Around the valley: No change to gas tax, Senate bills address LGBTQ rights

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Senate advances bills protecting LGBTQ rights

The Senate has recently passed several bills aimed at preventing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. The bills strengthen protections in housing discrimination law, expand civil action protections against discrimination, and amend the hate crimes law to include gender identity and expression.

The first bill S 0563, sponsored by Sen. Meghan Kallman of District 15, updates the definition of sexual orientation in regard to fair housing practices and allows all parties, including the attorney general and the Rhode Island Commission Against Discrimination, to send cases from the commission to Superior Court. It also eliminates an exemption that effectively allows LGBTQ discrimination in owner-occupied buildings of three units or less, and it prohibits courts from entering orders, stipulations or settlements unless all parties attest that a waiver of attorneys’ fees was not compelled as a condition.

The second bill, introduced by Sen. Ana Quezada of District 2 on behalf of Attorney General Peter Neronha, expands the protections in certain civil actions to include causes of action for persons based on ancestry, color, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability if such persons are threatened or intimidated and would provide a new civil action to prevent and penalize conduct that deprives any person of certain constitutional rights. It creates a civil investigative demand procedure initiated by the attorney general, with penalties if it appears a person has engaged in, is engaged in, or is about to engage in an unlawful act depriving others of their civil rights.

The final bill, S 0803, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Archambault of District 22, amends the state hate crimes law to include gender identity and expression. It also clarifies that the law can be applied whether the offense was motivated in whole or in part by the perpetrator’s perception of the victim’s status, and allows judges to include community service or education related to the community harmed as part of sentencing.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives where Rep. Edith Ajello of District 1 is sponsoring the housing discrimination bill, H 6215; House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Craven of District 32 is sponsoring the civil actions bill, H 5860, and Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith of District 46, is sponsoring the hate crimes bill, H 6147.

DEM urges Rhode Islanders not to remove fawns, other baby animals from the wild

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is cautioning the public not to assume that finding a baby animal means it needs to be rescued. For example, a fawn lying on the ground hidden in grass or brush should not be considered abandoned; it should be left alone.

White-tailed deer give birth to fawns in May and June. Each year, DEM receives many calls about fawns apparently being abandoned by their mother.

“This is almost never the case and most of these fawns are not abandoned,” said Dylan Ferreira, a wildlife biologist in DEM’s Division of Fish & Wildlife. “In nature, the mother deer gives birth and for the next five to seven days, the fawn is incapable of following the mother, so it is natural for the fawn to lie in a curled ‘freeze’ position on the ground hidden in grass or sparse brush. Sometimes, however, well-intentioned people will assume the fawn is abandoned and take it home to ‘save’ it from predators or domestic animals.”
These fawns, however, have not been abandoned.

“The doe will often be nearby, out of sight and will only come to the fawn a few times during the day or after dark to feed the fawn,” Ferreira said. “If you see a fawn in this condition, please leave it alone, as the mother will return to feed it.”

After seven to 10 days, the fawn may run when approached and after a month will be able to follow and feed alongside the mother. Interference by handling and taking fawns from the wild by people during this process can often doom young deer. If there is no dead doe found nearby or on the road, the fawn is not considered abandoned.

If you should find a fawn, the best thing to do is immediately leave the area and avoid creating any disturbance near it. Fawns should not be handled – and counter-intuitive as it may seem – do not need your help. Fawns are well camouflaged and have very little scent helping to protect it from predators, explains Ferreira.

Fawns also lie motionless when approached by a predator, a behavioral adaptation to help it survive. The doe-fawn bond is very strong and even in extreme cases if the fawn has been handled, it should be put back near the location where it was found or next to natural vegetation to provide some protection.

Rarely, a fawn may approach people or pets. If this occurs, it should be gently coaxed back down into the grass by pressing down on its shoulders as its mother would. Then, DEM advises the public to immediately leave the area. Do not wait to see if the doe returns as she will avoid the area until the disturbance passes. She will return to search and care for the missing fawn once the area is clear of people and pets.

Fawns cannot be kept as pets and removing a deer from the wild and keeping it in captivity – however well-intentioned – is illegal in Rhode Island. Wild deer often do poorly in captivity, suffering malnutrition and behavioral changes as they become accustomed to humans. Captive deer also can pose health risks or may become dangerous to people or domestic animals as they mature. Tame deer raised in captivity have trouble returning to the wild as a free-roaming creature as nature intended. Any fawn obviously injured by a pet, vehicle, or farm equipment should be reported directly to the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 401-789-0281.

For more information on when it is appropriate to assist young wildlife, check out DEM’s YouTube channel for a recording of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s recent outreach program at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdRBiuJrj78&t=1s.

Rhode Island gasoline tax rate will remain unchanged

The Rhode Island Division of Taxation reminds retailers, motorists, and others that the Rhode Island gasoline tax rate will remain unchanged, at 34 cents per gallon, effective July 1, 2021.

By statute, the Division of Taxation every other year must take the measure of inflation and use that number to adjust the gasoline tax for the following July. Accordingly, the Division in late 2020 determined that the percentage of increase in inflation was not enough to increase the gasoline tax. Thus, at the time, the Division publicly announced that the tax, commonly known as the “gas tax”, would remain at 34 cents per gallon effective July 1, 2021.

Because there is, by statute, a lag between the time the measure of inflation is taken and the time the inflation-adjusted gas tax rate takes effect, today’s Department of Revenue news release is issued as a reminder.

By law, inflation formula is applied once every two years.

The gas tax is set forth in Rhode Island General Laws § 31-36-7: http://webserver.rilegislature.gov//Statutes/TITLE31/31-36/31-36-7.HTM

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