New laws go into effect in RI on January 1. Here are the ones you'll want to know about - The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE — From new restrictions on use of plastic straws to a $40 cap on co-pays for insulin, a passel of new laws take effect in Rhode Island on New Year's Day.
Most were given delayed start dates to let people and industries — such as the hotel, restaurant and health-insurance industries — prepare themselves and their workers for the new laws. In other cases, the reasons for the delay are less obvious.
A sampling of the laws to take effect:
Who can perform a marriage in R.I.?
Lawmakers finally, after years of cajoling, ceded their exclusive power to decide who, other than a judge or religious figure, can perform a marriage ceremony.
As of Jan. 1, the governor can "designate anyone, upon application, who is 18 years or older" to preside over a specific wedding.
The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and in the House by Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian, includes a $25 fee for applications to have someone special officiate at a wedding, $20 if submitted electronically.
Advocates of the status quo said they liked having their constituents come to them with the requests. But opponents noted the legislature isn't in session six months of the year, which has left some would-be brides and grooms without options.
They don't: RI lawmakers vote to surrender their power over weddings
“It is an inconvenience to the people of Rhode Island that they need to seek a formal act of law just because they want a friend or family member to officiate at their wedding,” McCaffrey said.
Restaurants and bars required to limit plastic straw use
Bars and restaurants can no longer provide single-use plastic straws unless a customer specifically asks for one. And there are penalties for gratuitously offering a plastic straw: $25 for each offense, up to $300 a year.
More: Bag ban, other bills aimed at plastic pollution advance in RI legislature
A cleaner burning home heating oil
By its own description, this new law sets new phased-in standards for heating oil sold in the state "in order to phase in a much higher percentage of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil sold in the state."
The National Energy Fuels Institute (NEFI) explained the goal this way: "Every gallon of heating oil in Rhode Island is now blended with biodiesel to produce what is commonly referred to as Bioheat Fuel ... Bioheat offers policymakers the most immediate solution for dramatic greenhouse reduction in the home energy sector, and at a fraction of the cost of converting to natural gas or heat pumps."
Under this phased-in law, the blend would be close to 50% biodiesel by July 1, 2030.
Passage was considered "monumental not only in Rhode Island but across the Northeast, where the biofuel industry continues to fight for political acceptance as a common sense clean energy solution,'' said the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Rhode Island.
More: #NoHeatNovember: How one RI man manages to avoid turning on the heat until December
More: Why your heating bill could skyrocket this winter: What to know about hikes in natural gas prices
Insulin copay prices capped
This new law bars health-care plans from charging more than a $40 copayment for a 30-day supply of insulin to treat diabetes and from subjecting insulin drugs to a deductible.
The health-insurance lobby waged a losing battle against the bill, with lobbyist Terrance Martesian telling the lawmakers the bill sets "a dangerous precedent."
"Health insurance providers have no control over the cost of drugs," a huge component in the ever-increasing expense of health care, which results in increased premiums for [all other] consumers,'' he said in his written testimony on behalf of the national trade group known as America's Health Insurance Plans.
But others won the day, including the Rhode Island Medical Society, which thanked the lawmakers "recognizing that the cost-sharing requirements placed on critical medications can negate the effectiveness of the treatment if the patient is unable to afford their medications."
Another new law requires health insurers to put a prominently displayed notice on their websites that survivors of domestic and sexual violence can specifically request that their health-care information not be shared with parents or spouses.
More: RI lawmakers seek to cap cost of insulin
Sex trafficking signs to be posted in RI hotels
Aimed at a complex, international problem, this new law requires hotels to post — "in a location conspicuous to their employees" — human trafficking awareness signs that provide information about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.
The notice must be posted in English and any other language spoken by at least 10% of the employees.
Newborns must be screened for disorders
This requires the Department of Health to adopt regulations for newborn screening tests "for all disorders and conditions for which there is a medical benefit of the early detection and treatment'' as they become known and listed in the federal Recommended Uniform Screening Panel.
Pawtucket-Central Falls transit center
This new law exempts from taxes any property "acquired or leased" by a railroad operating company for boarding or disembarking passengers and related railroad services.
Sen. Jack Reed, as the ranking member of the appropriation transportation sub-committee, helped secure $43.6 million in federal funds for the planned $72-million Pawtucket-Central Falls transit station.
The hub will be an intermodal connection between MBTA commuter-rail service and RIPTA bus service, allowing riders to easily connect between Providence and Boston.
More: Pawtucket mayor: $17.7 million deal for Apex site an 'important step' in redevelopment
Landlords required to carry a general liability insurance policy
This requires landlords to carry a general liability policy of at least $100,000 to cover anyone injured on premises they own due to the "landlord’s negligence."
English as a second language teacher certification in R.I.
Most basically, this law is aimed at making it easier for Massachusetts certified teachers to teach English as a second language in Rhode Island, and for teachers to get certified in this area.
It requires the Department of Education to adopt rules for allowing reciprocity, for example, for "ESL" teachers with Massachusetts teaching certification. There's more to it, but that's the nub.
Corporate filings in Rhode Island
Simply put: this new law changes the date that domestic and foreign business corporations, nonprofit corporations and limited liability companies have to submit certain annual filings to the secretary of state from June to between Feb. 1 and May 1 each year.