General Assembly Roundup: Abortion Coverage, School Bond, Polystyrene Ban

by | Aug 15, 2023

Editor’s note: We checked in with East Greenwich state legislators about the 2023 General Assembly session regarding bills they sponsored and other bills pertinent to East Greenwich residents. 

Sen. Bridget Valverde (D – Dist. 35, E. Greenwich, N. Kingstown, S. Kingstown) had a busy legislative session with the passage of the Equity in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) and pushing to eliminate the cap on income for disabled Medicaid recipients that made it into the 2024 budget.

In May, Governor Daniel McKee signed the EACA into law, which Valverde co-sponsored. The bill outlines insurance protection for abortion care for those on Medicaid and individuals employed by the state. Prior to the passing of this bill, abortion services would have only been covered for state employees and Medicaid recipients in the case of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother was threatened, despite abortion’s legality in Rhode Island.

Valverde pointed to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 as a pivotal aspect of getting EACA passed. “I think there’s been a renewed interest in making sure that Rhode Island is providing health coverage for the full range of reproductive services, which includes abortion,” she said.

One success of the past session that came together at the last minute for Valverde was the elimination of an income cap for those receiving Medicaid – an issue she credited John Calbi of East Greenwich for bringing to her attention earlier this year. Calbi’s son, Jack Calbi, suffered a spinal cord injury a few years ago, rendering him significantly disabled but still able to work. 

Valverde called the achievement “gratifying” for people with disabilities, like Jack Calbi, who want to continue to “work and contribute.” Because the Medicaid coverage was vital, some with disabilities (intellectual, physical or both) “refused pay raises or promotions” out of fear of losing their disability coverage through Medicaid. 

When asked about the financial ramifications of this policy, Valverde said there may be a positive financial outcome. “We’re already paying for their care,” she said. And because the lack of an income cap would free up people on Medicaid to accept a raise or get a higher paying job, “they’ll also be contributing more in income taxes,” she said. 

The change won’t happen overnight, Valverde noted, since it will require federal approvals. 

To view all of the bills Rep. Valverde sponsored in this past session, click HERE.

Rep. Justine Caldwell (D – Dist. 30, E. Greenwich, W. Greenwich) got bills passed that will ban polystyrene takeout containers, helped prevent wage theft, and eased the adoption process for children born through assisted reproduction. 

Caldwell and Rep. Evan Shanley (D – Dist. 24, Warwick, E. Greenwich) were co-sponsors of legislation barring businesses from preparing, processing, or providing food or drinks in containers made of polystyrene foam. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2025.

Another legislative win for Caldwell this past session was a bill she co-sponsored creating misdemeanor and felony penalties for businesses deemed to be participating in wage theft. Under the new law, which takes effect at the beginning of next year, an employer who knowingly fails to pay an employee more than $1,500 in wages could face up to three years in prison and pay additional fines.

The adoption legislation that was passed will make it easier for same-sex couples to adopt children through assisted reproduction by removing the requirement that a couple needs to post an ad that spells out the sperm donors’ relinquishment of parental rights and no longer requires the couple to undergo a home study.

She also introduced bills aiming to increase firearm security and ban assault weapons that did not make it out of committee. 

The legislation regarding firearm safety “would require that all firearms, when not in use by the owner or another authorized user, be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device properly engaged in order to render the firearm inoperable,” according to a press release on the proposed bill. This would be a similar law to those already enacted in Massachusetts and Connecticut. 

“It is not asking too much to expect those who own lethal weapons to secure them to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands,” said Caldwell in a statement. “Just as our state requires drivers to have insurance because we recognize the potential that vehicles have to inflict harm on others, in the interest of public safety, we should require that gun owners take responsibility for securing their weapons.”

The bill calling for assault weapons to be banned outlines a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 10 years of imprisonment. Assault weapons are defined in the bill as a semi-automatic shotgun with a magazine exceeding six rounds and a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine exceeding ten rounds. The bill also said anyone owning an assault weapon prior to this legislation being signed into law would be “grandfathered” in.

To view all of the bills Rep. Caldwell sponsored this past session, click HERE.

Another piece of legislation that Caldwell introduced that did not get passed was a bill to ensure “free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of their household income, as part of the school day,” according to a press release.

