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This Week in the General Assembly

Here's a look at the highlights from the Rhode Island State House for the week ending June 8, 2012.

For more information on any of these items visit http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/News/

‘Good time’ changes signed into law

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee on June 5 signed into law legislation passed by the General Assembly to prevent those serving time for particularly serious crimes from earning time off their sentences for good behavior.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Teresa Tanzi on behalf of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, was introduced in response to the potential release last year of Michael Woodmansee, convicted of killing 5-year-old Jason Foreman in 1975 in South Kingstown. Woodmansee, who later agreed to remain in state custody through voluntary institutional commitment, was allowed to earn 12 years off the 40 he was supposed to serve through “good time” and participation in a prison job.

The General Assembly also passed additional legislation (2012-S 3025 and 2012-H 8242) today to name the new law “Jason’s Law” in honor of Jason Foreman.

The new law bans those convicted of murder, attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first- and second-degree child molestation and kidnapping of a minor from earning time off their sentences solely for behaving in prison. Under the current system, merely existing in prison for a month without incident earns a prisoner as much as 10 days off his or her sentence. The legislation ( 2012-H 7112A and 2012-S 2179A) affects those imprisoned for crimes committed after its effective date, July 1.

House passes bill aimed at disclosure in political spending

The House of Representatives gave its OK on June 5 to legislation sponsored by Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence) to require disclosure by those who raise and spend money on political messaging in Rhode Island.

The Transparency in Political Spending Act (TIPS) requires individuals and organizations that engage in “independent expenditures” and “electioneering communications” to report donors and expenditures to the Rhode Island State Board of Elections and to include disclaimers on media and Internet advertising. The legislation is aimed at the “super-PACs” that formed following the Supreme Court Citizens United decision that ruled that the First Amendment protects corporations’ and unions’ right to fund independent political messages.

The legislation, which was submitted on behalf of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and was developed in collaboration with Common Cause Rhode Island, would require that any group (as defined under the act) that spends more than $1,000 in Rhode Island to support a candidate or a political issue must report that expense to the Board of Elections. It also requires groups that engage in electioneering communications to report all donors who have contributed $1,000 or more in the previous year.

House OKs ignition interlock bill

The House approved legislation on June 6 to increase use of the vehicle ignition interlock system for those convicted of driving under the influence or refusing a chemical test.

“The greatest benefit of ignition interlock is that it protects the public from a person with a history of making bad decisions about getting behind the wheel drunk,” said House Majority Whip J. Patrick O’Neill (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), the sponsor of the bill (2012-H 7849Aaa). “It’s not merely punitive. It has the very practical effect of stopping drunk drivers before they can start their cars, to prevent them from hurting others or themselves.”

Under current law, ignition interlock – a device that requires a driver to submit a breath test to check for sobriety and prevents them from starting their car if they fail – may be part of the sentence imposed on those convicted of drunken driving more than once within a five-year period.

Driver licenses, IDs will now show veteran status

Beginning Sept. 1, Rhode Islanders who have served in the military will be able to have their veteran status displayed on state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards.

The governor this week signed legislation approved by the General Assembly, directing the Division of Motor Vehicles to make available a veteran-status driver’s license or identification card to any honorably discharged service member who presents a Certificate of Release from Active Duty or other acceptable documentation of military service.

The new law calls for no additional cost (beyond the normal license renewal charge) for issuance of a license or ID with the veteran designation.

Senate passes bill to hike minimum wage to $7.75

Rhode Island’s last increase in the minimum wage came five years ago, when it was set at $7.40 per hour. During that time, the Massachusetts minimum wage has gone from $7.50 to $8, and Connecticut, which was at $7.65 in 2007, is at $8.25 today.

“Individuals who are working minimum wage jobs in the state, jobs that absolutely need to be done to keep many businesses open, need to earn a fair wage,” said Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick). “A lot has happened with the economy in the past five years and what may have been fair in 2007 is no longer adequate today. People are struggling and those making the least are struggling the most.”

On June 7, the Senate voted 26 to 11 in favor of legislation (2012-S 2374A) sponsored by Lynch to increase the Rhode Island minimum wage to $7.75, beginning January 1, 2013. That represents an increase of nearly 5 percent.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. A companion House bill, 2012-H 7306, introduced by Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick), is currently before the House Committee on Labor.

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