Legislative News – Feb. 5: Ownership of pets; Raising minimum wage to $11.50; High prescription costs

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Here’s the latest news and press releases from the State House;

Rep. O’Brien introduces bill that determines ownership of pets

STATE HOUSE – Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence) has introduced legislation that would create a legal process through the District Court to determine contested ownership of a pet.
The legislation (2020-H 7361) applies to formerly cohabitating parties at odds over the ownership of pets after the relationship ends.

“When a couple or roommates end their relationship but also share a pet, things can get quite emotionally charged and complicated.  The purpose of this legislation is to offer a remedial judicial process that will hopefully lessen the stress and uncertainty of the situation for all parties involved.  But, most importantly, the legislation will provide a process that determines what is in the best interest of the pet should an ownership issue arise,” said Representative O’Brien.

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The legislation lays our several factors that could help the court determine the ownership of a pet, such as who purchased the pet; who has paid the majority of the pet’s expenses; who has cared for the pet on a daily basis; and who can provide the most safe and appropriate living environment for the pet.

The court will not be able to award joint ownership, visitation, pet financial support or damages of any nature.  The court would be able to award ownership of the pet to a third party, such as an animal welfare organization, if none of the parties involved would be able to provide a safe and appropriate environment for the pet.

Representative O’Brien has been a constant advocate and protector of animals in Rhode Island.  He has sponsored and cosponsored several animal protection bills that have become law.  According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Rhode Island ranks at the fifth-best state for animal protection laws in the country.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate introduces legislative package to address high prescription costs

STATE HOUSE — The Senate today introduced a package of bills aimed at addressing the high price of prescription drugs.

The eight bills aim to reduce the cost of prescriptions by providing a pathway to import less-costly drugs from Canada, providing more market transparency, raising consumer awareness around price changes and limiting patients’ share of the costs.

“Rhode Island’s population is one of the oldest in the nation, and the high prices consumers pay for prescriptions have a significant impact on us. Most older Rhode Islanders have limited means, and the high costs mean many people are cutting back on essentials of living or taking less than their prescribed amount of expensive drugs. The pharmaceutical industry is not going to address this on its own, so it’s up to the state and federal governments to take action,” said Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence).

The eight-bill package was announced today at a legislative reception with AARP Rhode Island, which has been advocating for several of the bills.

The package includes:

  • A bill limiting changes to a health plan’s drug formulary — its list of covered drugs — to protect consumers. Sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), this legislation (2020-S 2324) would generally limit plans to modifying formularies at renewal time with 60 days’ notice and require that modification be identical among all substantially identical benefit plans.
  • Legislation (2020-S 2319) sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) to cap out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs at the federal limits for high-deductible health plans, currently $1,400 for individual plans and $2,800 for family plans.
  • A bill (2020-S 2317) sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) to prohibit cost sharing for patients 45 or older for colorectal screening examinations, laboratory tests and colonoscopies covered by health insurance policies or plans. 
  • Legislation (2020-S 2322) sponsored by Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) to limit the copay for prescription insulin to $50 for a 30-day supply for health plans that provide coverage for insulin.
  • A bill sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) requiring pharmacists to advise patients about less-expensive generic alternatives to their prescriptions or when it would cost them less to pay for their drugs outright instead of using their insurance. The bill (2020-S 2323) would also bar pharmacy benefits managers from imposing gag orders on pharmacists that prevent them from making such disclosures.
  • A prescription drug transparency act (2020-S 2318), sponsored by Senate President Ruggerio. This bill would requires pharmaceutical drug manufacturers to provide wholesale drug acquisition cost information to the Department of Health and pharmacy benefit managers to provide information related to drug prices, rebates, fees and drug sales to the health insurance commissioner annually. Such transparency would help payers determine whether high prescription costs are justified.
  • A bill (2020-S 2321) sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton, Newport) to create a state-administered program to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada, which has drug safety regulations similar to those of the United States. Such programs are allowed under federal law, with approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Legislation (2020-S 2320) sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) to create a prescription drug affordability board tasked with investigating and comprehensively evaluating drug prices for Rhode Islanders and possible ways to reduce them to make them more affordable.

The bills are all expected to be introduced during the Senate session this afternoon.

Bill would pave way for changes to legislative redistricting

STATE HOUSE — Flanked by advocates for transparent, diverse government, Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Jason Knight today announced legislation to change the way Rhode Island redraws its legislative districts.

The legislators are sponsoring a bill (2020-S 20772020-H 7260) aimed at shifting control of Rhode Island’s once-a-decade redistricting from the General Assembly to an independent commission created solely for that purpose.

The change is intended to prevent redistricting from being used for the consolidation of power, help ensure that district maps are designed fairly and rid the process of the public perception that it is politically controlled.

“Redistricting has long been an opportunity to help one group or another to solidify political power or prevent other groups from gaining it. It can be a chance for gerrymandering to help one or more incumbents. Our bill is an effort to make redistricting a more fair and transparent process by separating it from sitting officeholders, preventing dominance of one party or group over another, and preventing disenfranchisement of political or minority groups,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown).

The bill would put a question before voters in November asking them to amend the state constitution to allow redistricting to be performed by an independent commission rather than by the General Assembly. The commission created under the amendment would be appointed through an open application process administered by the secretary of state, and would include five registered voters who are members of the state’s largest political party, five from its second-largest party, and five who are not registered with either party. No members could be elected or appointed federal, state, municipal or party officials or employees, political consultants or lobbyists, or the family members of those who are.

To the greatest extent possible, the commission would be required to draw districts that have equal population, are contiguous, do not disenfranchise minorities, reflect partisan fairness, consider community boundaries, keep communities of interest intact and are compact. It would specifically ban the commission from considering the location of any incumbent’s or candidate’s residence.

The sponsors say they hope for passage of the bill to allow voters the chance to change the redistricting process.

“We want to see this go before the voters. We believe citizens will support the idea of a more independent redistricting commission, and that having one will go a long way in restoring the public’s trust in this process and its results. Ultimately, we believe it will help ensure fair representation in the General Assembly and prevent disenfranchisement, so it will help Rhode Islanders feel their government really does represent them,” said Representative Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren).

The bill is the subject of a campaign called “Redraw Rhode Island” supported by Common Cause Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.

Sen. Lynch Prata’s bill that raises the minimum wage to $11.50 passes Senate

STATE HOUSE – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata’s (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) legislation (2020-S 2147A) that would increase the hourly minimum wage to $11.50 per hour was passed by the Senate tonight.

“As the costs of daily life continue to increase, we must not forget those who are on the bottom of the economic ladder.  There is still much more work to be done to address this issue, but, this minimum wage increase is a good first step to ensuring that Rhode Islanders have a roof over their heads and food on the table for themselves and their families,” said Senator Lynch Prata.

The current hourly minimum wage is $10.50 per hour and was instituted on January 1, 2019.  If the legislation is passed by the General Assembly, the minimum wage would raise to $11.50 per hour starting on October 1, 2020.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

02/05/2020Rep. William O’Brien;Rep. O’Brien introduces bill that determines ownership of pets
02/05/2020Sen. Dominick Ruggerio; Sen. Michael McCaffrey; Sen. Maryellen Goodwin; Sen. Walter Felag; Sen. Louis DiPalma; Sen. Elizabeth Crowley; Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne; Sen. Melissa A. Murray;Senate introduces legislative package to address high prescription costs
02/05/2020Rep. Jason Knight; Sen. Dawn Euer;Bill would pave way for changes to legislative redistricting
02/05/2020Sen. Erin Lynch Prata;Sen. Lynch Prata’s bill that raises the minimum wage to $11.50 passes Senate