What’s Happening at the Statehouse : FY 2020 Budget - News from The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, ACLU of Rhode Island News, RIACLU News

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What’s Happening at the Statehouse : FY 2020 Budget

Posted: June 24, 2019|

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As one of the most powerful pieces of legislation passed each session, the budget has the opportunity to make wide, sweeping changes to vast sections of Rhode Island law. Because of the extensive nature of the budget, the ACLU has to be particularly vigilant in monitoring the proposed Articles.

Here are some significant provisions which the ACLU commented and lobbied on over the six-month budget deliberations.

• Tampon Tax Although introduced as a piece of standalone legislation in both the House and the Senate by Representative Edith Ajello and Senator Louis DiPalma, the repeal of the “Tampon Tax” was enacted as part of the revised state budget proposal. Until now, Rhode Island law had treated feminine hygiene products as “luxury items,” thus subjecting them to sales tax. As these products are purchased predominantly by women and are certainly anything but a luxury, the practical result is a sex-based tax on necessary health products. We were glad to see the passage of the budget put an end to this discriminatory practice.

• Lobbying Tax The original version of the proposed FY 2020 budget included a provision which we were glad was removed from the final version: a proposed 7% tax on “lobbying services.” We argued that this tax amounted to a direct levy on the exercise of political speech, a quintessential First Amendment activity. We further noted that by solely applying this tax to lobbying, and not any peripheral services related to it, such as public relations or political consulting, the core exercise of the First Amendment right to petition the government for the redress of grievances was particularly being singled out for adverse treatment. The proposal also allowed the “dues” of organizations engaged in lobbying services to be taxed. Our testimony noted that this budget provision could have a significant fiscal impact on many non-profit organizations that engage in lobbying, including the ACLU itself. Thankfully, this provision was excluded from the revised budget proposal.

• Medical Marijuana The Governor’s proposed budget Article to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, supported by the ACLU, was not included in the final version of the budget. However, the FY 2020 budget does contain numerous amendments to the state’s medical marijuana law. Legislators failed to add clarifying language suggested by the ACLU regarding that law’s protection of medical marijuana users from employment discrimination based on their status as a cardholder. In the meantime, however, a court decision won by the ACLU on this subject still stands.  The final version of the Article also contains ambiguous language as to whether medical marijuana patients who grow their own medicine will be required to undergo a criminal record check and, in a potentially troubling precedent, will require all future regulations governing the medical marijuana program to receive General Assembly approval. We will be monitoring closely the implementation of the Article.

• URI Governance Also originally introduced as standalone legislation, language which would establish independent governance of the University of Rhode Island was included in the amended version of the budget. Although we took no position on the general merits of the bill, we expressed concern about language that would statutorily bind URI to arming their campus police officers. Current law allows each campus in Rhode Island the discretion to choose whether to arm their officers or not; URI has chosen to do so. However, this language would remove the authority for a future administration at URI to make a contrary determination without amending the law. We believed that this decision should remain with the university and not be mandated by statute, but language binding URI to this decision was passed in the budget.

The passage of the budget signals that the session is coming to an end, but it doesn’t signal that it is slowing down. To the contrary, in the coming week, literally hundreds of bills will be considered and voted on. 

For a look at the session as a whole, visit our legislative page.  To learn how to advocate for the many bills which will be going to the floors of both chambers this week, visit our Advocacy 101 page.

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