NEWS

Last week at the General Assembly

Posted 3/3/21

Fenton-Fung introduces bill requiring women on boards of publicly held corporations Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R-Dist. 15, Cranston) has introduced with significant bipartisan support legislation (2021-H 5905) requiring publicly held corporations in

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NEWS

Last week at the General Assembly

Posted

Fenton-Fung introduces bill requiring women on boards of publicly held corporations

Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R-Dist. 15, Cranston) has introduced with significant bipartisan support legislation (2021-H 5905) requiring publicly held corporations in Rhode Island to include women on their board of directors.

Based on landmark legislation passed in California in 2018, the bill helps to locally address global concerns about gender inequity on boards. According to a 2020 Spencer Stuart analysis, 72 percent of board directors in the United States are men, with more severe gender imbalances noted in the healthcare, energy, and IT sectors. Multi-year studies of American corporations noted that even more significant inequality existed for women of color.

There are significant benefits to these businesses when they diversify. Findings out of Europe noted that increasing the number of women on boards is positively related to higher financial performance. In Korea, having female directors also correlated with higher corporate social responsibility performance.

The legislation would get the ball rolling by mandating that each applicable business have at least one female director by January 2022, increasing to a minimum of three (for boards of six or more individuals) by January 2023, with financial penalties for non-compliance.

“While I believe the suffragists would be proud of the glass ceilings women have shattered in the past decade, so much more work needs to be done,” Fenton-Fung said. “Female inclusion in the boardroom has been frustratingly slow, and we shouldn’t settle for crumbs when we deserve an equal slice of the pie.”

The bill has been referred to the House Corporations Committee.

Potter cosponsors bill to raise revenue through new tax bracket for richest 1 percent

Legislation cosponsored by Rep. Brandon C. Potter (D-Dist. 16, Cranston) would add a new tax bracket for the richest 1 percent of Rhode Islanders as an equitable means to generate much-needed state revenue.

The legislation (2021-H 5227) adds one new tax bracket – at a marginal rate of 8.99 percent (in place of the current top rate of 5.99 percent) on income above $475,000, ensuring the top 1 percent of earners are contributing their fair share.

The change would raise an estimated $128.2 million for education, state aid to cities and towns and safety net programs that are even more critical this year as Rhode Island recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Particularly at a time when many, many Rhode Islanders are struggling even more as a result the economic effects of a pandemic that is about to stretch past the year mark, we need to stop looking at cuts to vital programs as our only means to close our budget gaps,” Potter said. “Our systems have helped the rich get richer. Asking them to pay their fair share at such a critical time is reasonable, and a much better alternative to deepening cuts to the safety net programs that are vitally needed by so many right now.”

The legislation, whose primary sponsor is Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), would cost 99 percent of Rhode Islanders nothing. Those making more than $475,000 would pay 8.99 percent on only the portion of their income above $475,000. For someone making $500,000 a year, it would mean an additional $750 in state taxes.

The plan would be more equitable because the poorest Rhode Islanders pay more in total taxes – income, property, sales and excise – than the rich. The lowest earning 20 percent of Rhode Islanders – those earning less than $21,700 – pay 12.1 percent of their income in taxes. The top 1 percent pay a total of 7.9 percent. The proposed bill would raise their share to 9.3 percent.

According to the Economic Progress Institute, which supports the bill, the bill would not hurt small business. Most business owners in the state – between 93 and 96 percent – do not have taxable income within the new bracket and would not be affected. The median income for self-employed Rhode Islanders is $53,794.

A broad coalition called Revenue for Rhode Island has formed in support of the legislation. The coalition includes leaders across labor, faith and community advocacy groups. For more information, visit RevenueForRI.org.

Senate OKs expanded access to telemedicine coverage

The Senate has approved legislation sponsored by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) to expand Rhode Islanders’ access to telemedicine coverage.

The bill (2021-S 0004Aaa) would expand telemedicine coverage requirements for insurers and require that all Rhode Island Medicaid programs cover telemedicine visits – visits with health care providers via telephone or audio-video enabled device.

“Telemedicine has been an extremely valuable tool for maintaining health since the pandemic began. As its use increased, the public and our health care providers have become more adept at and comfortable using it, too,” Miller said. “While its broader use may have been an adaptation for the pandemic, it’s also an improvement to our health care delivery system that will serve us well long after the pandemic. Telemedicine gets health care to people safely, efficiently and effectively, wherever they are. Embracing and expanding it as a permanent option for Rhode Islanders will improve health care access now and in the future.”

This bill expands access to telemedicine by allowing patients to receive telemedicine services at home; permitting the delivery of telemedicine by audio-only telephone; requiring that deductible, copayments, or coinsurance are no more than if the same service were performed in-person; requiring that prior authorization, medical or benefit determinations, and utilization review are no more stringent than if the service was performed in-person; requiring that the Rhode Island Medicaid program covers telemedicine services; and authorizing the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner (OHIC) and Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to promulgate telemedicine rules and regulations.

The bill preserves the current executive order through the end of the state of emergency by requiring that in-network telemedicine services be reimbursed at rates not lower than if the same services were delivered in-person. Once the state of emergency ends, this provision will remain in place unless or until OHIC/EOHHS revises this provision based on recommendations provided by an advisory committee that is created in this bill.

