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GOV'T AFFAIRS

STAFF CONTACT

Sarah R. Bratko, Esq. 

Vice President of Advocacy and General Counsel

401-223-1120, ext. 115

Sarah@rihospitality.org

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

This year’s legislative session was a busy one with over 400 pieces of legislation that affected the hospitality industry. Inevitably in politics the odds are against you that you’ll be 100% successful in getting everything you want. However, as our President Dale Venturini is fond of saying, “you win some, lose some, but you dress for them all”. We took that maxim to heart this session and vigorously lobbied for approximately 50 of the most important bills. The following is a breakdown of our top wins and losses:  

 

Note: Any legislation passed by both the House and Senate still has to be formally transmitted to the Governor in order to have a chance to be enacted into law. The Governor can then sign it, veto it, or let it go into law without his signature. The following bills are pending approval by the Governor unless indicated that it was included in the budget, which was signed into law last week.

 

Wins:

 

Providence Hotel Workers’ Minimum Wage

Result: Defeated

This would have resulted in a $15 minimum wage, exclusive of tips and service charges, that would have affected Providence hotels and independent businesses within hotels as soon as 12 months after passage. Faced with considerable support for the measure by the Providence City Council Members, RIHA met with the House and Senate leadership and helped introduce a uniformity bill that would block towns and cities from creating their own minimum wage. This bill was ultimately included in the state budget and was signed into law by the governor last week.

 

Menu Labeling

Result: Defeated

This would have required all restaurants and hotels to label the ingredients and caloric content of each item on their menus. This would have applied to all restaurants, not just those with 20 or more locations as is the case with the regulations promulgated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

 

Genetically Modified Organisms

Result: Defeated

This bill would have required the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms.  RIHA opposed because restaurants are fundamentally different from packaged food companies and would have difficulty complying.

 

Plastic Bag Ban

Result: Defeated

This would have prohibited the use of plastic bags. It also would have made each town responsible for proposing local rules to ban plastic bags and to enforce such a ban. RIHA opposed this on numerous grounds, such as that paper bags are inadequate for wet/leaky items such as are often used in our industry. Also, having different towns with different laws and enforcement procedures would be chaotic for businesses with multiple locations. Member Tony Fonseca testified on this matter.

 

Tip Fraud

Result: Defeated

Sought to prohibit employers from demanding deductions from a tip or service charge given to wait staff. It also transferred the venue for claims from the US Department of Labor to the RI Superior Court. RIHA opposed because this would make defense of claims more expensive for restaurants and also because the legislation is redundant to requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

 

 

Sales Tax Restructuring

Result: Defeated

This effort would have reduced the sales tax for most industries in RI, but would have kept the sales tax on restaurants and hotels at its current level. Although RIHA favors a decrease in the sales tax, we opposed this measure because if there is going to be a reduction in sales tax, it should be across all industries.

 

Workforce Development

Result: Enacted (included in budget)

Exempts the entire job development fund from indirect cost recoveries (raids) on restricted accounts. RIHA supported this measure because it will free up immediate resources for job training programs and result in better trained prospective employees for our members. 

 

Energy Infrastructure

Result: Enacted

Created the “Affordable Clean Energy Security Act” to establish a framework for the state, in coordination with other New England states, to make strategic investments in resources and infrastructure to ensure RI has sufficient energy in the future.  Given the incredibly high energy prices our members were faced with this past winter, we supported this legislation to help increase RI’s future energy supply.

 

Food Residuals

Result: Passed, but amended prior to passage

This bill originally would have taken effect in 2015 and would have required many restaurants and hotels to recycle their organic food waste at facilities that do not yet exist. While the bill did pass, it was first amended in several key respects. The effective date is not until 2016 and only those entities that generate more than 104 tons of organic waste per year and who are located within 15 miles of an authorized composting facility are required to comply. Thus while we are unhappy that the bill passed, the amendment lessened the harmful effect on our industry. Member Kristin Gennuso testified.

 

Pregnancy Discrimination

Result: Defeated

Would have prohibited employers from discriminating against employees due to pregnancy or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. RIHA opposed because it was redundant to the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Furthermore, the federal law applies only to those businesses with over 15 employees. This bill would have prohibited discrimination for businesses of any size, which would hurt those businesses with very few employees.

