Chaotic Finish to 2017 General Assembly Leaves Holes

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — As the dust settles on the abrupt end to the 2017 General Assembly session, there are least a few developments to report from the session's final days.

Transportation. The elimination of the car tax is clearly in limbo with an unapproved fiscal 2018 budget. The program to fund free rides for low-income disabled and elderly Rhode Island Public Transit Authority riders was restored with the passage of H5241 by the Senate on June 30. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Electric vehicles. A state rebate of up to $2,500 for the purchase or lease of a new electric vehicle ends July 10. Even if the 2018 budget passed, there was no money in it to continue the program. The House and Senate approved a bill (H6302) June 29 that prohibits parking at an EV charging station without plugging in for a charge.

Academic shield law. On June 27, Raimondo signed two bills (S177, H5098) that allow public university professor to shield drafts, notes and working papers from public data requests. The legislation attempts to halt large, time-consuming inquiries for information from anti-climate change groups. These groups are accused of using preliminary research to discredit scholars.

Land development. Planning departments and zoning boards now have less time to approve new home applications and subdivisions. H5475 and S481 were sent to Raimondo’s desk June 28. Both bills will become law if she doesn't take action for six days.

Bag ban. A bill (H5946) ending municipal plastic bag bans died in committee.

Battery cages. For the fourth year in a row, a bill (H6023) banning battery cages for egg-laying hens passed the House but stopped in the Senate.

Burrillville power plant. Bills (H5897, S756) requiring the completion of advisory reviews in applications before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board died in committee. If passed, the legislation would likely have imperiled the proposed Clear River Energy Center.

Right to farm. H6172 would have allowed farms and vineyards to host weddings and retail operations regardless of local ordinances that may prohibit such activities. Many traditional farmers saw the bill as a threat to agriculture. Many neighbors of farmers also opposed the expansion of activities. The bill passed the House, but was never heard by the Senate.

Renewable energy on farms and open space. S570 allows no more than 20 percent of a farm or protected land to be used for wind and solar projects without losing its property-tax exemption. The bill passed the House and Senate and was sent to the governor June 29.

Statewide solar application. On June 19, Raimondo signed into law S562 and H5575. Both bills create a statewide permit application that all municipalities must use for new solar projects.

Fireworks. A bill (H5099) limiting the hours to use aerial fireworks died in committee.