- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2018

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Lawmakers in Rhode Island closed out their legislative session by deciding on a number of landmark bills.

They created a system for sports betting, with Rhode Island pocketing more than half the profits. They gave the Pawtucket Red Sox an opportunity to remain in that city as Worcester, Massachusetts, tries to poach the minor league team north.

They also moved to strengthen gun laws following mass shootings in Las Vegas and Florida.

The General Assembly did not change the name of Rhode Island’s main airport or pass substantive legislation about sexual harassment amid the #MeToo movement.

After lawmakers adjourned Saturday, here’s a look at what passed and what didn’t in 2018.

BUDGET

The most notable portion of the state’s $9.6 billion budget for 2019 was a late addition about sports betting. The state finalized a deal with gaming company IGT and Twin River, the owner of two casinos in the state, to begin sports betting. Rhode Island moved quickly to tap the potentially lucrative market opened up by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.

Rhode Island also got a larger share of the profits than New Jersey or Delaware, taking 51 percent of the earnings in the deal.

The state’s budget also asked voters to authorize $250 million in bonds as the first phase of an ambitious plan to rebuild schools.

PAWSOX

After years of negotiations about how to keep the PawSox in Pawtucket, the General Assembly squeezed in a plan at the end of their session. The bill, pushed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, enables the state, city and team to begin shopping for bonds to finance a new, $83-million stadium. But lawmakers cautioned the deal is not final - and the team has not committed to taking the offer.

The bill would finance the $38 million public contribution with so-called “special revenue bonds.” Only tax money directly generated by the stadium and its surrounding area can be used to pay off the bonds. It’s less risky but more expensive to finance those bonds. One analysis from the Senate’s fiscal office pegged the added costs from an earlier plan at between $54 and $84 million.

The Senate ultimately acquiesced to the House, but senators expressed frustration that their colleagues took so long to get something done.

GUN LEGISLATION

The national conversation in wake of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, led lawmakers to pass two gun control measures in Rhode Island.

The bills banned bump stock devices that make semi-automatic guns fire like fully automatic ones and implemented a “red flag” policy. That allows law enforcement to request temporary restraining order to take guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Other efforts, like measures to ban automatic weapons altogether, forbid high-capacity magazines and raise the age to buy long gun, failed.

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT

Amid the #MeToo movement, Rhode Island lawmakers largely punted on actions to strengthen protections for victims of harassment, even after two reported cases at the statehouse.

The national conversation failed to yield a legislative reckoning in Rhode Island. Eight bills were introduced but none made it to the House floor for a vote. House leaders said the bills were introduced too late in the session.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi revealed last October that a higher-ranking lawmaker told her sexual favors would help advance her bills. Tanzi, a Democrat, said there wasn’t urgency among senior leaders to get something passed.

Former state Sen. Nicholas Kettle was charged with extorting sex from a page in February. The Senate changed its rules and mandated that members and employees receive annual sexual harassment training. The House did training in January.

EQUAL PAY

The issue of the wage gap became one of the more contentious debates in the assembly. The Senate passed a bill in April that would have required employers to justify wage discrepancies on a demonstrable difference in skill. The House said that bill was deeply unpopular among businesses and introduced an amended version.

That set off a contentious debate on the House floor, with some female lawmakers arguing it would actually weaken protections and others saying it was a step in the right direction. Ultimately, the Senate refused to consider the new version.

DRUG EPIDEMIC

The state passed several bills to address the opioid epidemic. One controversial bill makes it easier for prosecutors to seek homicide charges for dealers who sell fatal doses to users. It was opposed by many medical and community organizations. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday that she plans to sign the bill. She says it’s a very difficult decision, but she’s deeply committed to combating the opioid crisis and there’s a role for law enforcement in that.

T.F. GREEN AIRPORT

It was not a very successful session for executives at the state’s main airport. The Rhode Island Airport Corporation wanted to rebrand the airport as “Rhode Island International Airport.” They also wanted to tax jet fuel to pay for new infrastructure plans.

But both of those efforts died on the last day of the legislative session. Some lawmakers felt the name change erased important state history.

EARLY VOTING

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s bid to expand early voting in the state hit an impasse again. Some lawmakers conceded they were worried about how the new procedure would affect their own campaigns.

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