 

Minimum Wage

Result: Passed, but amended prior to passage

5 minimum wage bills were proposed this year and the general attitude of the General Assembly was favorable toward passage. RIHA fought each of the bills, however a bill that had been recommended held for further study was revived and voted on in the final days of the session. The bill that was passed originally would have resulted in a $9 minimum wage in 2015, $10 minimum wage in 2016 and periodic cost of living adjustments thereafter. The amended bill results only in a $9 wage in 2015 with no provision for additional increases and no change to the tip credit.

 

While the passage of the bill was by no means welcome, RI is faring better than its neighboring New England states. Massachusetts adopted an $11 minimum wage last week, spread over 3 years, and Connecticut has automatic adjustments to its minimum wage which will result in a higher wage than we have in RI as well.

 

Corporate Tax

Result: Enacted (included in budget)

This legislation, which was included in the budget, reduces the corporate tax rate from 9% to 7%. This reduces the tax our members pay.

 

Employee Misclassifications

Result: Defeated

Would have replaced a longstanding IRS test for determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor with a new test used only by RI. This would have resulted in inconsistencies in the law and potential penalties for RI businesses that were compliant with the IRS, but not with this law.

 

Commission to Study Minimum Wages in Hospitality Industry

Result: Defeated

This would have created a legislative commission to perform a comprehensive study of minimum wage discrepancies in RI’s hospitality, hotel, and restaurant industries and make recommendations for legislation and enforcement procedures to produce a living wage for workers in these industries.

 

Wine samples

Result: Defeated

Would have permitted Class A liquor license holders with the ability to serve wine samples in their stores up to four times per year.

 

Estate Tax

Result: Enacted (included in budget)

This legislation, which was included in the budget, increases the estate tax credit to result in a $1.5 million exemption. It also eliminates the cliff tax aspect of the estate tax.

 

 

Losses:

 

Online Travel Companies

Result: Failed to pass

This bill would have imposed a tax on online travel companies and also expanded the definition of hotel, resulting in more lodging entities remitting hotel tax. RIHA supported this measure because online short-term rental sites are allowing people to rent out their apartments and homes and not pay hotel tax on those rentals. This is not fair to those lodging entities that comply with state rules and regulations.

 

Combined Reporting

Result: Passed (included in budget)

Adopts a new form of tax reporting that may increase state revenue by as much as $55 million per year. RIHA opposed the legislation because it is more complex and out of concern for its effect on business.

 

Epipen

Result: Passed

This bill, if approved by the Governor, will allow restaurants and hotels to maintain Epipen auto-injectors for use if a patron is experiencing anaphylactic shock. RIHA opposed this bill due to the liability concerns for businesses however the Senate bypassed the committee process late in the final night of session and passed it despite our strong opposition.


