Building a More Vibrant Rhode Island: Senate Unveils Package of Economic Development Bills
Themed around “Building a More Vibrant Rhode Island,” the legislative initiatives propose action in a number of areas, including development, workforce training, housing, education, solar energy, and supporting small businesses and Rhode Island's seafood industry. The legislation was slated for introduction during the Senate session following the forum.
“These bills help to remove some of the impediments to development that still exist, and they better prepare Rhode Islanders for tomorrow's economy,” President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio told the participants. “We recognize that many factors need to be addressed in order for residents to thrive here and for companies and their employees to want to live and work here. Through this package, we aim to remove impediments to development and housing, enhance education and workforce training, incentivize sustainable growth in the solar industry, and support local industries, including seafood, craft beer, and small business.”
Joining the Senate president at the roundtable were members of Senate leadership, including Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, and Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, as well as the chairpersons of the committees likely to be reviewing much of the legislation: Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller, who also chairs the Democratic Policy Caucus; Finance Committee Chairman William J. Conley, Jr.; Special Legislation & Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Walter S. Felag, Jr.; Education Committee Chairwoman Hanna M. Gallo; Housing & Municipal Government Chairman Frank Lombardo, III; and Environment & Agriculture Committee Chairwoman V. Susan Sosnowski.
Roundtable participants also included:
- Kathleen S. Connell, State Director for AARP-Rhode Island;
- Andrew Cortes, Director of Apprenticeship Rhode Island and Executive Director and Founder of Building Futures;
- John Gregory, President and CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce;
- John Marcantonio, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Builders Association;
- Cortney Nicolato, President and CEO of the United Way of Rhode Island; and
- Laurie White, President of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.
The Senate worked with dozens of individuals and organizations to develop the legislation, including those participating in the roundtable and others who were in the audience.
The package encourages residential development by updating the building inspection process, much of which hasn't been changed since the 1970s and 1980s. It proposes new housing options so individuals and families struggling to find suitable housing have new options, including accessory dwellings.
The legislation also proposes expanding apprenticeship opportunities in school construction contracts, and it encourages K-12 school systems to teach children of all ages that apprenticeships are among the options they can pursue as they consider careers.
It also reflects a commitment to continue researching issues that require further study, including housing, additional apprenticeship options, the seafood industry, and health care provider reimbursement rates.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with the folks in this room - with business, with labor, with cities and towns, and with the public - to build a more vibrant Rhode Island,” said President Ruggerio.
The legislative initiatives are outlined on the following pages.
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SENATE POLICY OFFICE
Building a More Vibrant Rhode Island
- The Rhode Island Senate has embarked on a thoughtful, two-year initiative called “Building a More Vibrant Rhode Island.”
- This economic-development package includes legislation to be introduced this week and crucial issues that the Senate expects to research in the next year for potential legislation next session.
- The Senate recognizes that for Rhode Island's economy to flourish, the state must address a diverse range of topics that require attention, including the following:
- development barriers;
- the need for more workforce training;
- housing options for all Rhode Islanders;
- an improved education system;
- a focus on Rhode Island's core industries and businesses;
- attention to Rhode Island's small business community; and
- an analysis of reimbursement rates for health care providers and the economic impact such rates have on retaining medical specialists and offering health options for Rhode Islanders.
- These factors all require attention if Rhode Island is to have a thriving economy where people want to live and work and where companies want to stay or locate their businesses and grow.
- The themes and details of the Rhode Island Senate's economic-development package are outlined on the following pages.
These bills update the state's building inspection process, including some sections of state law that haven't been revised since the 1970s and 1980s.
- § 23-27.3-107.1 Local Building Official - Sharing and Prioritizing Building Code work
- Limits the sharing of Building Officials to 2 communities.
- Currently, there is no limit on the number of municipalities that can share a Building Official.
- Municipalities shall not require local Building Officials to do non-Building Code work while Building Code work is pending.
- § 23-27.3-111.2 Building Inspection - Timeline and Penalty
- If a local Building Official fails to inspect within 48 hours after notification, the contractor or builder may notify the Building Official that a qualified third-party inspector or a state inspector will perform the inspection.
