Spotlight on the State House: Vol. III

Following a rip-roaring celebration of Black History Month last night featuring Professor of Economics Glenn Loury, Rhode Island’s legislature will be on recess until March. Before they left, though, the General Assembly fit in plenty of legislating.

In a legislative response to Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s proposed 1 percent sales tax on currently tax-exempt items to close the state’s budget deficit, Sen. Elizabeth Crowley wants to ensure the state keeps its sales tax exemption on regular clothing. Luxury clothing buyers wouldn’t fare as well — they would see a 7 percent sales tax on items that cost $500 or more if the bill becomes law.

Demonstrators in support of in-state tuition for undocumented students / The Providence Journal

Call it Rhode Island’s DREAM Act. Sen. Juan Pichardo and Rep. Grace Diaz have proposed a bill allowing undocumented students to attend Rhode Island colleges and universities at in-state tuition. The legislation stipulates that students must attend a state high school for at least three years and graduate to qualify. And the bill would represent a significant saving for undocumented students. Tuition at the University of Rhode Island, the state’s biggest research university, is $8,238 for a state resident and $24,736 for a non-resident.

Sen. Joshua Miller has proposed legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill, which has Brown’s Sen. Rhoda Perry as a key backer, would make the penalty for first-time possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a $150 fine and the punishment for a second-time offense a $300 fine. It’s not worthwhile for the state to spend tax dollars imprisoning people for “possessing a little of something that is less dangerous than some of the things you can legally buy in stores,” Miller said in a press release.

“Rubbing out Lyme disease” has become a legislative priority, with Rep. Donna Walsh advocating for using the proceeds from a new lottery, to be called “Scratch that Tick,” to fund research and education on the disease. Walsh’s bill is the state House counterpart to a Senate bill proposed by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski last week. Lyme disease is a menace, according to URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease. The center found that 68 percent of Rhode Islanders live in areas where they could be bitten by infected deer ticks, but 86 percent say they are currently taking no precautions to prevent infection.

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