Legislative News – Jan. 9: 3-D printed guns; Plastic Waste Reduction Act; Out of Network Health Care Services

The following press releases were issued by the State of Rhode Island General Assembly on January 9th.

Bill will ban 3-D printed guns and other untraceable firearms

Legislation, approved by Senate last year, would outlaw guns like the one believed to have been used in Pawtucket New Year’s Day murder

STATE HOUSE — As investigators grapple with what may be Rhode Island’s first murder committed with a 3-D printed gun, Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne has reintroduced legislation to outlaw such weapons. Rep. Patricia A. Serpa, who filed a similar bill last year to ban such weapons, is preparing to submit identical legislation in the House.

The legislation (2020-S 2004) would prohibit the possession, manufacturing or selling of 3-D printed firearms, “ghost guns” and other untraceable or undetectable firearms in Rhode Island.

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“Our laws require serial numbers, background checks and age restrictions for gun ownership to provide accountability and some level of safety. 3-D guns, ghost guns and undetectable plastic guns are all meant to dodge these safeguards, at tremendous risk to public safety. These guns are designed for criminal activity. Our state laws should be very clear that possessing, creating or selling them is a criminal act, and we should be doing everything we can to keep these dangerous weapons from proliferating here,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

“These homemade, undetectable guns are easily made by anyone with even a little bit of technical ability,” said Representative Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick). “While I am a strong proponent of people’s right to bear arms, these devices simply lack the safety, reliability and accountability of conventional firearms and have become a menace to society.”

The legislation would make it unlawful in Rhode Island for any person to manufacture, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, possess, or have under his or her control any firearm that is made from plastic, fiberglass or through a 3-D printing process; or a ghost gun — one that lacks a serial number under the requirements of the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968; or one that would be undetectable by a metal detector after removal of all parts other than a major component, or whose major component would not generate an accurate image if subjected to the type of screening equipment used at airports and public buildings.

The bill sets a punishment for violations at up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Regardless of lawsuits, federal decisions and restraining orders preventing their original authors from posting them online, blueprints for 3-D printed firearms remain available on Internet, allowing anyone with access to a 3-D printer to create an untraceable plastic gun.

Investigators believe such a gun was used in the New Year’s Day murder of Cheryl Smith in her Pawtucket home. Suspects Jack Doherty, 23, of Albany, N.Y., and Shaylyn Moran, 18, of Pawtucket, allegedly used a handgun that appears to be made from 3-D printed parts. A Facebook account apparently used by Doherty includes several posts made prior to the murder showing the gun as it was being created.

The director of the Rhode Island State Crime Lab has said the weapon is the first 3-D gun it has been tasked with investigating, and that it will pose challenges, since plastic weapons may not leave marks on bullets the way metal guns do. Plastic weapons are also known to frequently explode when fired, so the staff at the crime lab may be unable to conduct test firing on the weapon.

Banning 3-D printed guns was one of the recommendations made by the Rhode Island Working Group for Gun Safety, a 43-member task force that was assembled following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., when panel issued its final report in 2018.

The bill, which passed the Senate last year, is cosponsored in the Senate by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) and Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).

Senate President Ruggerio introduces Plastic Waste Reduction Act

STATE HOUSE — Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) has introduced the Plastic Waste Reduction Act.

The legislation (2020-S 2003) is designed to reduce the use of plastic bags by retail establishments by offering recyclable bag options and providing penalties for violations.

“We all know how dangerous plastic pollution is to the health of our oceans and marine life, and how it contributes to climate change,” said President Ruggerio. “Several Rhode Island jurisdictions, including 14 local communities have already enacted similar policies to promote and encourage the use of recyclable bags, and I think it’s appropriate to be consistent throughout the state.”

Plastics that enter the marine environment break down through wave action and sunlight into smaller pieces called microplastics, which can be ingested by marine life, putting Rhode Island’s fishing industries and aquatic ecosystems at risks. The legislation also acknowledges that plastic bags and thin plastic films are the predominant contaminant of recycling loads in Rhode Island, and that single-use plastic bags have severe environmental impacts on a local and global scale.