- If a state inspector performs inspection, salary and operating expenses for services shall be reimbursed to the state by city or town and shall be deposited as general revenues. Developers would cover costs for third-party, external inspectors.
- The 48 hours exclude weekends and holidays.
- § 23-27.3-107.1.1. Local inspector - To sign permits
- Building inspectors who possess the qualifications enumerated in state law would have the authority to affix their signatures to every permit within the jurisdiction of his/her specialty.
- For example, building, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing inspectors would be able to sign respective permits for areas they're qualified to inspect.
- Expand Apprenticeship Opportunities
- § 37-13-3.1. State public works contract apprenticeship requirements and § 37-13-3.2. Public school construction contract apprenticeship requirements.
- Expands state law for public works contracts so that public school construction contracts valued at $5 million or more shall have apprenticeship programs and that no less than 15 percent of labor hours worked shall be by apprentices.
- Does not require such apprenticeships for contractors and subcontractors with fewer than 5 employees.
- Allows a user agency to lower the 15 percent requirement in cases where such apprentices aren't available or contractors have demonstrated a good faith effort to comply but cannot.
- Maintains the state law that says all public works contracts awarded by the state of $1 million or more shall employ apprentices.
- § 16-2-9. General powers and duties of school committees.
- Gives school committees in K-12 systems the power to establish policies regarding implementation of career and technical education programs into the curriculum that include knowledge of careers, employment, registered apprenticeships, and the advantages of completing school with marketable skills.
- §§ 5-6-24; 5-6-34; 5-20-5; 5-70-5; 28-3; 28-4; 28-27; 28-45 and more: Omnibus apprenticeship legislation to align with federal requirements and add definitions where necessary
- Cleans up state apprenticeship laws to align with federal language.
- The state of Rhode Island is among the states that administer their apprenticeship programs on behalf of the federal government. When federal government approved Rhode Island's administration of such programs, certain state laws needed to be updated.
- Codifies when Rhode Island shall recognize out-of-state apprentices registered elsewhere and working in Rhode Island.
- Aligns apprenticeship requirements with federal standards: Number of hours required by apprentices are enumerated instead of number of years of on-the-job learning.
- Defines apprentice in state law, mirroring the national definition.
- Senate Resolution to study expanding non-trade apprenticeship grant program
- Requests the Governor's Workforce Board to work with the Department of Labor and Training regarding the feasibility of expanding the GWB's non-trade registered apprenticeship grant program.
- Requires a report to Senate leadership by Jan. 1, 2020.
- Create More Housing Opportunities and Incentivize Sustainable Growth in Solar Energy Industry
- § 39-3-7.1 Regulatory Powers of Administration: Solar Siting legislation.
- This solar-siting bill incorporates proposed legislative options put forth by the Office of Energy Resources, which has worked with a variety of environmental and other stakeholders, and it requires municipalities to create comprehensive ordinances for solar-siting projects
- Encourages municipalities to develop solar-siting policies that incentivize such projects on brownfields, landfills, superfund sites, gravel pits, etc.
- Includes a housing density option for when solar projects go on land zoned for housing developments. Within six months, the municipality must have a plan for replacing that lost residential density elsewhere in the municipality.
- Office of Energy Resources would recommend megawatt expansion for PUC approval.
- Mandates reimbursement for interconnecting costs, determined by PUC.
- Allows master meters.
- Sets 10 megawatt limit in residential area; 4 megawatt limit in area of environmental concern. Both may be waived by municipality.
- § 45-24-37. General provisions - Permitted uses/Accessory Dwelling Units
- Expands allowances for Accessory Dwelling Units to be built in single-family residences for more family members than are currently allowed.
- Accessory Dwellings are now allowed for those who are at least age 62 or for family members with disabilities.
- Expands definition of family to include members of a household.
- Accessory dwellings have separate kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways. They're within the house or in a garage/barn. They maintain the single-family appearance of the home.
- Senate Study Commission or Additional Research to Encourage Population Growth with More Housing and Other Initiatives
- Ongoing research expected to continue beyond the 2019 legislative session.
- A key component of building a more vibrant economy is the ability to encourage a growing population, a younger demographic, and more housing options so that as companies decide to move here they'll have adequate housing options for their employees and so that families of all sizes have housing options that work for them.
