This Week at the General Assembly

A highlight and discussion of some of the notable pieces of legislation going through the General Assembly this week.

Education aid advance bill passes Assembly, becomes law – The General Assembly approved and the governor signed legislation requested by the East Providence Budget Commission to allow the city to receive its state education aid early to prevent it from running out of cash this week. The legislation (2012-H 70522012-S 2016) was sponsored by the chairmen of the House and Senate Finance Committees, Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) and Sen. Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence, Pawtucket).  Strange how the state is required to pass emergency legislation releasing education funds early to the city of East Providence after cutting education funding and aid to cities and towns by about $200 million over the past 5 years.

House committee hears bill to adjust auto valuation process – The House Municipal Government Committee heard testimony on legislation that would revise the motor vehicle valuation process that is used to set municipal auto excise taxes. Sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), the bill (2012-H 7098) would use an assessment method based on the trade-in value of a car, rather than the “clean retail value” now being used.  An all-too-predictable backlash caused by the state eliminating the motor vehicle tax reimbursements to cities and towns, which then put cities and towns on the hook to raise the revenue (through motor vehicle taxes).

East Bay legislators to fight any tolls on Mount Hope, Sakonnet River bridges Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) and Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10,Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) introduced bills (2012-H 71302012-S 2092,2012-H 70362012-S 2093) to prevent the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority from instituting tolls on the Mount Hope and Sakonnet River bridges. RITBA postponed a vote on tolls scheduled this week until Feb. 8 while the Department of Transportation works on alternative funding proposals.  I can understand why people of the island wouldn’t want to pay tolls.

Aquidneck delegation sponsors bill for scenic tour, transportation tax exemption – Legislation has been submitted in the Senate to restore the sales tax exemption on scenic tour and transportation services. Sponsored by President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva (D-Dist. 13, Newport,Jamestown), the bipartisan legislation (2012-S 2049) has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.  What the state should be doing is eliminating all the tax exemptions and lowering the sales tax rate.  Same goes for income taxes, eliminate the myriad tax deductions and loopholes, and lower the overall rate (although the state should have more than 3 income tax brackets).

Bill introduced to allow Neumont University to launch R.I. campus  – House Majority Leader Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) and Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston) have introduced legislation (2012-H 71682012-S 2075) to allow Neumont University, a private computer-science university with a campus of about 330 students in Utah, to apply to the Board of Governors for Higher Education to establish a second campus in Providence.  Beware of for-profit educational institutions.  They’re not all evil, but there is a huge incentive to falsify records to boost attendance, and to cut corners on the quality of education.

‘Katie’s Law’ bills again introduced in Assembly – Legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly again this year to require that a DNA sample be collected from suspects arrested for any crime of violence. The bills (2012-H 70562012-S 2061) are modeled after “Katie’s Law,” which has been enacted in 24 other states. Sponsors are Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly) and Sen. David E. Bates (R-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol).  Collecting DNA from suspects?

Bill would prohibit political contributions from vendors with state contracts – Rep. Michael M. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston) has introduced legislation (2012-H 7093) to prohibit any vendor who has a contract with the state worth more than $5,000 or who has a bid on a state contract worth more than $5,000 from making contributions to any political committees established to promote the candidacy of an officeholder responsible for awarding contracts or any declared candidates for that office.  We should move toward publicly funded elections.

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Brian Hull received his Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He is Director of Community Development for the City of Providence, responsible for the management and strategic visioning of the City's community development programs, including Community Development Block Grants, Emergency Solutions Grants, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, HOME, Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Home Repair Loans, Down Payment Assistance, and Lead Repair Loans.

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