Every year, RIHA tracks over 400 pieces of legislation, analyzing each one for its impact on the industry. Over the years, RIHA has developed a strong track record
- 2021: COVID Recovery and Relief
- 2020: COVID Comes to RIHA
- 2019: Moving the industry forward
2018: Holding the line
The 2021 legislative session was one for the record books.
Despite having to lobby remotely, RIHA had one of its most active legislative sessions, tracking over 400 bills and implementing our most ambitious advocacy agenda to date.
RIHA had an unprecedented number of bills pass this year that were all aimed at helping our industry recover from the COVID pandemic.
RIHA’s Legislative Wins
Third Party Delivery companies regulated
One of RIHA's top legislative priorities was to prohibit third party delivery companies from putting restaurants on their website without the restaurant's permission.
Alcohol to Go extended to March 2022
After months of advocacy from RIHA, the General Assembly extended alcohol to go until March 2022. The legislation mirrors the existing Executive Order that RIHA worked on last year.
Outdoor dining zoning rules extended
At the suggestion of RIHA, the General Assembly passed legislation which would impose a moratorium on the enforcement of any municipal ordinance or zoning requirement that would penalize owners of food service establishments and bars for any modifications or alternations to their premises in response to an emergency declaration by the governor or local municipal officials. The moratorium would be effective until April 1, 2022.
More flexibility for partial UI benefits
After several months of RIHA's advocacy, the state took action to change the UI system to encourage people to return to work.
- On May 23, 2021, the RIDLT reinstated the work search requirement for people collecting UI benefits.
- The General Assembly passed legislation which encourages people to go back to work by allowing them to earn more on partial unemployment while also collecting the federal $300. Since its implementation, an additional 4,500 Rhode Islanders that were already working part-time are now keeping more of the money they earn.
Short Term Rentals
After several years of advocacy, the General Assembly moved forward with legislation that would require short term rentals to register with the State. This is an important first step in regulating unlicensed short-term rentals that are acting as hotels without any of the regulations governing traditional lodging establishments.
Governor McKee vetoed the legislation, prompting RIHA to ask the General Assembly to overturn the veto.
Breweries required to have liquor liability insurance and alcohol safety training
The General Assembly took steps to bring breweries into alignment with other liquor licenses by requiring them to obtain liquor liability insurance and follow alcohol server training requirements.
Human Trafficking Prevention Act passed
In response to several high-profile cases of human trafficking in hotels in other parts of the country, the RI lodging community asked the General Assembly to act. The Human Trafficking Prevention Act was designed to encourage employees to report suspicious behavior.
The final legislation requires hotels to post information about human trafficking for employees. RIHA will develop a sample poster for hotels in the coming weeks. There is no training requirement. It goes into effect on January 1, 2022.
Tipped wage remains at $3.89
Despite several pieces of legislation aimed at raising and eliminating the tipped wage, RIHA was able to keep the tipped wage at $3.89.
$15 minimum wage passed; first increase moved to January 1, 2022
The General Assembly passed a $15 minimum wage bill this year. After hearing from RIHA, the first increase was moved from October 2021 to January 1, 2022. We were also able to eliminate hazard pay from the final legislation.
January 1, 2022: $12.25
January 1, 2023: $13.00
January 1, 2024: $14.00
January 1, 2025: $15.00
Pay Equity legislation passed
The General Assembly passed legislation that implemented "equal pay for comparable work." The bill is a result of months of conversations between the sponsors of the legislation, the proponents and business groups such as RIHA and the Northern RI Chamber. This collaborative approach means that this legislation achieves our industry’s commitment to equity while also understanding the needs of the business community.
So-called "Workplace Bullying" bill defeated
The Senate passed a "workplace bullying" bill, which would have made it easier for employees to file hostile work environment claims did not move forward in the House.
PPP Tax Threshold Increased to $250,000
Over the last several months, our industry has been the leading opposition voice to the proposal to tax the PPP, with over 1,230 emails being sent to legislators from our industry.
Although the General Assembly included a tax on the PPP, as a result of our efforts, they increased the threshold to $250,000 and implemented changes to make it easier for businesses impacted in 2020 to pay the tax.
RIHA and other business groups successfully defeated a proposal to impose a tax on sugary drinks.
Tax on high income earnings
The budget did not raise taxes on those in the state's top income tax bracket. The tax increase would have raised the state tax rate on income over $475,000 from 5.99% to 8.99%. It was estimated to generate $128 million in state revenue each year.
Straws upon request goes into effect January 1, 2022
Beginning January 1, 2022, restaurants must wait for customers to request a straw instead of automatically giving one. RIHA successfully advocated for the implementation date to be moved to January 1, 2022 giving businesses times to adjust.
In 2020, RIHA was prepared for our most ambitious legislation session yet. However, by Mid-March, COVID had come to Rhode Island. The General Assembly went home and RIHA’s advocacy efforts turned to COVID relief and recovery.
Alcohol to Go
In March, RIHA worked hand in hand with the Governor’s office to permit restaurants to sell Alcohol To-Go with the purchase of food. Although the Order was originally limited to beer and wine, RIHA was able to expand this to also included cocktails in April.
From the moment the Governor shut down indoor dining in Rhode Island, RIHA was focused on how our industry would reopen. Over the last year, our staff has worked seven days a week to get our industry open as fast and as safely as possible.
Essential Industry Designation
In the case of a lockdown, RIHA sent an official request to the Governor asking that restaurants doing takeout and delivery, and hotels be deemed essential. Many of the other states that have initiated lockdown procedures have allowed these businesses to remain open.
