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R.I. General Assembly nears end of session; House passes gun bill

PROVIDENCE (AP) — The state legislature on Friday neared the end of its annual session as the Senate prepared to approve next year's $8.9 billion budget and both chambers raced to pass dozens of bills.

The House and the Senate sought to adjourn their session Friday as they passed a flurry of bills involving guns, hemp, e-cigarettes and harbor seals.

Among the bills voted on Friday evening:

GUN CONTROL

A last-minute dispute erupted Friday before the House unanimously passed a bill creating a process for people convicted of domestic-violence felonies to surrender their guns. Domestic-violence prevention advocates described the bill as too weak and mostly symbolic because it's already illegal for felons to have guns.

They pushed for more restrictive legislation that would cover domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanors or under protective orders, but a version that moved to the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday evening mirrored one unanimously passed in the Senate that had the blessing of gun rights groups.

Providence Democratic Rep. Edith Ajello was so upset by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee moving the watered-down version to the House floor that she asked for her name to be removed as a co-sponsor.

South Kingstown Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi, who also had pushed for a tougher bill, said what was passed Friday is "not on par with the crisis our nation currently faces."

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OTHER BILLS PASSED

The Senate passed bills allowing simulcast betting on Sundays, creating automated speed traps in school zones and curbing out-of-school suspensions.

The House voted to legalize the growth of industrial hemp, ban the smoking of e-cigarettes in indoor public places and make the harbor seal the official state marine mammal. The vaping bill was the most contentious, with Republicans voting against a measure they described as trying to control behaviors that lawmakers might not like but that haven't been proved to be harmful.

"Maybe now we should ban bacon in all public spaces," complained Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a West Warwick Republican. "What's next, bacon? Chocolate cake? Strawberries?"

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Among the issues still unresolved:

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RIDE-BOOKING APPS

There are dueling proposals to regulate ride-booking companies such as Uber and Lyft. A bill in the Senate favored by Uber would legalize the companies, allow their employees to be treated as independent contractors and create certain safety regulations such as background checks. A bill in the House would create stricter fees and regulations, including requiring fingerprint checks for drivers. The state's upcoming budget also includes language requiring the companies to pay sales taxes.

Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat who sponsored the Senate bill, said the two measures are being blended in a way that will drop the fingerprinting requirement.

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SCHOOL RECESS

Both chambers could pass legislation requiring children to get at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted recess at public elementary schools. Similar versions of the bill favored by parent groups have already passed in the House and the Senate. But an amended version takes out a provision banning teachers from withholding recess for punitive reasons. Instead, teachers would have to make good-faith efforts not to take a child's recess away.

 

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