As I write this article, it appears the Rhode Island General Assembly is in the last week of its session before going on recess for the summer with a shorter session likely in the fall. Many contentious and/or complex issues requiring additional debate and time will be continued to the fall session. Per General Assembly rules, all bills that have been heard and not either withdrawn or defeated remain alive for the duration of the legislative session. Our General Assembly always recesses and does not adjourn so that it can be called back at any time for the duration of the legislative session. The 2022 General Assembly session will start on the first Tuesday of January even if it is a holiday.
One bill that was a priority of your Association and the business community was “Pay Equity legislation” (H-5261 Sub A and S-270 Sub A). Representatives of the business community and bill proponents negotiated for over the past three months. The purpose was to strike a balance between eliminating pay inequities, i.e. wage discrimination for women and minorities while at the same time writing into the legislation safeguards for businesses to compensate employees for legitimate business reasons. The final negotiation was mediated by House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi. The compromise bill had more than twenty amendments including expanded employee protections and the scope of remedies available to employees who have experienced such discrimination. It also protects “good employers” who are proactive and conduct a wage audit (within 90 days) in order to fix any unlawful pay practices. This issue will be fully modified July 1, 2026. A few of the changes include decreasing the statute of limitation from 3 to 2 years, a stronger safe harbor, and improving the penalty section. Independent contractors and subcontractors are not included in the employee definition; and bona fide wage differentials were addressed. The bill’s effective date will be January 1, 2023. Both parties seem to be satisfied with the compromise bill. Once enacted into law, a more detailed report will be issued.
Recreational marijuana was not in the House passed $131 billion state budget and the proposed tax increase on the rich, strongly supported by Progressives was deleted. A dedicated funding stream for affordable and workplace housing to be funded by an increase in the real-estate conveyance tax on the portion of the residential property sales price was increased to sales more than $800,000 (Governor Daniel J. McKee has proposed $700.000). New taxes on soda and other surgery drinks were cut from the budget and the popular car tax phase-out will continue. The tax threshold for PPP loans was increased from $150,000 to $250.000. There were no commitments regarding the allocation of the American Rescue Plans stimulus funds. Fortunately, many tax hikes proposed, in large part by Progressives and Environmentalists did not pass. Other employer-employee bills that do not appear to be passing are the new definition of independent contractors and the awful “bulling” bill.