The first two plus months were extremely quiet for even the Rhode Island General Assembly.
However, the pace for both bill introductions and lengthy committee hearings have quickened
overnight. This is evidenced by some legislative committees recently scheduling as many as 37
pieces of legislation for hearing and/or votes (so far bills of virtually no consequence) and several
committees have scheduled between 15-25 bills for hearing/consideration for a hearing. As I write
this article, the General Assembly is close to a recess and will not be in session from April 7 to April
17, 2023. So, what has happened to date and what can we expect to occur both as to hearings
and legislative votes?
On the positive side, there appears to be genuine support for legislation (one part of the Senate
Leadership’s 2023 agenda) that would eliminate the tangible property tax for approximately
85% of Rhode Island businesses. This is truly a nuisance tax because of the form that has to be
completed and that it is really a double tax on equipment and furniture. Cities/towns would be
reimbursed by the state for revenue lost. The effective date, if enacted, would be fiscal year 2025.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is some support for adding an additional tax to the
state’s income tax for those earning over $417,500. A number of bills that have strong progressive
support, but certainly not that of the business community, include H-5929/S-888, which would
make it an unlawful employment practice to require an employee, as a condition of employment,
to execute a nondisclosure agreement or any agreement that includes language that would
require alleged violation of civil rights remain confidential or a non-disparagement agreement
relative to alleged violations of one’s civil rights. Such provisions would be void as contrary to
public policy. If enacted, this would change the status of settlements and lawsuits. RILBMDA
submitted testimony opposing the elimination of nondisclosure agreements.
Another troubling bill is S-176/H-5593 entitled “Consumer Credit History Employment Protection
Act.” It would include prohibiting employers from seeking or using credit reports in making hiring
decisions, asking financial questions about the applicants past during interviews, or including
credit history questions on job applications.
Several bills that did not receive due consideration until recently are the numerous health
insurance mandates whose total number adds a significant cost to health insurance premiums for
both the employer and employee. Rhode Island does not take a backseat to any other state when
it comes to mandates. Business groups are pushing for a mandated benefits review committee,
which would be comprised of a number of experts representing all sectors of health care and
delivery systems and representatives of the several stakeholder groups. It would be charged
with reviewing all proposed health mandates as to their individual cost and efficacy and make
its recommendations to the General Assembly. For your information, this year alone, double digit
mandates have been proposed including to limit or eliminate co-payments and deductibles.
Unfortunately, this would not at all address the cost charged by drug manufacturers who are not
subject to any regulations.
Lastly, many of the major issues have yet to be heard but will be considered after the spring
recess. This includes: wage theft, independent contractors and misclassification, workplace
bullying and others.