Rep. Caldwell did not respond to multiple requests for comment by East Greenwich News for this article.

Rep. Evan Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick, E. Greenwich) helped pass legislation that amended the Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, authorized East Greenwich to finance a school construction project up to $180 million, and, as mentioned above, prohibits the use of polystyrene takeout containers.

The bill that amended the lead poisoning act co-sponsored by Rep. Shanley requires all lead pipes to be replaced within 10 years, has water suppliers create an inventory to determine the existence of lead in the water, and mandates that landlords notify tenants of lead pipes in their homes.

“While we did not get everything across the finish line that I would have liked, it was the most productive year of my seven-year tenure in the House,” said Rep. Shanely in a statement to EG News. “I had the privilege of chairing the House Committee on State Government and Elections and it was again a busy year as we continued our efforts to make voting convenient and secure.” 

One bill that Rep. Shanely introduced this past session that did not get passed would have allowed residents of nursing homes to install cameras in their rooms. The goal of the bill would be to curb elder abuse that could take place in nursing home facilities.

“The goal was to add a layer of protection from abuse and neglect for these residents, help give loved ones a little more peace of mind about the care they are receiving, and not impose any additional financial burden on nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can find a consensus on this legislation next year and look forward to working with advocates on both sides of the fence on this issue.”

In addition to the current legislation he is working on, Shanely mentioned his focus being on school safety and state reimbursement for special education costs that towns incur. To see all of the bills Rep. Shanley co-sponsored in the previous session, click HERE.

Valverde in the Senate and Caldwell and Shanley in the House sponsored enabling legislation for the Town of East Greenwich to bond up to $180 million for a school construction project. (The EG Town Council voted on that not-to-exceed amount in April; it will be voting on the actual amount to go before voters sometime this month.)

They all three supported legislation allowing communities like East Greenwich to be eligible for more “bonus” points for school construction projects (raising potential reimbursement for EG from 17.5 percent to 20 percent of the total school construction cost), along with extending the timeline to lock in a contractor, which could save the town on construction costs by waiting for higher prices to drop.

“Speaking with local officials in East Greenwich and Warwick and my colleagues, this was essential given rising construction costs and supply chain issues,” Shanley said. “Many communities were apprehensive about beginning projects that had been planned and bonded based on pre-inflationary estimates. I’m optimistic that the rapid inflation of 2021 and 2022 has come to an end and projects in the pipeline in East Greenwich and Warwick can proceed with this increased flexibility.”

Some other bills important to local legislators were left on the table at the end of the session. “As a part-time legislature, we only have so much time to be able to focus on so many things at once,” Valverde said, already thinking of the 2024 session, saying that she wants to focus on things like the “bottle bill” (of which Rep. Caldwell was a co-sponsor) and codifying aspects of the Affordable Care Act into Rhode Island law.

Regarding newly passed housing legislation that will make it easier for developers to build affordable housing by eliminating a step in the application process, allowing greater density for more affordable units, and making it easier to convert old school buildings into affordable housing, Valverde and Shanley both mentioned the housing crisis that exists in many parts of the country and here in Rhode Island. 

“We need more housing for families, Valverde said. “We need families to be able to buy that first house. The housing bills that we passed this year make some progress towards investing in building more housing.”

“We are in the middle of a housing crisis in Rhode Island and the package of bills passed this year seeks to encourage and streamline the process for permitting and construction of new homes,” said Shanley in a statement to EG News. “Rhode Island has developed a reputation as a state that is unduly burdensome and unpredictable when it comes to development.”

Caldwell and Shanely voted yes on all the bills, while Valverde voted yes on all but the bill that amended the subdivision and land development permit process. In that instance, Valverde voted “No Vote.”

Caldwell did not respond to EG News’s requests for comment.

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Bob D
Bob D
August 18, 2023 9:53 am

Our local politicians, Valverde and Caldwell are more worried about polystyrene and taking away 2nd amendment RIGHTS than letting self serving contractors fill thier pockets while the resisdents of EG, constituents, will suffer with the 400+ units to be built and the ramifications $$ to ALL EG residents. Why listen to constituents?! Their silence speaks volumes!


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