An Update from the State House
Employer Property Liens, Employment at Will , Chickens and Veal
Last week was a busy week as a packed room discussed the ability of an employee to place a lien on an employer’s property if the proper wages are not paid. The Chamber testified against the bill pointing out that the burden of proof would shift heavily to the employer. An employee could send a letter stating the amount owed to the employee and the address of the property to be attached. If the employer fails to file a complaint in Superior court within 30 of the date of the letter, the lien is perfected. This system would encourage employers to pay even if they feel the wages are not owed – it would be cheaper to pay the employee than to pay an attorney to fight the dispute. The committee members asked great questions of the witnesses and seemed to understand the legal challenge of the lien proposal. The proponents are preparing substitute language in the hopes of passing some form of the bill.
The proposal to eliminate of the employment at will doctrine, gave the Chamber an opportunity to point out that only Montana has altered the doctrine, meaning Rhode Island would be the second state in the country to change employment at will. Again, the committee member asked probing questions to better understand the potential hazards of adopting a change.
An overflowing room of animal advocates and farmers led to a long debate on the treatment of chickens, pigs, calves and cows. The bill to eliminate the ability to restrict movement of these farm animals also includes language that disallows companies from purchasing animals raised in this manner. This issue is expected to be alive and debated throughout the remainder of the legislative session. If passed, as is, restaurants and other food companies would be responsible for ensuring the meat/eggs purchased comply with the law. Additionally, veal, as the public knows it, could no longer be served in Rhode Island.
Paid Sick Leave Bill To Be Heard Wednesday
On Wednesday at approximately 4:30 p.m. the Senate Labor Committee will meet in the Senate Lounge to hear testimony on paid sick leave. S.290, like the House bill, requires every employer to provide paid sick and family leave to employees. The leave accrues at 1 hour for every 30 hours worked up to a yearly maximum of 56 hours. The leave can be taken after the employee completes 90 days on the job. The leave can be used for the employee’s illness, illness of a parent, child, sibling, or anyone the employee has “an affinity” to which could mean friend. Leave can also be used for preventative care or domestic abuse issues – including stalking. An employee should notify the employer if it is reasonably possible, but employers cannot ask for proof of illness or domestic violence issues until the employee has been absent for 72 consecutive hours. The employer must hold the employee’s job for those three days. This is sometimes referred to as “No call, no show, no problem.” Please contact your state senator to let them know you oppose the passage of S.290.
TDI/TCI Expansion Bill Hearing Wednesday
The Senate Labor Committee will also debate the expansion of the State’s Temporary Disability Program and the Temporary Caregiver Insurance. S.678 would allow state and municipal employees to participate in the TDI program – they are currently exempt from the program. The bill increases the benefit rate from 4.62% of wages paid to the individual in a calendar year to 7.69%; and expands the TCI program to allow an employee to take time off to care for siblings and grandchildren.
Marijuana Hearing Tuesday
Marijuana will be the topic of discussion Tuesday at approximately 4:30 p.m. in the House Judiciary Committee – in the House Lounge. H.5555 legalizes recreational marijuana and establishes a system of marijuana growing, processing, and distribution. H.5551 will also be discussed at this hearing. H.5551 creates a 15 member commission to review and make recommendations on the effects of legalizing marijuana to the General Assembly by March 1, 2018.
MERS System Under Attack – Again
For those in the mortgage lending system or in the real estate market, S.659, An Act Relating to Property – Forms and Effect of Conveyances will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday at approximately 4:30 p.m. in room 313 at the State House. This bill would require every transfer or assignment of a mortgage to be filed in the municipality wherein the property lies. Failure to record the transfer would make the transfer essentially void. The bill seeks to eliminate the ability to use the MERS system for tracking mortgage assignments. Rhode Island would be the only state in the country to eliminate MERS, thus making the sale of mortgages on the secondary market nearly impossible.
The following new bills were filed:
House Bill No. 6077, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS-THE ENERGY AND CONSUMER SAVINGS ACT OF 2005 (Establishes minimum energy efficiency standards for certain products sold or installed in the state.)
House Bill No. 6082, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT -- RHODE ISLAND HEALTH BENEFIT EXCHANGE (Authorizes the RI health benefit exchange to seek a waiver under the Affordable Care Act, allow qualified small business owners/sole proprietors to purchase qualified health benefit plans offered by the exchange & not be forced into the individual market.)
Senate Bill No. 716, AN ACT RELATING TO LABOR AND LABOR RELATIONS -- EMPLOYMENT SECURITY - BENEFITS (Increases the maximum weekly unemployment benefit rate to the higher of fifty-seven and one-half percent (57.5%) of the average weekly wages paid to workers in the prior calendar year or six hundred sixteen dollars ($616) per week.)