What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 6/10-6/14
Posted: June 18, 2019|
Last week we focused on bills which have passed either the House or Senate and could pose serious harm to civil liberties in Rhode Island. Positively, however, numerous bills making advances for the protection of LGBTQ rights and women’s rights have also passed out of each chamber.
Here is a look at these positive bills; for a broader overview of the session thus far, visit our legislative page.
• Reproductive Privacy Act (H 5125 Sub B) As the attitude of the US Supreme Court towards abortion rights becomes murkier, pro-choice organizations, including the ACLU, continue to push for the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade to be codified into Rhode Island law. The Reproductive Privacy Act, introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams, serves to preserve the status quo of abortion healthcare in Rhode Island, and to ensure that the shifting ideology of the Supreme Court does not impede upon a person’s right to choose. The RPA also repeals several state laws on the books which have been found to be unconstitutional, such as a spousal notification requirement. The ACLU testified in support of the critical provisions contained within this bill. The RPA passed out of the House by a vote of 44-30, and recently passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee by a vote of 8-2. The bill will be voted on by the full chamber tomorrow.
• Gender Rating in Health Insurance (H 5364, S 445) Nationwide, women have historically been charged more for the same health insurance as men, solely because of their gender, leaving women less able to purchase vital health care coverage. This practice is generally illegal under the Affordable Care Act, but gaps in the law allow the practice to continue. This legislation, sponsored by Representative Katherine Kazarian and Senator Susan Sosnowski, would codify this ban into Rhode Island law. We testified in support of this bill in both chambers, but it has only passed the Senate so far.
• Benefits for LGBTQ Veterans (H 5443, S 837) For decades, excellent military personnel were forced to leave the military on “less than honorable” discharges once it was made known that they identified as a part of the LGBTQ community. H 5443 and S 837, introduced by Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Senator Dawn Euer, would ensure that veterans discharged solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity would still qualify for state veteran benefits. The House and Senate have both passed this legislation, and it should be headed soon to the governor’s desk to be signed.
• Equal Pay (H 5659, S 509) The substantial disparities between the pay grades of men and women, and the gaps between the salaries of white women and women of color in Rhode Island are equally as pronounced and troubling. This “equal pay” legislation, sponsored by Representative Susan Donovan and Senator Susan Sosnowski, is essential to not only promote the growth of our state, but to provide economic mobility for women, and women of color in particular, who are already more likely to have lower incomes than virtually any other group. This legislation has been passed by the Senate but has not been acted on by the House.
• Uniform Parentage Act (H 5707, S 789) These bills, introduced by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee and Senator Erin Lynch Prata, would update Rhode Island parentage and adoption laws to reflect the diversity of families that live in the state by clearing up current ambiguities and guaranteeing the right for LGBTQ+ families to establish parentage in a manner consistent with all other families. The legislation would also provide clear routes for parentage of children born through assisted reproduction. Currently, S 789 has passed the Senate.
• Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (H 5340, H 5341) During last year’s legislative session, the ACLU was highly supportive of Representative Teresa Tanzi’s special legislative commission to study sexual harassment in the workplace and the package of legislation that arose from it. We supported the reintroduction of the legislation, which was never brought to the House floor for a vote. A number of bills have been reintroduced to address this critical issue in both chambers. So far, H 5340, introduced by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, which tolls the statute of limitations for charges of misconduct, and H 5341, introduced by Representative Evan Shanley, which expands the statute of limitations for employees who are victims of workplace misconduct, have passed the House.
• Tampon Tax Although introduced as a piece of standalone legislation in both the House and the Senate by Representative Edith Ajello and Senator Louis DiPalma, the repeal of the “Tampon Tax” was recently incorporated into the revised state budget proposal. Currently, Rhode Island law treats feminine hygiene products as “luxury items,” thus subjecting them to sales tax. As these products are purchased predominantly by women, the practical result is a sex-based tax on necessary health products. This provision has not been formally voted on yet but is expected to pass with the budget in the upcoming week.
As the session comes to a close, we hope to see many of these proactive and beneficial pieces of legislation shortly make their way to the governor’s desk. In order to ensure that the Rhode Island legislature continues to take strides towards equity, and to learn how to advocate for these bills and others, visit our Advocacy 101 page.