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2015 Session Summary
 
The Senate and the House have transmitted, to the Governor, the bills that passed both legislative branches. To top off the uniqueness of the 2015 session, Governor Raimondo did not veto one bill, but either signed them or allowed them to become effective without her signature. It is still unclear as to whether the legislature will come back this fall.
Your Chamber supported a number of efforts to improve the business climate this year that have now become law:


Senate Bill No. 649 SUB A, now Chapter 22 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN 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.). This bill was signed by the Governor April 23rd and is effective now. The House version - House Bill No. 5798 as amended is Chapter 19 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 737 SUB B, now Chapter 218 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY - AGRICULTURE FUNCTIONS OF DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT (Amends the general laws relative to regulation of freshwater wetlands by establishing state standards for freshwater buffers and setbacks.) This bill will help to standardize wetland regulations, making it easier for developers and businesses to navigate the permit process. Communities are required to alter their ordinances to comply with the standard. The bill was signed by the Governor July 10th and is effective now.


Senate Bill No. 813, now Chapter 221 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - EMPLOYMENT SECURITY - VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS (Allows employers to make voluntary contributions to their unemployment account, in order to lower their unemployment insurance tax rate for the following calendar year.) The new law applies to any employer who has filed all reports required and has paid all contributions, interest and penalties due. Voluntary contributions must be paid within 30 days after the date RI DLT issued a notice to the employer of its experience rate, or prior to the expiration of 120 days after the start of the calendar year for which the experience rate is effective, whichever is earlier. If the employer makes a payment within the specified time frame, the contribution will be credited to the employer's account balance, and that employer shall receive a new experience rate for that calendar year. The bill was signed by the Governor July 10th and is effective now. The House companion bill - House Bill No. 6001 was also signed by the Governor and is Chapter 239 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 440, now Chapter 125 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY - RESIDENTIAL SECURITY DEPOSITS (Allows landlords to withhold from a security deposit paid by a vacating tenant, reasonable cleaning and trash disposal expenses they have incurred.) The Governor allowed S.440 and its House companion bill to become law without her signature on June 25th. The House companion bill was House Bill No. 5635 and is now Chapter 134 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


House Bill No. 5900 SUB A as amended, now Chapter 141 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT MAKING APPROPRIATIONS FOR THE SUPPORT OF THE STATE FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2016 was signed by the Governor June 30th. The $8.7 billion budget included a number of initiatives supported by Your Chamber: (1) Elimination of the sales tax on fuel purchased by businesses; (2) Increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit which assists low income individuals and provides incentives to work; and (3) Economic development tools for the Commerce Corporation such as the Chamber backed Anchor Tax Credit Program, the Main Street Program, the Small Business Loan Program, and the Funding Gap Program. The legislature also heard the voice of Your Chamber, and others, and eliminated the controversial tax on real property valued at $1 million or more.


Your Chamber worked hard to oppose bills during the session. While many bad bills died in committees or while moving through the process, the following bills passed – some in amended form. The Chamber urges you to review these new laws and make any necessary changes to your operating procedures or manuals:


Senate Bill No. 194 SUB A, now Chapter 73 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - MINIMUM WAGES (Provides an increase in the minimum wage from $9.00 to $9.60 per hour on January 1, 2016.) S.194SubA and H.5074SubA were an improvement as the original bill called for an increase to $10.10. The bill was signed by the Governor June 17th. The House companion bill, House Bill No. 5074 SUB A, is now Chapter 72 of the 2015 RI Public Laws


House Bill No. 5220 SUB A, now Chapter 148 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO CRIMINAL OFFENSES - IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION (Creates the Identify Theft Protection Act of 2015, to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use, modification, destruction or disclosure, and to preserve the confidentiality and integrity of such information.) This bill was opposed by Your Chamber and many other business associations and entities, but changes were made to at least make the law more palatable for businesses. The new law requires entities (including government entities) that retain private information of RI residents to maintain a risk-based security program which includes an encryption program that transforms the data through the use of a 128 bit or higher algorithmic process. In the event a breach does occur, the entity must notify RI residents within 45 days of a confirmed breach of information. The Chamber strongly encourages you to review this new law – effective June 26, 2016 – and prepare to have the proper security measures in place prior to the effective date. The Senate companion, Senate Bill No. 134 SUB B is now Chapter 138 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


House Bill No. 5364 SUB A, now Chapter 228 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - MINIMUM WAGE - GRATUITIES (Raises the minimum wage for tipped workers to three dollars and thirty-nine cents ($3.39) per hour beginning January 1, 2016, and to three dollars and eighty-nine cents ($3.89) per hour, beginning January 1, 2017.) In its original form, H.5364 proposed to completely phase out the tip credit. The proponents – largely paid employees of an out of state association – launched an all-out effort to pressure for the passage of the bill. Proponents arrived by train from places such as New York and Washington DC. As the business community was making a convincing argument against the bill, the proponents then shifted to attempt to increase the tip credit by $1.00 effective January 1, 2016. In the end, H.5364 was amended to increase the tip credit by $.50 in 2016 and another $.50 in 2017. This was a hard fought battle. While Your Chamber opposed an increase in the tip credit, this result helps to reduce the impact on the industry. The Governor signed the bill July 10th.