- Some housing options to consider include workforce housing, retaining mixed-income neighborhoods, and age-friendly housing.
- In 2000, Boston's Mayor Tom Menino launched a multi-year initiative, “Leading the Way,” to create 20,000 more new housing units in the city, including slightly more than a quarter of them that would be affordable units. His efforts on the housing front coincided with addressing health disparities, education reform, and more.
- Educational Outcomes Should Prepare Students for the Workforce
- § 16-97-1.2 Powers and duties of the board of education
- This STEAM strategic plan bill is intended to ensure a more focused approach toward providing K-12 students more opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education.
- Includes a particular focus on ensuring that all children have access to such programs.
- The 5-year plan shall set goals for improving student performance, for attracting more students to earn postsecondary degrees in STEAM, and for addressing teacher shortages in these fields.
- § 16-40-12 Schools instructing persons above compulsory school age
- When the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner approves for-profit, higher-education programs that grant certificates, such programs shall demonstrate financial stability and quality academics and shall address projected workforce needs of the state.
- Additional education bills are in development as part of a separate package.
- It is important to emphasize that improving our schools has economic advantages for Rhode Island.
- That's why the two bills above, which impact the way students are prepared for jobs in today's economy, are included in this economic-development package.
- Expect more education bills to be forthcoming soon.
- Enhance Rhode Island's Seafood Industry
- § 20-3.3-1. Nuisance actions against seafood and commercial fishing industry
- Right to Fish legislation modeled after the Right to Farm law.
- Local fishers and aquaculturists cannot be found to be public nuisances due to the odor or noise of their seafood or fishing equipment.
- § 42-102-13. Non-trade apprenticeship incentive program.
- Expands the Governor's Workforce Board's charge for funding apprenticeship programs to include the fisheries.
- Seeks to address an aging fisheries workforce and to encourage the next generation of fishers.
- Reinvigorate the Senate Task Force on Fisheries
- Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio recently reactivated the task force and appointed senators to replace those who are no longer in office.
- Senator Sosnowski chairs the reinvigorated task force.
- The task force will seek input from people in the fishing industry.
- The task force will also review state statutes, rules, and regulations and hear from DEM, DOH, DBR, and others to consider how rules and regulations impact the industry.
- Monthly resolutions to support Rhode Island's fishing industry.
- These resolutions will be read monthly on the Senate floor, focusing on a variety of topics to encourage more recognition and support of the fishing industry.
- Help Small Businesses and a Growing Industry Flourish
- § 3-6-1 Manufacturer's License: Alcoholic Beverages
- Raises craft beer limits for sale so the brewing industry may continue to grow.
- Allows breweries to sell a full case of 24 beers. If they produce 12-ounce cans or bottles, their limit remains the same. If they produce 16-ounce cans or bottles, as many of the craft breweries do, their limit increases to a full case of 24 bottles or cans.
- No increase for spirits.
- This seeks to allow additional growth in an industry that has recently gone from 14 to 30 craft breweries due to an earlier law addressing this issue.
- § 42-64.33-1. The Rhode Island Small Business Development Fund
- Allows investors to raise a fund to make loans to and early-stage investments in smaller companies.
- The idea is to help companies with fewer than 250 employees expand.
- In turn, the investors get tax credits for their capital investments in Rhode Island.
- Examine Health Care Provider Reimbursement Rates
- Effort under way to Examine Health Care Provider Reimbursement Rates
- Anecdotally, we hear that reimbursement rates are lower for Rhode Island providers - doctors, nurses, behavioral health care specialists, and others.
- However, without more data, we don't really know how these rates impact whether Rhode Island doctors may look to move out of state in coming years.
- RI health care providers often talk of being paid lower reimbursement rates by health insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.
- We will examine whether health care providers may be moving to Massachusetts and Connecticut or commuting from Rhode Island homes to practices in other states, where they can earn more.
- It's important to study this issue to understand the impact on Rhode Island's economy and any potential danger the state may face by losing specialists to neighboring states.
Greg Pare, Press Secretary for the Senate
State House Room 314
Providence, RI 02903
Courtesy of the State of Rhode Island General Assembly