- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island House has unanimously approved an $8.67 billion state budget proposal for the coming fiscal year and the Senate is expected to pass it Tuesday. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello says he’s hoping to adjourn Wednesday, but debate on the final bills could stretch into Thursday, especially if the House takes up a contentious transportation proposal.

Here’s a look at some of the issues to be decided before the final gavel:


The governor’s proposal for a new toll on large commercial trucks has been one of the session’s most hotly contested issues. A bill to allow for more limited truck tolling has been introduced in both chambers. It reduces the proposed cost of crossing the state and the average toll amount, and proposes tax rebates and grants for truckers. A Senate committee held a hearing Thursday but didn’t vote. House leaders support it, but they’re not sure if the House will be ready to vote next week. Officials say the tolls would pay for a $700 million revenue bond to repair deteriorating bridges, as part of a $4.8 billion infrastructure plan.


Lawmakers are considering restricting charter schools to protect local school districts. The House has endorsed a bill that says charter schools seeking to open or expand must demonstrate that they won’t hurt the finances or academic performance of the districts. Another pending proposal would impose a moratorium on new charters until changes are made to the way they’re funded, to address any inequities between traditional public schools and charters. That measure also says any new charter or charter expansion needs the support of the city or town council in the municipality. Both chambers are expected to debate the issue next week.


Growing hemp could become legal in Rhode Island. House lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow hemp cultivation and establish guidelines for it. Hemp can be used to make textiles, lotions and other products. It is a type of cannabis plant and resembles marijuana, but it’s non-intoxicating. Mattiello says the state has an opportunity to create a new industry and create jobs. A Senate committee is studying whether to legalize hemp growth.


Rhode Island designated calamari as the official state appetizer last year. This year, a group of third-graders want to make the American burying beetle the official state insect. The Senate passed the bill. The House hasn’t, but Mattiello says there’s interest in it, it was requested by children and there seems to be some merit to it. In another animal bill, the House endorsed allowing parrots at Rhode Island campgrounds but the proposal hasn’t moved in the Senate.


Lawmakers have approved phasing out cesspools. The House endorsed a bill Thursday, with some representatives calling cesspools disgusting environmental hazards. The Senate passed the cesspool act in May. The chambers will swap bills for final votes. All Rhode Island cesspools pre-date 1968. There are an estimated 25,000 statewide.

The restaurant industry opposed a bill that called for incremental increases in the $2.89 minimum hourly rate for tipped workers, between 2016 and 2020. There’s growing support in the House for a compromise- a one-time wage increase to $3.89 per hour in 2016- which would be the first raise in 20 years.

The Senate has endorsed allowing people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain medical marijuana, but the proposal is still pending in the House.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed wants to tie new state aid for public colleges to the schools’ performance. The Senate unanimously approved the bill, but it hasn’t moved out of committee in the House.


Neither chamber plans to consider public funding for a proposed new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox before the session ends. The team’s original proposal for $120 million in state subsidies for a stadium in downtown Providence was rejected. Mattiello has raised the possibility of holding a special session in the fall to consider a new proposal, and possibly consider the truck toll. But he’s unsure either issue would bring them back. He said he’d decide after adjournment.

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