Other new laws were passed that may affect your particular business:


Senate Bill No. 276 SUB A as amended, now Chapter 129 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- FAIR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES (Prohibits employers from discriminating against, and failing to provide reasonable accommodations for, employees due to pregnancy or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.) Most provisions are already covered under federal law. The bill was signed by the Governor June 25th and is effective at this time. The House companion bill, House Bill No. 5674 SUB A as amended is now Chapter 151 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 334 SUB B, now Chapter 146 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONS - MOTOR VEHICLE GLASS REPAIR AND REPLACEMENT (Creates a procedure for the licensing of motor vehicle glass repair or replacement shops.) This new law will become effective January 1, 2016. It was effective without the Governor’s signature.


Senate Bill No. 369 SUB A, now Chapter 185 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY -- THE RHODE ISLAND CESSPOOL ACT OF 2007 (Amend the Rhode Island cesspool act of 2007 by phasing out cesspools.) Any property that has a cesspool must have that cesspool removed within one year of the date of a transfer of ownership. In reality, this will mean the cesspool will have to be removed prior to transfer as most lending institutions will require the removal to ensure compliance. The bill was signed by the Governor July 9th. The new law becomes effective January 1, 2016. The House companion House Bill No. 5668 SUB A is now Chapter 163 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 502 SUB A, now Chapter 96 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY - REDEMPTION, RELEASE, AND TRANSFER OF MORTGAGES (Clarifies and reduces the time after which a recorded mortgage would be unenforceable against real estate securing the mortgage.) The bill was signed by the Governor June 19th and it becomes effective June 19, 2016. The House companion House Bill No. 5625 SUB A is now Chapter 106 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 559 SUB A, now Chapter 189 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - LEVY AND ASSESSMENT OF LOCAL TAXES (Exempts from taxation residential property developments not completed or, if completed, not sold and occupied. This exemption does not affect taxes on common areas for residential condominiums.) Check the law for the qualifications that must be met in order to obtain the exemption. The Governor signed the bill July 9th. The law affects taxes levied after December 31, 2015 and expires December 31, 2021.


Senate Bill No. 560 SUB A, now Chapter 213 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO HEALTH AND SAFETY - STATE BUILDING CODE (Establishes a formula for the assessment of municipal construction permit fees.) The new law is effective immediately, but communities are required to comply by July 1, 2016. The Governor signed the bill July 10th. The House companion bill, House Bill No. 5550 SUB A, is now Chapter 230 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 696, now Chapter 215 of the 2015 Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS - TAXICABS AND LIMITED PUBLIC MOTOR VEHICLES (Eliminates requirement that taxicabs can be operated only by owners or employees during the first twelve (12) month period that the vehicle is in service and allows for leasing of such vehicles.) The bill was signed by the Governor July 10th and is effective now.


Senate Bill No. 759 SUB A, now Chapter 101 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- EMPLOYMENT SECURITY BENEFITS (Makes minor changes to the unemployment laws concerning direct deposit of benefit checks, self-employed individuals, full-time work and workers suspended without pay.) The bill was signed by the Governor June 19th and is effective now. The House companion bill, House Bill No. 5957 SUB A as amended, is now Chapter 113 of the 2015 Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 828 as amended, now Chapter 88 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO CORPORATIONS, ASSOCIATIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS - RHODE ISLAND BUSINESS CORPORATION ACT (Requires filing of certificate of good standing from taxation division to accompany certain filings with secretary of state/establishes conversions procedure for limited partnerships to other business entities.) The bill was signed by the Governor June 17th and is effective now.


Senate Bill No. 918, now Chapter 128 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY -- REVERSE MORTGAGES (Allows a reverse mortgage lender to order a credit report and other information for a loan application prior to a mortgagor completing a counseling program.) The bill went into effect June 25th without the Governor’s signature. The House companion bill, House Bill No. 6157 SUB A, is now Chapter 135 of the 2015 Public Laws.


Senate Bill No. 969, now Chapter 200 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS -- COMMUNITY OBLIGATIONS AND BANKING OFFENSES (Defines a mortgage trigger lead with regard to consumer privacy in mortgage applications, and specifies disclosures that must be made by the entity contacting the consumer.) The bill was signed by the Governor July 9th and is effective now. The House companion bill, House Bill No. 5769, is now Chapter 202 of the 2015 RI Public Laws.


House Bill No. 5132 SUB A, now Chapter 74 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- HOISTING ENGINEERS (Increases the fines for violations of chapters regulating hoisting engineers.) The Governor signed the bill June 17th and it is effective now.