“It’s time to ban plastic bags in Rhode Island once and for all,” said Amy Moses, Vice President and Rhode Island Director of Conservation Law Foundation. “Plastics pollute at every stage of their lives — from extracting and refining fossil fuels to contaminating our recycling and choking wildlife. The Senate President’s bill is a solid compromise and it will keep Rhode Island’s lands and waters free from this toxic litter.”

Under the legislation, retail sales establishments would be prohibited from making available any single-use plastic checkout bag or any paper checkout bag that is not a recyclable paper bag or a paper carryout bag at restaurants.

The legislation, which is cosponsored by Senators V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), has been referred to the Environment and Agriculture Committee.

Senator Raptakis to reintroduce bill tying minimum wage increases to CPI

Legislation would raise minimum wage to $11.10 by January 2021 and RI would join 20 other states with automatic CPI increases

STATE HOUSE – State Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, West Greenwich, East Greenwich) will be reintroducing legislation that ties any future increase in the hourly minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index of the Northeast Region.  Senator Raptakis has introduced similar legislation for the last several years.

 “This proposal will provide wage raises that are needed by individuals earning minimum wage while ensuring that businesses are not overburdened with a dramatic increase that would cause financial hardship for our small businesses,” said Senator Raptakis.

The bill would also raise the state’s minimum wage to $11.10 per hour by January 2021, giving a 60 cent boost from $10.50 per hour.  The wage increase is what the state’s minimum wage would be if it were tied to the CPI as Senator Raptakis has proposed in the past since 2007, which has passed the Senate previously.  According to the bill, starting in 2022, the minimum wage would be tied to the CPI, which is released by the US Department of Labor, giving employees and employers nine months to prepare for the minimum wage increase based on 2021’s CPI, which is released in March.

“The state’s minimum wage, and in turn people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families, should not be treated as a political football every year by competing interests.  By tying the minimum wage to the CPI, everyone will have a predictable model to prepare and plan for future wage increases,” said Senator Raptakis.

Senator Raptakis believes the only responsible way to prepare employees and business owners for minimum wage increases is by linking the raise to certain economic data points such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Northeast region.  The CPI is determined by the United States Department of Labor Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

Today there are over 20 states that already use the CPI, or other economic indexes and data points, to determine state minimum wage increases.

“I have never and I am not now arguing about the fairness of our state’s current minimum wage.  From 2007 to 2012, the state’s minimum wage was stagnant at $7.40, which is completely unacceptable.  If my legislation had been enacted in 2007, the minimum wage in 2012 would have been $9.58 rather than stuck at $7.40 per hour,” said Senator Raptakis. “We all know what the economy is like and how difficult it is for everyone to get by. The people doing minimum wage jobs — jobs that absolutely need to be done to keep many businesses going — need to earn a fair wage.”

“That being said, we must raise our minimum wage through careful analysis of our economic data.  Calculating the state’s minimum wage using federal economic data is the fairest way to ensure our workers and our small businesses are being treated equitably,” added Senator Raptakis.  “We should not be raising our minimum wage to mirror and compete with Connecticut and Massachusetts because their economies are quite different than Rhode Island’s.  We must take into account our business climate before we set what the minimum wage should be.”

McNamara bill would exempt certain home health care products from sales tax

STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has introduced legislation that would exempt certain health care products from the state’s sales tax.

The legislation (2020-H 7053) would exempt home health care products from taxation, including walkers, wheelchairs, ramps, stair lifts, or any product that assists an individual in remaining living in their own home, as opposed to a nursing facility.

“As Rhode Island’s population ages, it’s important for us to do what we can to ease the burden of those who have shouldered the burden all their lives,” said Representative McNamara. “When people with disabilities stay active and independent, they don’t utilize health care services to the degree that they would in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Modifying homes reduces falls and related hospital and rehabilitation expenses.”

