at his jobs. This committee understands paying for college is no picnic. I want any member of the general assembly who supports for this bill to look my son in the eye and tell him “An hour of your life is worth less than an hour of mine. And I think that is fair.” If this bill passes out of committee, I promise to bring him back and introduce him to you all so you can tell him that personally.

Honestly, I am ashamed that a representative from Portsmouth sponsored this bill, and I urge this committee to treat it with the contempt it deserves. As my 17-year-old would say, “kill it with fire.”

References
National Employment Law Project Summary
National Employment Law ProjectFull report (pdf)

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