PROVIDENCE – Representatives from the northern part of the state have worked together to sponsor several bills before the Rhode Island General Assembly since the start of session Tuesday, Jan. 7, and legislation aimed at saving towns money, helping a local theater and supporting nursing homes are now in committee.
Reps. Brian Newberry and David Place are joint sponsors on bills developed with input from the Burrillville community, according to a member of the town’s delegation. Several also have support from Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, who reportedly plans to submit companion legislation in her chamber.
Among them is House bill 7168, which would increase state medical assistance payments made to nursing homes to cover any increased costs resulting from a hike in the minimum hourly wage.
Place said he developed the legislation after he and de la Cruz visited Burrillville-based nursing homes, including Overlook, Bayberry and Crystal Lake, last year.
“They said one of the biggest problems they have is that Medicare and Medicaid only provide 60 cents on dollar for care,” said Place, a Republican representing Burrillville and Glocester.
As a result, Place said the increases to the minimum wage leave such facilities with few options.
“They have no choices. What aspect of patient care do they cut back: staffing or programs?” Place asked, saying that government can be a driving factor in health care costs. “Private insurers get stuck with the difference.”
The bill has been referred to House Finance, and Place said de la Cruz is currently reviewing the language, and may consider submission in the Senate.
Place and Newberry’s House bill 7159, meanwhile, would potentially allow the Burrillville Town Council to grant a “Class T,” liquor license to the Assembly Theatre.
The legislation would expand Rhode Island’s definition of “legitimate theaters” to municipalities across the state. Place notes it would enable communities to utilize the license, which is now limited to theaters in Newport.
Currently, the Burrillville venue must apply to serve beer and wine at each individual event with Town Council approval.
That bill has been referred to House Municipal Government, and has support for submission in the Senate by de la Cruz.
The representative has also co-sponsored House bill 7149, which would amend the law on “public notice,” to allow municipalities to advertise on platforms other than newspapers, such as online publications.
“It’s a cost savings for municipalities,” said Place of the proposed change. “Right now, it’s an unfunded mandate.”
Place noted that the law aims to provide residents with information on government actions that could affect them, but newspapers that currently qualify have “exceptionally low distribution,” in Burrillville.
The bill expands publication to platforms “which may be reasonably demonstrated to reach a larger portion of the population.”
“With technology advancing as much as it has, I think online platforms are the way to go,” Place said. “Being on the council for 8 years, I’m very well aware of the unfunded mandates that are out there.”
“This is probably one of the easiest ones to address.”
That bill also has support from Newberry, a Republican representing North Smithfield and parts of Burrillville, along with House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, and Reps. John Lyle of Lincoln and Pawtucket, and Robert Quattrocchi of Scituate and Cranston.
Another bill sponsored by the Republican delegates would authorize fire districts to provide for an exemption from fire taxes for volunteer firefighters.
“Volunteer fire departments are saving municipalities who are served by them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” said Place, pointing to similar legislation passed for the town of Bristol.
“It’s a ‘thank you,'” he said, noting that he’s hopeful the bill would incentivize new volunteers.
The Burrillville delegates represent two of just nine Republicans currently serving in the House, and Place noted their legislation may require amendments to gain traction with Democratic leadership, such as adjustments that make them specific to the municipality.
For now, he said, the goal is to allow the bills to apply to the whole state.
“I don’t believe in doing municipal-specific legislation,” he said, adding that the General Assembly wastes time and money every time they have to add a new town to a given law.
Place noted that de la Cruz, also a Republican, helped to develop several pieces of legislation, but that the administrative process requires that a House bill be submitted before its companion.