Representative McNamara, who chairs the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, has been a long-time advocate for programs that keep the elderly and disabled in their homes by empowering them through home modification.

Last session, he introduced legislation that was included in the state budget to provide funding for the Rhode Island Livable Home Modification Grant Act. The grant allows eligible homeowners and renters to retrofit their residence to nationally recognized accessibility standards and receive 50 percent of the total sum spent, up to $5,000, to retrofit their existing residence.

The program is aimed at helping Rhode Island’s aging population stay safely in their homes longer rather than over burdening the state’s nursing homes, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year in Medicaid costs.  With the state’s aging population rising each year, there is a distinct need for housing that is safe and adapted to the needs of the elderly. 

One of the keys for an individual with a disability to remain in their community is the ability to get into and out of their own home and navigate safely within that home, with or without assistance. Renovating a residence by removing barriers allows the individual to stay safely and independently within their home, and out of long-term care facilities.

The bill, which is cosponsored by Representatives James B. Jackson (D-Dist. 26, West Warwick, Coventry Warwick), Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln), Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), and Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Vella-Wilkinson bill would mean more money for Warwick from Airport Corporation

STATE HOUSE — Joined by the other members of the Warwick delegation in the House of Representatives, Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would increase the amount of money that the city of Warwick receives from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.

The bill (2020-H 7057) would increase the amount of compensation to be paid from the state to the city of Warwick for municipal services provided by the city to the T.F. Green Airport to not less than $1,400,000 in any fiscal year, starting July 1, 2020.

“This bill makes for a fair contribution since the city’s property tax base and moderate housing inventory has been severely reduced by the incremental expansion of T.F. Green Airport over the years,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson. “That expansion has put a greater strain on municipal services from Warwick, and this legislation would provide a more reasonable contribution.”

The Rhode Island Airport Corporation makes a payment in lieu of taxes to the city of Warwick for municipal services out of the parking revenue generated at T.F. Green Airport from the parking surcharge.

The legislation, which is cosponsored by the other members of the Warwick delegation, including Representatives Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick), Evan Patrick Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick), House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) and Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Shanley legislation seeks to limit surprise billing for out-of-network health care services

STATE HOUSE — Rep. Evan P. Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would change the way out-of-network health care professionals are paid after rendering services to patients who didn’t have the opportunity to select such health care services from in-network professionals.

“Surprise medical billing occurs when a patient seeks treatment at an in-network facility, only to discover later on that they have received treatment from out-of-network medical professionals who are not employees of the facility,” said Representative Shanley. “Sometimes hospitals, emergency rooms and clinics are staffed by care providers who are employed by an independent company that contracts with the facility.”

Since some insurance plans offer little to no out-of-network coverage, patients can get hit with all sorts of surprise bills that are considerably higher than what they were led to believe they would be charged.

The bill (2020-H 7042) would provide a method for the reimbursement to out-of-network professionals who provide unanticipated care and would provide guidelines for what payment those professionals may seek or accept from a patient for unanticipated out-of-network care.

The legislation aims to make surprise billing a rare event, by clearly defining unanticipated and anticipated out-of-network care and by allowing patients to get written cost estimates before undergoing surgery or non-emergency, facility-based procedures. The bill further says that no health insurance carrier may require prior authorization for rendering emergency services to an insured patient. The legislation also prevents balance billing, which is when patients are billed for the amount in excess of what a doctor might get paid in a negotiated settlement. Under the provisions of this legislation, no health insurance carrier would be able to impose a coinsurance, copayment, deductible or other out-of-pocket expense that is greater than those that would be imposed if such services were rendered by an in-network health care provider.

The bill also contains a provision for the nonprofit American Arbitration Association to resolve disputes between the out-of-network provider and the insurance carrier through binding arbitration, and it prevents the health care professional from billing a patient while the claim is being negotiated or arbitrated.

The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick), Raymond H. Johnston Jr. (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket) and Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), has been referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.

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