As a direct result of RIHA’s advocacy, Rhode Island was the first state in New England to reopen for outdoor dining and indoor dining. We have been directly involved in every stage of the reopening negotiations. Although we have not always agreed with the reopening process, hospitality’s voice was heard loud and clear at the table.
As we navigate the final stages of reopening, our focus is to keep the industry moving forward, without having to close down again.
Economic Relief Programs
From the beginning of the shutdown, RIHA fought for economic relief programs from the Federal and State government.
After months of negotiations, RIHA worked with Commerce to roll out the Restore RI program, which gave businesses impacted by COVID grants. At the beginning of the program, the grants were up to $15,000, but due to RIHA’s continued efforts, this was later increased to $30,000.
When the State rolled out the Take it Outside Initiative, RIHA was a key partner in providing heaters, blankets and funds to businesses needing assistance in promoting outdoor dining.
Knowing that our hotels and tourism attractions had been decimated by COVID, CommerceRI developed the hART grant program to provide direct aid to hotels and tourism businesses.
In November, Governor Raimondo implemented a 10:00 p.m. curfew on restaurants. RIHA demanded that our industry receive from type of funding to offset the cost – the state provided grants up to $10,000.
When the state entered the PAUSE on November 30, 2020, RIHA pushed for additional economic relief, which resulted in grants up to $50,000.
Our work in this area continues and we are working closely with our national partners, the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association to get additional funding for our industry.
Early on in the pandemic, RIHA began to advocate for free, asymptomatic testing for hospitality employees. During the summer of 2020, due to RIHA’s advocacy, asymptomatic testing was opened up to hospitality employees.
Knowing the importance of getting testing in tourist-rich areas, RIHA asked that testing sites be set up in Newport so that employees on Aquidneck Island could have an easy, convenient location to be tested.
In December 2020, RIHA worked with the RI Department of Health to develop a testing program for employees at the location of their work. Using the BINAX now rapid test, this program was rolled out to the industry in January 2021.
As the State began to determine how the COVID vaccine will be distributed, RIHA requested that hospitality and tourism employees be considered as one of the “critical industries” and receive priority access to the vaccine. Although a final decision has not been made, we hope our industry will begin to get access to the vaccine as soon as possible.
Minimum Wage Increases - Defeated
There were several pieces of legislation introduced to dramatically increase the minimum wage.
However, due to the strong lobbying efforts of RIHA and other groups, none of this legislation moved forward.
Elimination of the tipped wage - Defeated
Due to the advocacy efforts of RIHA, none of the proposals to increase and eliminate the tipped minimum wage moved forward this year. Several servers from local businesses came to the State House to testify against the proposal, telling lawmakers that the elimination of the tipped wage would actually result in a substantial pay cut for them.
Medicaid Assessment - Defeated
RIHA, along with a coalition of other business groups, worked to defeat a proposal in the Governor's budget to implement a tax of up to $1,500 per employee that are on Medicaid. The proposal did not exempt part time workers.
Under 21 Legislation - Passed
The General Assembly approved legislation that will allow Class B liquor licenses to prohibit people under the age of 21 from entering the business after 10:00 p.m. The legislation now goes to the Governor for her signature.
This legislation was introduced as a result of a conflict in law, where Class B licenses are told by the police that they cannot admit anyone under the age of 21 into their establishments at all, but it is also considered discriminatory to ban someone based on their age.
Fake Service Animals - Passed
Legislation that would ban the misrepresentation of service animals passed the General Assembly. Introduced on behalf of RIHA, this legislation defines service animals as dogs that have been or are being specifically trained to assist an individual with a disability, including guide dogs and hearing dogs. The bill makes it a civil infraction to misrepresent an animal as a service animal to gain a privilege reserved for them and makes violations punishable by up to thirty hours of community service for an organization that serves disabled people.
Food Donation Liability Expansion - Passed
Donating food just got easier with the final passage of a bill that expands protections for businesses, farmers and schools donating wholesome food.
RI joins CA with one of the most forward-thinking laws in the country.
Hotel Tax - Defeated
RIHA defeated three attempts to increase the state and local hotel tax. The Governor's original budget proposal requested a 1% increase in the state hotel tax, with the revenue going into the General Fund. Although this proposal was not included in the final budget, a small group of legislators tried to increase the state hotel tax by .5% to fund a housing program. This was also defeated.
The City of Newport requested that the local hotel tax be increased by 1% as well, but this was never introduced.
RIHA worked with coalition of groups, including the local tourism regions, to defeat this legislation.
Minimum Wage Increases - Defeated
There were several pieces of legislation introduced to dramatically increase the minimum wage. However, due to the strong lobbying efforts of RIHA and other groups, none of this legislation moved forward.
Increase in the overtime salary threshold - Defeated
The legislation that would have increased the overtime salary threshold from $413/week to $1,036/week did not pass out of the House or Senate Labor Committees.
RIHA testified against the legislation, stating that this proposed increase was over $100 more than what was proposed by USDOL in 2016 and was later delayed by a federal Court for being too aggressive.
Meals Tax - Defeated
Legislation that would allow Middletown and Newport to increase the Meals & Beverage tax to 2% failed in both the House and the Senate.
RIHA argued that this tax would be on the shoulders of Rhode Island residents and harm one of the largest industries in the State.
Food Safety Manager Certification Licensing - Passed
After a multi-year effort from RIHA, the General Assembly extended the Food Safety Manager's license from three years to five years. The Governor signed the legislation, part of the FY19 Budget, into law on June 20, 2018.