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Smith Hill to Capitol Hill: Society's Government Update for February 11, 2019

Welcome to another edition of our Society's Statehouse Update, taking you from Smith Hill to Capitol Hill to keep you informed of the activities of local, state and federal government. 

RI Business Coalition activity: The RI Business Coalition, of which RISCPA is a member, has been monitoring activity at the General Assembly in recent weeks, which has seen a flurry of new legislative proposals, the initial review of the state budget by the finance committees, and a new effort to again hike the minimum wage.

Minimum Wage Increase
The RI Society signed onto letters of testimony opposing a new increase in the minimum wage to $11.10 an hour. The testimony letters, addressing Budget Article 13, on Minimum Wage, were submitted to the House and Senate Finance committees. The testimony letters point out that Rhode Island has increased the wage every year since calendar year 2013 (exception was 2017) meaning RI businesses have had to increase their expenses in relation to employee compensation six times since 2013 when the wage stood at $7.40 an hour. The current minimum wage hit $10.50 this past January 1st. The proposed legislation would hike it to $11.10 an hour beginning next January 1, 2020. It is also worth noting that the state’s current minimum wage is the 10th highest in the nation, and if the legislation to take it to $11.10 is passed, it would be put RI at 4th highest nationally, behind only Massachusetts, California and Washington state.

The Coalition argues that experience has shown RI businesses, especially in sectors such as hospitality, construction and manufacturing, could end up laying off workers or reducing hours for workers under another hourly wage hike, which ultimately hurts workers by reducing the overall pay workers receive.

State Budget Review
H 5150 & H5151: FY2019 Budget & FY2020 Budget: The House and Senate Finance committees’ review of the state budget has included renewed scrutiny of the practice of budget funds transfers or “scoops” from quasi-public state agencies to other state departments experiencing budget shortfalls. Article 1 and Article 4 in the current 2019 budget deal with budget scoops that are targeted for revisions in the current 2019 budget. The articles would give the Governor more flexibility on budget transfers by eliminating the current requirement that any proposed budget transfer be submitted with an alternative option should the transfer not be approved. The articles would eliminate that current requirement.

The Senate Finance Committee’s review of the budget transfers practice is centering on Senate Bill 120, called Quasi-Public Corporations Accountability and Transparency. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Felag, Conley, DiPalma and Pearson would mandate that quasi-public state agencies be limited to using all budget funds and property only to perform the function or service in the prevue of the quasi-public entity. The budget reviews in the finance committees of both chambers will continue over the next several weeks.

RISCPA Survey on Proposal to Legalize Marijuana
The RI Society recently sent out a survey to its members on the issue of Governor Raimondo’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state this year. RISCPA outlined the numerous issues related to concerns of employers, municipalities, the healthcare community and law enforcement as well as the challenge faced by state regulators in drafting a comprehensive legalization law in RI. Members who did not get a chance to participate in the survey may do so here.

Washington, DC: President Trump delivered his State of the Union address last week after it was delayed during the government shutdown. The address called for unity between the partisan divided Congress and the White House and gave the President another chance to push for border wall funding before a huge national TV audience. A bipartisan congressional committee has been trying to hammer out a compromise on increased border protections, which could ultimately produce a partial wall, expanded steel fencing and sharply increased security at border entry checkpoints. Another deadline for passing a full government budget before a new shutdown could occur is approaching on February 15.

Stay tuned!


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