- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island’s legislative session began in January with a new governor and General Assembly leaders who were focused on creating jobs and reviving the economy.

Six months later, the regular session abruptly ended Thursday with the fate of dozens of bills still undecided.

But House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said those proposals weren’t substantial. He said it’s the budget that was the most consequential bill approved this session.

The budget includes Gov. Gina Raimondo’s “jobs plan” with new initiatives and tax credits to spur job growth, as well as Mattiello’s top priority of exempting Social Security from the state income tax.

It also includes funding for Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s longstanding priority of offering full-day kindergarten in every community. The budget further helps businesses by eliminating the sales tax on energy for commercial users and lowering the annual minimum corporate tax.

“It is going to have a significant impact on the economy and it’s going to move us in the right direction,” Mattiello said late Thursday, after the session ended.

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RAIMONDO’S HIGHS AND LOWS:

Raimondo said that for her, the passage of her jobs plan was the session’s biggest highlight.

“It’s a budget that’s going to begin a turnaround of Rhode Island, now we just have to keep going,” Raimondo said Thursday.

Raimondo was disappointed, though, that her proposal to toll large commercial trucks to fund bridge repairs didn’t advance in the House.

Mattiello said the House wasn’t ready, so he’s calling for a special session in the fall to consider the toll proposal or a modified plan.

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MINIMUM WAGE AND JOBS:

This session, both chambers and the governor endorsed raising the state’s minimum hourly rate from $9 to $9.60 on Jan. 1. About 51,000 Rhode Island workers will earn more, according to Raimondo’s office.

In the final week, the legislature agreed to raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers by 50 cents in 2016 and in 2017, to $3.89, and to ban job discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth.

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MANAGING MONEY:

Lawmakers changed the campaign finance system after ex-House Speaker Gordon Fox pleaded guilty to exploiting weaknesses in it.

Candidates and political action committees will now be required to create separate bank accounts for campaign funds and file statements for those accounts with the elections board.

Candidates also will be prohibited from serving as their own campaign treasurers if their accounts reach or expend $10,000 or more annually.

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OTHER BILLS PASSED:

- A proposal to give priority to homeless veterans for public housing assistance.

- Stiffer penalties for convicted murderers.

- A bill to designate the American burying beetle as Rhode Island’s official state insect.

- Lawmakers are sending a bill to the governor to require the state’s public schools that house sixth graders through high school students to keep on their premises kits to treat people who overdose on heroin, prescription painkillers or other opioids.

- A proposal bill aimed at combatting identity theft.

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OFF THE TABLE FOR NOW:

- Bills passed in both chambers to restrict new and existing charter schools to protect public schools, but they didn’t match and won’t advance.

- Another bill to mandate overtime pay for Rhode Island firefighters died after municipal leaders vocally opposed it.

- Mattiello wanted to legalize growing hemp in Rhode Island, to create a new industry and create jobs. The Senate didn’t endorse it.

- Paiva Weed wanted to tie new state aid for public colleges to the schools’ performance, but she couldn’t get House backing for that.

- Mattiello said he thought a bill to require that egg-laying hens be given more room in their cages was a good idea. The Senate wouldn’t pass it.

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