Legislative News – Feb. 25: Child care as election expense, Wages for disabled workers; cap on cost of prescription insulin

02/25/2020Rep. Brian Kennedy;Rep. Kennedy legislation would cap the cost of prescription insulin at $100 per 30-day supply
02/25/2020Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi;House votes to repeal bill allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers
02/25/2020Sen. Gayle Goldin;Senate approves bill to allow child care as election expense

Rep. Kennedy legislation would cap the cost of prescription insulin at $100 per 30-day supply

STATE HOUSE — Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly) has introduced legislation that would cap the amount health insurance providers can charge for copays for insulin.

The bill (2020-H 7126) would limit the total amount that an insured person is required to pay for a covered prescription insulin drug at $100 per 30-day supply of insulin, regardless of the amount or type of insulin needed to fill the covered person’s prescription.

The House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare is scheduled to hear testimony on the legislation during its meeting after the House session tomorrow in Room 101 on the first floor of the State House.

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“We’ve seen a huge rise in the cost of insulin over the past few years,” said Representative Kennedy. “That isn’t just cost-prohibitive for those who need the drug, it’s disastrous both financially and medically for those who need multiple doses of insulin every single day just to survive. According to the most recent statistics, 7.9 percent of adults in Rhode Island have been diagnosed with diabetes, making this a widespread tragedy.”

According to a 2018 survey by UpWell Health in Salt Lake City, half of people with diabetes have temporarily skipped taking insulin because of rising costs. The pancreas of a person with Type 1 diabetes lacks the ability to make insulin. Insulin shots are the only way to keep blood glucose levels down in Type 1 diabetes sufferers.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. Its complications, including heart disease, stroke, amputations, blindness and kidney disease, are both serious and expensive. By 2012 the total cost of diabetes increased to $245 billion, meaning that the disease’s toll on the economy has increased by more than 40 percent since 2007, according to a report from the American Diabetes Association.

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston) and Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick). Similar legislation (2020-S 2322) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).

House votes to repeal bill allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers

STATE HOUSE – The House today voted to repeal a law that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities below the minimum wage.

The legislation (2020-H 7287) to repeal the law, sponsored by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, eliminates a practice that resulted in a federal Department of Justice lawsuit against Rhode Island over the rights of intellectually or developmentally disabled Rhode Islanders. In 2014, the state entered a settlement that, among other things, ended the use of sheltered workshops where disabled individuals in day programs performed work for wages significantly below the minimum wage. But the state law allowing subminimum wage for disabled people remains on the books.

“Disabled individuals are entitled to the same rights, protections and dignity as all Rhode Islanders. Of course they should be protected by our minimum wage laws. While I’m relieved that state day programs for the disabled stopped engaging in this practice a few years ago, there’s no excuse for any law that allows anyone to take advantage of disabled people and pay them less than other workers. We must repeal this law to ensure that no one abuses disabled Rhode Islanders in this way ever again,” said Leader Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).

According to Robert Marshall, policy consultant to the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, laws that allow disabled workers to be paid subminimum wages have been used to control, dehumanize, and segregate people with disabilities. In Rhode Island and other states, they led to the use of “sheltered workshops,” places where disabled workers are paid pennies on the dollar in a segregated setting, while companies profit.

Such workshops were used in state programs for the disabled until the 2014 agreement with the Justice Department, which had sued the state to end them because they interfere with the federally guaranteed right of disabled individuals to be served in the most integrated setting possible.

“Paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage is a civil rights violation and the practice must be put to an end,” said Marshall. “All people have the right to fully participate and contribute to their community. People with disabilities have been integral in our economy and society, and are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities.”

The legislation is cosponsored by House Majority Whip John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), Rep. Thomas E. Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick), Rep. Joe Serodio (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), and Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence). It now goes to the Senate.

Senate approves bill to allow child care as election expense

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin to allow candidates for office to use campaign funds for child care while they are participating in campaign or officeholder activities.

The bill (2020-S 2273aa) was inspired by the 2018 Federal Elections Commission decision concerning New York congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley that determined that childcare expenses that result from running for office are an allowable campaign expense. Rhode Island law currently allows campaign funds to be used to purchase gifts of nominal value, meal expenses, communication access expenses, and travel.

“Rhode Island is better served when our elected officials truly reflect the people they represent, and that includes parents of young children. Child care expenses are a roadblock that excludes people from running for local or state office and participating in the political process,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), whose own children are now teenagers who do not require child care. “You shouldn’t have to be wealthy to run for office.”

The bill, which also passed the Senate last year, is cosponsored by Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Sen. Bridget G. Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick) and Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).

The Rhode Island Board of Elections has also proposed changing its regulations to specifically include child care as an allowable campaign expense, even if this bill does not achieve full passage by the General Assembly. On Jan. 21, the Board of Elections heard public comment from Senator Goldin, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Smithfield Council President Suzy Alba, and the RI American Civil Liberties Union, in support of the board’s proposed rule change that would ensure child care expenses are allowable use of campaign funds. Senator Goldin also hand-delivered a letter of support for the board’s proposed rules change signed by over 200 Rhode Islanders.

The legislation will now go to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) is sponsoring companion legislation (2020-H 7548).