- Associated Press - Thursday, June 19, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island’s General Assembly continued its push toward adjournment for the year, but House and Senate leaders were still negotiating multiple bills Thursday night and decided to reconvene one final day.

The Assembly hoped to bring the gavel down on its 2014 session but both chambers are now scheduled to meet Friday, which will be the final day.

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said negotiations were continuing with Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, including on legislation related to the introduction of table games at the Newport Grand casino.

Mattiello said he and the Senate president were trying to strike an agreement that works for both the city and state, which would potentially share revenue if table games were approved by voters. He described an “interesting dynamic,” since Paiva Weed represents the city of Newport.

The speaker identified as still in play bills to limit the number of evaluations for teachers rated as “highly effective” and “effective” and to suspend use of the NECAP standardized test as a high school graduation requirement.

“It’s moving along fine,” he told reporters after the House adjourned for the night. “We’re moving to an orderly conclusion to a good session.”

Mattiello expressed doubt that action would be taken this session on a bill designed to close a loophole in the state constitution and restore ethics commission oversight over lawmakers. Good-government groups have criticized the current version as being watered down.

He said he has not closely reviewed it and suggested he might not want to tackle it on the final day.

Lawmakers passed a flurry of bills before breaking for hours so leaders could negotiate - only to be called back briefly to learn they were going home. Approved were measures to require DNA samples from anyone arrested for - not just convicted of - a crime of violence and to mandate that some large producers of organic waste, including food scraps, divert it from landfills.

The House lent final passage to a measure eliminating the so-called master lever, which allows voters to cast a single-ticket vote with one mark on the ballot. Critics say it’s confusing and undemocratic.

Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Scituate, who long fought to abolish it, supported the bill but called it disappointing the Senate amended it to take effect in 2015. An earlier version would have become effective in time for November’s elections.

The legislation includes a requirement for a voter outreach and education effort.

“I think there’s absolutely no reason we can’t put this bill in this (2014) election,” Marcello said. “We all know what this is, it’s a delay.”

Earlier in the day, Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the fiscal year 2015 budget, which includes a cut in the corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 7 percent and an increase in the estate tax exemption to $1.5 million. It also includes a plan to address road and bridge projects statewide in part through an increase in the gas tax and some fees.

The Sakonnet toll was also eliminated, and Chafee said Thursday he directed the state’s bridge authority to take steps to shut it down. That was expected to be done by mid-day Friday.

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