- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The House of Representatives has passed an $8.7 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, and Rhode Island legislative leaders have set a target adjournment date of no later than Friday. But a lot of work remains before the final gavel goes down on the 2014 General Assembly session.

Here’s a look at some of the outstanding issues:

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THE BUDGET

The Senate Finance Committee will take up the budget Monday after it passed comfortably in the House following a marathon debate. It cuts the state’s corporate tax to 7 percent, increases the estate tax threshold to $1.5 million, creates a statewide transportation infrastructure fund that calls for an increase in the gas tax and averts the Sakonnet Bridge toll, and covers the next bond payment related to the state’s failed investment in 38 Studios. Finance Chairman Daniel Da Ponte has expressed support for the budget. Once the panel endorses it, it will go to the full Senate.

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MINIMUM WAGE

A measure to increase the state’s minimum wage by $1, to $9 an hour, beginning next year has passed the Senate. The House has a pending minimum wage bill that is expected to be amended to match the Senate version. It has the support of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he will sign the legislation if it gets to his desk.

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MASTER LEVER

The Senate is expected to vote on legislation to eliminate from the state’s ballots the so-called master lever, which allows voters to select all the candidates of one party with a single mark. The House previously approved a bill under which the change would take effect in time for November’s elections, but Senate Judiciary endorsed a version that would have it take effect in 2015. The versions would have to match.

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AN ETHICS LOOPHOLE

The Senate passed a measure designed to place state lawmakers under the jurisdiction of the ethics commission, but good-government groups called it “hopelessly compromised” and said it “set back the cause of government ethics.” The bill proposes putting to voters a constitutional amendment to clarify the “speech in debate” clause in the state constitution. The state Supreme Court in 2009 interpreted it to mean lawmakers are shielded from ethics commission prosecution for core duties, including voting. The measure provides for a new jury trial for anyone found guilty of an ethics violation. The House hasn’t yet taken action.

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ANOTHER SHOT FOR CALAMARI?

A measure that would make calamari Rhode Island’s official appetizer is headed to a House vote, but it’s not clear what plans the Senate has for the squid. Rep. Joseph McNamara’s bill notes that Rhode Island has the Eastern seaboard’s largest squid fleet and that the fishing and tourism industries are economically important. It notes that “squid is to Rhode Island what lobster is to Maine and cod is to Massachusetts.” The calamari bill passed the House last session. There’s one on the Senate side this year; it’s pending in committee.


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