Lawmakers passed a budget totaling $8.2 billion with no new fees or taxes and worked to address the state’s ailing business climate by providing structural changes and government reforms. Gov. Lincoln Chafee opposed the structural changes, but let the bill become law without his signature.
The budget provides for:
- payment of $2.5 million related to the state-supported bonds of baseball star Curt Schilling’s failed 38 Studios
- over $30 million in tax incentives for historic development
- a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet Bridge
- $7 million for a new roads and bridges program
- $4.5 million for workforce development
- elimination of sales taxes on works of art
- full funding of the school formula, plus an additional $30.3 million
- $500,000 for expansion of pre-K.
Rhode Island lawmakers:
- Replaced the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation with a new Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. The board of directors for the new agency would be responsible for creating performance measures, metrics and would include a member of the Governor’s Workforce Board to bring together the state’s economic and workforce interests and efforts.
- Created the Executive Office of Commerce effective in 2015, which will house the new Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. The Executive Office of Commerce will be the lead agency for the state’s economic development activities. The governor will appoint a secretary of commerce. Other agencies that will come under the Executive Office of Commerce include the Office of Regulatory Reform and the Department of Business Regulation as well as certain functions related to housing and community development.
- Created a Council of Economic Advisors with members from the public and private sector who will collect and disseminate economic data for the governor, the General Assembly and the secretary of commerce.
- Approved law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Rhode Island becomes 10th U.S. state to approve the legislation.
- Approved paid family leave for Rhode Island workers who require time off to care for a seriously ill child, parent, spouse, parent-in-law, grandparent or domestic partner. The program will be funded through employee contributions. Rhode Island joins New Jersey and California in passing such legislation.
- Eliminated tax on wine, spirits (but not beer).
- Increased the minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.00, which will be effective on Jan. 1, 2014.
- Passed law prohibiting the use of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) for purchase of alcohol, lottery tickets or tobacco.
- Extended eligibility for Medicaid coverage to age 26 (effective Jan. 1, 2014, Affordable Care Act), for young adults who “age out “ of the Rhode Island child welfare system at age 18.
- Passed the Rhode Island Health Care Reform Act of 2013 to continue efforts to reduce costs, improve transparency, promote service delivery innovation and comply with the federal Mental Health Care Parity Act.
- Approved implementation of the Affordable Care Act. which begins on Jan. 11, 2014. For the first time, adults without dependent children whose income is at or below 133% of the federal poverty level will be eligible for Medicaid.
The General Assembly created the Rhode Island Board of Education to replace the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education. Chafee appointed all 11 members of the board who were subsequently confirmed by the Rhode Island state Senate. The board is chaired by Eva-Marie Mancuso.
Lawmakers approved a $6 million increase in funding for Rhode Island’s public colleges and universities with the requirement that tuition be frozen at current rates.
The Rhode Island Senate passed several bills endorsing recommendations put forth in the Rhode Island State Senate’s “Moving the Needle” report including the following:
Reverse transfer of college credits.
A resolution passed by the Rhode Island Senate asked the state Board of Education to provide a policy for the reverse transfer of credits from a four-year institution to a two-year institution.
The state board of education will prescribe and regulate a statewide dual-enrollment policy that allows students to enroll in courses at postsecondary institutions to satisfy academic credit requirements in both high school and postsecondary schools.
“Finish What You Started” outreach
The Rhode Island Senate passed a resolution urging the Rhode Island Commission on Higher Education to assist in the coordination and expansion of programs within Rhode Island’s public universities and institutions which are intended to help individuals return to school and gain a credential—including the estimated 110,000 Rhode Islanders with some college education but no degree.
Employees of public higher ed Institutions
Current employees of any state college or the University of Rhode Island, who are receiving free tuition for themselves, spouses and children must disclose their names and waiver amounts. The new law does not open the records of former employees.
K-12: high school grad requirements
Lawmakers passed a joint resolution urging the Rhode Island Board of Education to reconsider current graduation requirements. But the board voted to uphold the current requirements, which includes NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program). The states of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are participants in NECAP, which annually administers a series of tests including reading, writing, math and science that were developed in response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Two laws were passed to improve, reassess and review school safety and emergency response procedures. One law requires that the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education annually certify that all schools have reviewed and updated safety and response procedures. The second requires that school safety assessments and school safety plans be reviewed with local police, fire and school safety officials and also that such plans be exempt from the public records law.
Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.