- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Legislation to hike the minimum wage, eliminate the “master lever” in voting booths, and make calamari Rhode Island’s official state appetizer were among hundreds of measures the General Assembly took up Wednesday as it scrambled toward adjournment for the year.

Both the House and Senate voted on scores of bills; the calendar on the House side alone had 184 items.

The House approved bills to raise the minimum wage by $1 an hour, to $9, beginning next year; establish a framework for the state to prepare for the effects of climate change; and change the state’s medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks for caregivers and address what supporters called other unintended loopholes.

The House also voted to bestow an official title on the state’s distinctive squid dish. The lead sponsor, Rep. Joseph McNamara, said the state has to do a better job of promoting its products and exporting its successes.

“Rhode Island is the squid capital of the East Coast,” the Warwick Democrat enthused ahead of the unanimous vote. The Senate version is scheduled to be heard in committee Thursday.

Meanwhile, the full Senate passed legislation to eliminate the option on ballots that lets voters cast a straight-ticket vote with a single mark. Efforts to abolish the so-called master lever, which critics call confusing and undemocratic, have stalled in recent years.

Both chambers approved “just cause” bills that provide protections for tenants in foreclosed properties.

Many more bills remain backlogged even with the target adjournment set for no later than Friday. Next week is the deadline to file declaration of candidacy papers, which marks the unofficial launch of the political campaign season.

Casino-related legislation scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday was held up, with the chairman saying the measures were still being worked on. One bill calls for putting another ballot question before Newport voters about the introduction of table games.

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