The bill also permanently requires that in-network primary care and behavioral health providers be reimbursed at rates not lower than when the same services are delivered in-person.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

Senate approves bill to explore ‘harm reduction center’ pilot

The Senate has approved legislation sponsored by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) to explore the creation of a pilot program to create “harm reduction centers” to help prevent drug overdose deaths.

The centers would be supervised facilities for drug users, staffed by health care professionals who could help in cases of overdose and make treatment referrals. Often referred to as “safe injection facilities” or “supervised consumption sites,” there are about 120 such facilities operating in 10 countries worldwide.

“If we are truly going to rein in the drug overdose epidemic, we must recognize drug addiction as the health problem it is, rather than as merely a crime,” Miller said. “People who are addicted need help and protection from the most dangerous possibilities of addiction. Having a place where someone can save them from an overdose and where there are people offering them the resources they need for treatment is a much better alternative to people dying alone in their homes or their cars. Especially as overdose deaths have climbed during the pandemic and fentanyl-laced drugs continue to pose a lethal threat to unwitting users, we could prevent needless death and turn lives around with a program like this.”

The legislation (2021-S 0016A) would authorize the Department of Health to establish regulations and explore the creation of a harm reduction pilot program for people to safely consume controlled substances they have obtained on their own. The centers must be staffed with health care professionals to prevent overdoses and make treatment referrals.

The bill also establishes a nine-member advisory committee made up of various stakeholders from the realms of health care, law enforcement and addiction to help the Department of Health maximize the effectiveness of the program and operate the centers in the safest possible way.

Under the bill, centers would be allowed only with the approval of the municipality in which they are located. In testimony on the bill, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza indicated willingness on behalf of Providence to be a host city, and two health care facilities indicated they would be willing to expand to incorporate the model. The bill also stipulates that the programs should be designed to provide liability protection to the centers’ property owners and to staff at the centers.

According the American Medical Association, studies of supervised injection facilities in other countries have demonstrated that they reduce overdose deaths and transmission rates for infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals who seek addiction treatment, without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where they are located.

While there are currently no such officially sanctioned sites in the United States, several other states and municipalities are considering similar harm reduction measures, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California and Philadelphia. Somerville, Massachusetts, is working to formalize an existing effort.

In an op-ed piece published by the Boston Globe this week, Brown University’s School of Public Health Dean Dr. Ashish K. Jha and associate professor of epidemiology Dr. Brandon D.L. Marshall called for harm reduction centers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and across the nation, citing evidence that they save lives, prevent infection, increase access to recovery services, reduce crime and save money.

The bill is cosponsored by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist.1, Providence), Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence), Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 26, Johnston), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).

It now goes to the House, where Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) is sponsoring companion legislation (2021-H 5245).

Senate OKs bill to remove General Assembly from marriage process

The Senate passed legislation (2021-S 0014A) introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) that would authorize the governor to designate any adult to solemnize a marriage. A fee in the amount of $25 would be a prerequisite and would be payable to the secretary of state, or a fee of $20 for applications that are submitted electronically. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation (2021-H 5034) has been introduced by House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence).

House approves bill to allow terminal patients to use experimental drugs

The House of Representatives passed the Neil Fachon Terminally Ill Patients Right to Try Act of 2021 (2021-H 5077) introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) that would allow chronically ill patients to obtain experimental drugs that have not yet been federally approved but which may be in the final stages of FDA testing. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

McCaffrey bill would change certain drug possession to misdemeanor

Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) has introduced legislation (2012-S 0188) that would amend the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and reclassify simple possession of 10 grams or less of certain controlled substances as a misdemeanor punishable as a two-year misdemeanor rather than a felony. Knight sponsors host of criminal justice reform bills

Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) has introduced a number of bills aimed at addressing injustices within Rhode Island’s criminal justice system. The bills are aimed at eliminating roadblocks that, in many cases, hurt Rhode Islanders who have not been convicted of wrongdoing.

McNamara bill would extend business interruption insurance for COVID

The House Corporations Committee heard testimony on legislation (2021- H 5052) introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) that would help businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis by guaranteeing that business interruption insurance would cover their losses regardless of policy language. The bill would make certain that those who have business interruption insurance policies would be indemnified by insurance companies if they suffered a loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic during Rhode Island’s state of emergency.

Legislators announce grant for Black History curriculum for public schools

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) and Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence) announced a $50,000 Walmart Foundation grant to the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society to develop a Rhode Island African Heritage History Education curriculum for all public schools. Williams has introduced legislation (2021-H 5697) to incorporate African Heritage History Education in all Rhode Island elementary and secondary schools. The goal is for all students to receive instruction on African Heritage History in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the history of our nation. Mack will be introducing the bill in the Senate.

Giraldo bill would make conditions of employment more transparent

Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) has introduced legislation (2021-H 5719) that would require employers, at the time of hiring, to furnish an itemized list of the terms and conditions of the worker’s employment. It would also require employers to provide every employee each payday with a paystub explaining exactly how wages were calculated and the reason for each deduction.

Sugary drinks tax bill introduced to help advance public health in Rhode Island

Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) and Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket) have introduced legislation (2021-S 0327, 2021-H 5715) that would establish a tax on sugary drinks in Rhode Island. If enacted, the legislation would designate a portion of the revenues generated to expand access to nutritious food for low-income families by establishing a Retail SNAP Incentive Program that would incentivize consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.

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