- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its annual session early Saturday morning after an all-nighter during which both chambers passed dozens of bills and the Senate approved next year’s $8.9 billion budget.

The General Assembly called it quits just after 6 a.m., passing a flurry of bills involving guns, ride-hailing apps and harbor seals. The Senate also passed the budget, which the House approved Wednesday. It now heads to Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk.

Among the bills voted on:



A last-minute dispute erupted Friday before the House unanimously passed a bill creating a process for people convicted of domestic-violence felonies to surrender their guns. Domestic-violence prevention advocates described the bill endorsed by Democratic leaders as too weak and mostly symbolic because it’s already illegal for felons to have guns.

They pushed for more restrictive legislation that would cover domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanors or under protective orders, but a version that moved to the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday evening mirrored one unanimously passed in the Senate that had the blessing of gun rights groups.

Providence Democratic Rep. Edith Ajello was so upset by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee moving the watered-down version to the House floor that she asked for her name to be removed as a co-sponsor.

The president of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence stormed out of the committee’s meeting, calling lawmakers “shameful.”

“It does nothing to protect domestic-violence victims,” president Jerry Belair said. “But now they can say, ‘Oh, we did something.’”

The House also passed a bipartisan bill backed by gun rights groups that speeds up the process of getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon.



A slew of bills passed both chambers, including legislation that would require schools to report suspected abuse and legislation requiring children to get at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted recess at public elementary schools. Lawmakers reached a compromise blending dueling proposals to regulate ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, including bringing those drivers under the oversight of the Public Utilities Commission. Both chambers voted to make the harbor seal the official state marine mammal.

Lawmakers also passed a package of legislation aimed at addressing the opioid overdose crisis. The bills now head to Raimondo’s desk.

The Senate passed bills allowing simulcast betting on Sundays, creating automated speed traps in school zones and curbing out-of-school suspensions.

The House voted to ban the smoking of e-cigarettes in indoor public places. The vaping bill was the most contentious, with Republicans voting against a measure they described as trying to control behaviors that lawmakers might not like but that haven’t been proved to be harmful.

“Maybe now we should ban bacon in all public spaces,” complained Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a West Warwick Republican. “What’s next, bacon? Chocolate cake? Strawberries?”

A bill that would legalize the growth of industrial hemp passed the House but died in the Senate.



Emotions ran high in the final minutes of the session. Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed choked up while telling her colleagues that the probation and parole reforms that the Senate had embraced would not go forward, according to the Providence Journal (https://bit.ly/1Uhn7VR). Paiva Weed took a minute to collect herself before announcing what she called “the bad news.”

The bills would have mandated screening of defendants and prisoners up for probation or parole to provide treatment to those who have substance abuse or mental health problems. They also would have made it more difficult to send probation violators back to prison.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said last-minute changes to the bills caused concern.

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