R.I. Lawmakers Recess After Approving Lead Paint Delay and New Health Insurance Post

June 28, 2004

The Rhode Island General Assembly went into recess early Saturday, June 26, after approving dozens of bills that included health insurance reforms, a delay in lead paint mandates for landlords and development of a new capital city hotel.

Lawmakers won’t be away from the Statehouse long, however. Gov. Don Carcieri has promised at least three vetoes — on the $5.9 billion state budget, a casino bill and the new hotel — that would bring the legislature back into session for override votes.

Both chambers late Friday approved increased state oversight of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which was criticized earlier this year for poor management. One of the bills would require six members of the nonprofit insurer’s board to be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

Blue Cross board members would also be at least temporarily prohibited from accepting pay, pending a state review. The board can now have up to 19 board members.

Lawmakers have also approved creating a state health-insurance commissioner.

A one-year delay in implementing lead paint mandates, until July 1, 2005, was approved, to give owners of old housing units more time to prepare. The legislation, approved two years ago, covers apartments and housing units built before 1978. When property is transferred, landlords would be required to conduct inspections and meet a timetable for cleaning up hazards.

The House by a 46-23 vote passed a bill to provide up to $20 million in tax credits to help develop a downtown Providence hotel.

The Senate later gave its approval by a vote of 21-11.

The original hotel bill sought to provide up to $17 million in state bonds. That proposal was criticized by Carcieri, who worried taxpayers wouldn’t recoup the state share if the 250-room project is never developed. He’s also questioned developer and former state lawmaker Vincent Mesolella Jr.’s experience and how much he will earn on the project, calling it an example of “inside dealing.”

House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino, D-Providence, amended the bill to drop the state bonds.

“This (property) is a terrible eyesore in the city,” Costantino said, adding Providence needs a new hotel. “We are losing 14-20 conventions a year … because we don’t have enough space.”

But opponents, including Carcieri, said substituting tax credits still amounts to providing public money for a private purpose.

“Not only has the price for the Mesolella hotel deal increased by millions of dollars, but that money would now come out of the state’s operating budget,” Carcieri said in a statement after the vote.

Also Friday, the Senate approved a House-passed bill supporting $50 monthly child-support payments to welfare mothers. The measure was included in a budget article House leaders say eliminates concerns raised by Carcieri about last week’s House approval of the budget, which he said was approved by one less vote than the constitutionally mandated two-thirds majority.

Both chambers approved the new budget article by more than the required two-thirds majority. Carcieri is still studying the issue but agrees those votes will likely eliminate the need for a court challenge to the budget, which is for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

But the governor still plans to veto the measure, which he said isn’t focused enough on job creation and leaves out a number of his priorities, including a proposal to define a state worker.

The governor said he also will veto a bill passed Friday by the House that lets voters decide whether a casino should be built in West Warwick. The Senate has also approved the measure.

Carcieri, a casino opponent, says there hasn’t been enough study of the project’s possible effects on the state.

In the final hours before going into recess, the legislature approved a host of measures, including allowing communities toprohibit pub crawls — which follows the death of a Fairfield University student who killed in a Newport bus accident.

Bills allowing police to forcibly obtain DNA samples from suspects and the state to collect DNA samples from all convicted felons were also approved.

Lawmakers also approved allowing Canadian pharmacies to be licensed in Rhode Island, which could make it easier for some residents to buy cheaper drugs.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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