House Bill No. 6179, now Chapter 82 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESS REGULATION (Permits certain annual reports to be made available electronically and amends certain provisions regarding reinsurance.) The Governor signed the bill June 17th and it is effective now.


House Bill No. 6264 SUB A, now Chapter 155 of the 2015 RI Public Laws, AN ACT RELATING TO PROPERTY - MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE AND SALE (Substitutes the word "voidable" for the word "void" relating to mediation proceedings held to avoid foreclosure proceedings when a mortgage is in default.) The bill became effective July 9th without the Governor’s signature.


Finally, through the hard work of Your Chamber and its allies, we are pleased to report the following bills died during the legislative process:


House Bill No. 5675 AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS - CAREGIVER TEMPORARY DISABILITY INSURANCE BENEFITS (Senate Bill No. 722 ) (Adds "siblings" to the class of workers who can receive temporary disability benefits when providing caregiver services to their brother or sisters, when no other covered family member is available and willing to provide the needed services.) Chamber opposed.


House Bill No. 5761 AN ACT RELATING TO COURTS AND CIVIL PROCEDURE -- PROCEDURE GENERALLY (Senate Bill No. 592) (Would allow people to sue for damages even if the injury was caused by an “open and obvious danger or defect.” For example, a person climbs on rocks by a lake front property and falls off. The person can sue the owner of the property.) Chamber opposed.


House Bill No. 6024, AN ACT RELATING TO FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS (Establishes a for-profit state bank that would accept deposits, grant loans and exercise all other powers normally granted to financial institutions. In addition, the banking powers, lending powers, and guarantee powers of all state departments and agencies, including the RI Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation and the “Rhode Island economic development corporation” would no longer be exercised by any such state department or agency but would be delegated and assigned to the state bank.) Chamber opposed.


House Bill No. 6080, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- PRIVATE EMPLOYER IRA PROGRAM. H.6080 creates an IRA program and, in the process, mandates that all covered businesses participate by: providing employees with informational materials, establishing a direct-deposit payroll system, tracking which employees have opted-out of the program, and enrolling those employees who fail to opt-out. Businesses could apply for a hardship exemption to participate. For those employees that did not opt-out, they would be required to contribute at least three percent (3%) of their payroll period wages. The IRA program would be created with oversight by the department of labor and training and the state investment commission. Chamber opposed.


House Bill No. 6278, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS – MINIMUM WAGES (Senate Bill No. 961) (Prevents municipal firefighters and rescue service personnel from working a regular workweek that exceeds 42 hours and municipal police officers from working a regular workweek that exceeds 40 hours unless otherwise agreed to by the parties.) Chamber opposed.


Senate Bill No. 257, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS – STATE PURCHASES (Directs the department of administration to adopt regulations granting preference in awarding of state contracts to businesses whose highest paid executive receives compensation equal to or less than 25 times the median pay of its non-executive employees.) Chamber opposed.


Senate Bill No. 600, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR. Existing law requires anyone who is working as an independent contractor to file a special form with the Department of Labor and Training when he or she begins work with a particular hiring entity and then file a withdrawal form when the affiliation ends. The worker must file a separate form for each hiring entity, but there is no filing fee attached to the registration. S.600, as written, would require every "independent contractor" to file an annual form with the Department of Revenue declaring the fact that the person is an independent contractor. A filing fee of fifty dollar ($50) is also included. Additionally the bill is written so that a person could be required to file a new form – with $50 - for every client. Chamber opposed.


Senate Bill No. 997 SUB A, (House Bill No. 6321) AN ACT RELATING TO MOTOR AND OTHER VEHICLES -- BRIDGE AND TURNPIKE AUTHORITY -- TOLLS The Senate passed a bill but the House did not take up the issue. The proposal authorizes the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) to bond up to $500 million for bridge reconstruction and repair, and up to $100 million for debt service, installation of toll facilities and other associated costs. To pay for the bond, DOT would have the authority to establish tolls on any bridge in RI which will be paid by large commercial trucks, defined as Class 8 (single trailer, 3-4 axles) up to Class 13 (7 or more axle multi-trailer trucks). The toll would be set by DOT after a public hearing and the completion of a cost benefit analysis. This bill remains in limbo as the House and Senate have different views as to what should be in the bill and how it should be addressed.
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Under the Dome is a government affairs update brought to you during the Rhode Island General Assembly session by the RI Chamber of Commerce Coalition. As a member of the coalition the Central Rhode Island Chamber actively works on, and advocates for issues important to our members.  
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WE ARE...
The Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition is your voice at the Rhode Island State House. If you have any concerns, questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact the Chamber of Commerce Coalition coordinator and lobbyist at (401) 334-1000  or by email atadvocacy@nrichamber.com  The Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition is coordinated by the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.

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