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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    R.I. lawmakers approve $13.9B budget plan, slew of other bills

    FILE — Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee gives his victory speech during an election night gathering of Rhode Island Democratic candidates and supporters, Tuesday Nov. 8, 2022, in Providence, R.I. Rhode Island lawmakers gave final approval to a $13.9 billion state budget for the 2025 fiscal year early Friday, June 14, 2024, that includes additional funding for education and a $120 million bond to expand affordable housing. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell, File)

    Rhode Island lawmakers gave final approval to a proposed $13.9 billion state budget plan early Friday that includes additional funding for education and a $120 million bond to expand affordable housing.

    The budget was among a slew of bills approved by lawmakers in the final days of their legislative session. Democrat Gov. Daniel McKee is set to sign the budget bill on Monday at the Statehouse.

    Under the state spending plan, schools would receive a $70.9 million increase in state aid — $33.8 million more than originally sought by McKee — to help schools and students still recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

    The budget plan would also fully fund an $813,000 proposal by McKee to provide free breakfast and lunch to the 6,500 students statewide who currently receive reduced-price school meals.

    Lawmakers used the budget to add $20 million to the governor’s proposal for a bond question on the November ballot to support more affordable housing, bringing the total to $120 million, the largest housing bond in the state’s history.

    The budget would also set aside $83.6 million for the state match for federal funds for the reconstruction of the shuttered westbound Washington Bridge that brings Interstate 195 over the Seekonk River between Providence and East Providence.

    The assembly also decided to keep intact a proposal to hike the cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack, and it amended a proposal to institute a new tax on electronic nicotine delivery systems.

    “This budget is responsible and forward-thinking, and it is based on facts and data without putting undue burdens upon the taxpayers," Senate Finance Committee Chair Louis DiPalma said. "It meets the needs of today with an eye on Rhode Island’s future by heavily investing in education and health care."

    The budget was one of several bills approved in the last days of the legislative session.

    A bill signed into law Wednesday is intended to help protect children’s health by providing information about Type 1 diabetes to the parents and guardians of all public-school children.

    Another new law will include state legislative elections among those audited by the state Board of Elections. Post-election audits are partial recounts of results to verify that the voting system is accurately recording and counting votes.

    Also this week, McKee signed into law a bill requiring that all firearms, when not in use by the owner or authorized user, be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device.

    Another bill aimed at aiding research into cancer would amend state law to allow the sharing of certain medical research data already allowed under federal law and by most other states. In nearly all cases, patient consent would still be required.

    Other bills would simplify wetlands zoning regulations to prevent complications that discourage housing development, help the state prepare for the development of electric energy storage systems, let graduate registered nurses begin practicing sooner, and encourage housing production by requiring towns to publish lists of abandoned properties.

    Lawmakers also approved legislation that would help Rhode Islanders create accessory dwelling units — sometimes referred to as in-law apartments — on their property.

    The units, which can include an attachment to an existing home or a smaller detached dwelling on the same property, have become increasingly popular, especially among seniors looking to downsize, as states and cities seek to create more housing while preserving the character of neighborhoods.

    Another housing and development-related bill would mandate the creation of a statewide coastal resiliency plan to assess community vulnerabilities and recommend ways to address those vulnerabilities along ocean coasts and rivers.

    Lawmakers also passed a bill that would ban “forever chemicals." The chemicals, known as PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been around for decades and can have detrimental health effects, especially for pregnant women and children.

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