RIHA Legislative Score Card.pdf


List of Articles
No. Subject Author Datesort
31 Hotel industry presses for passage of terrorism insurance file Monika Nov 07, 2014
RIHA Signs on to Letter on TRIA The letter proved to be quite timely, as it was sent to the Hill on the same day the Speaker of the House was reported to be leaning toward a short-term extension of TRIA, which would obviously not be an ideal...  
» 2014 Legislative Wrap Up & Legislative Score Card file Monika Jul 03, 2014
This year’s legislative session was a busy one with over 400 pieces of legislation that affected the hospitality industry. Inevitably in politics the odds are against you that you’ll be 100% successful in getting everything you want. However...  
29 It's time for the US Senate to stop Patent Abuse file Monika May 21, 2014
This week RIHA signed on to a letter to Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse urging immediate action on comprehensive patent reform. This issue has gained momentum this year as the public spotlight focused on the unfairness and inequity of p...  
28 Local Minimum Wage Battles Fought Around the Country Monika May 14, 2014
As you know, Providence City Council is currently deliberating an increase to $15 per hour for hotel workers. RIHA is actively developing a strategy to fight this effort as if it is successful, the continued viability of Providence hotels i...  
27 New information-reporting rules under the Affordable Care Act file Monika Mar 10, 2014
From Restaurant.org   New information-reporting rules for many businesses and their insurers are on their way under the Affordable Care Act -- and with less than 10 months to go before data-tracking is supposed to get underway, the impact o...  
26 Meeting with Senator Jack Reed file Monika Feb 28, 2014
This week RIHA hosted Senator Jack Reed at Chelo’s Waterfront Grille in Warwick. As always, our board members were highly attuned to the concerns of the hospitality industry and posed a number of intelligent questions to the Senator. The Se...  
25 National Grid seeks 16 percent natural gas rate hike for RI file Monika Feb 28, 2014
By ALEX KUFFNERALEX KUFFNERProvidence Journal Journal Staff Writer akuffner@providencejournal.com   PROVIDENCE, R.I. — National Grid has applied to state regulators to raise natural gas rates in Rhode Island by 16 percent, an increase that w...  
24 I-9 Forms – are you in compliance? Monika Feb 21, 2014
The owners of the Black and Blue Restaurant of Rochester, New York started this New Year by handing $88,700 over to the feds.  Their crime?  Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accused the restaurant of failing to prepare I-9 forms f...  
23 National Restaurant Association Urges House Ways and Means Committee to Move Forward on Definition of Full-Time Legislation file Monika Feb 05, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 4, 2014 CONTACT: Katie Laning Niebaum (202) 973-3967 kniebaum@restaurant.org or Christin Fernandez (202) 331-5939 cfernandez@restaurant.org National Restaurant Association Urges House Ways and Means Committee...  
22 Congressional Budget on Obamacare file Monika Feb 05, 2014
THE CBO REPORT THAT BLEW UP THE INTERNET - Twitter exploded yesterday following the release of the Congressional Budget Office report claiming that the Affordable Care Act will likely cause "a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent w...  
21 Arguements for and against raising Rhode Island Minimum Wage file Monika Feb 05, 2014
PROVIDENCE — House lawmakers on Tuesday heard arguments for and against a bill that would raise Rhode Island’s minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016 and then tie it to inflation starting in 2017. Testifying before the House Labor Committee, o...  
20 RIHA Testifies- Genetically Modified Organisms to be labeled file Monika Jan 31, 2014
RIHA testifies on H 7093- This bill would require that food and food products derived from or containing genetically modified organisms be labeled as such by the manufacturer, retailer or other person before putting it on the market for sal...  
19 Plastic Bag Ban Bill Introduced Again file Monika Jan 31, 2014
Efforts to make Rhode Island the first state with a bag ban recently took a step forward. For the second straight year, Rep. Maria Cimini, D-Providence, has sponsored the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, a bill that would ban retailers from off...  
18 Survey from the Governor's Office file Monika Jan 31, 2014
Please take a few minutes to fill out this survey to insure that we have input from our industry . Dear Business Leader: Please find attached a letter asking for your input on state regulations that may be a burden on your business. To faci...  
17 Candidate Taveras Calls for Increase in Minimum Wage- others join in file Monika Jan 31, 2014
The race for Rhode Island governor turned into something of a race t o be the champion of the minimum-wage increase Thursday among leading Democratic contenders. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democratic candidate for governor, proposed T...  
16 Probation & Parole offices downtown Providence file Monika Jan 10, 2014
Director Richard A. Licht of the state Department of Administration said that the department will seek fresh proposals to relocate the Office of Probation and Parole rather than move it to a downtown site at 40 Fountain St.   RI Hospitality ...  
15 RI - Labor to lobby for higher minimum wage in R.I. Monika Jan 10, 2014
Rhode Island's minimum wage rose to $8 an hour on Wednesday, but organized labor says it will call on  lawmakers to raise it even higher in the legislative session that opens Tuesday. George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, said h...  
14 Hospitality - 2014 new legal obligations file Monika Jan 10, 2014
Tip-vs.-wage changes. On January 1, 2014 a new IRS rule took effect regarding automatically added gratuities.  It basically states that any gratuities added to guest checks (such as an 18% gratuity added for large parties) will no longer be ...  
13 RI fast food workers fight for $15 file Monika Nov 22, 2013
  A direct action inside a Wendy's in Warwick today was Rhode Island's first in the nationwide Fight For 15 effort to unionize fast food workers. But it won't be the last, organizers said. Expect more local protests and more fast food worke...  
12 Senate OKs $11-Per Hour Minimum Wag Bill- MASSACHUSETTS Monika Nov 22, 2013
BOSTON -- The Senate voted 32-7 on Tuesday to increase the state's minimum wage by $3 over the next three years to $11 an hour, approving legislation that would give Massachusetts the highest minimum wage in the country. Massachusetts curren...