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1/30/2024 Legislators announce their Working Families Agenda of 2024 legislative priorities
STATE HOUSE – A diverse group of 25 legislators came together Tuesday to announce their Working Families Agenda, a list of top priorities for the 2024 legislative session. The group, which included representatives from across Rhode Island, committed to work together and organize with their colleagues throughout the legislative session to pass the agenda.

The legislators worked together to create the agenda by finding the day-to-day issues affecting the working families in their districts, and building a strategy around the common-sense solutions to provide short- and long-term relief. They plan to work together around this list of shared priorities, in addition to their own bills, to help push them over the line this session.

“We come from different districts, and we have different backgrounds,” said Rep. Megan L. Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton), who spoke at the press conference. “But we worked together on this agenda because there are common sense legislative priorities that unite us: keeping our families fed, affording to stay in our homes, getting safely around our communities, and funding the things we need to care for our families.”

The Working Families Agenda includes a set of proposals that would expand paid family leave, fund public transportation, help close the affordable housing gap, lower the cost of prescription drugs, provide school meals for every child, promote transparency and accountability in the police department and make the wealthiest Rhode Islanders pay their fair share to improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders.

“This Working Families Agenda is what it looks like when we join together across districts and backgrounds to put in place a government that works for us all,” said Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket), another press conference speaker. “I know that this agenda will help ease the burden on working families in my district and across Rhode Island, and I’m proud to work with this group and with other leaders in the State House to make sure it gets passed.”

Below are statements from some members of the group, along with information on the bills presented:

Rep. David Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence) on saving, expanding and improving RIPTA and public transit: “Buses are lifelines, for families and for our communities. But our public transportation system is on the brink, and if we don’t include enough funding in the budget, the entire transit system will face huge and critical cuts. It’s up to all of us in the State House to save RIPTA and design and demand an upgraded public transit system that connects and improves our neighborhoods for generations to come.”

Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket, Central Falls) has introduced a bill (2024-H 7774) that will invest far more funding in the state budget for RIPTA to expand public transit across Rhode Island, hire bus drivers and avoid the fiscal cliff. Investing in RIPTA supports working families in getting to work and school and helps address the climate crisis by reducing car trips.

Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) on her bills to build more affordable homes and keep more renters in their homes: “Rhode Islanders know that a strong state is one where everyone who lives here has a place to call home. But because of outrageous rent hikes, dramatically escalating home prices, poorly-maintained and underfunded public housing, and absentee private equity investors buying up housing stock, more and more people in this state lack a home to thrive. If we work together, Rhode Island leadership can reduce evictions and homelessness and build enough affordable homes to close the gap. These bills tackle the short term and the long term, and they’re a good place to start.”

The first bill (2024-H 7062) would allow homeowners to build accessory dwelling units by right statewide within the existing footprint of their structures or on any lot larger than 20,000 square feet, provided that the design satisfies building code, size limits and infrastructure requirements. The second bill (2024-H 7923) will create a $50 million revolving fund to finance the development of mixed-income public housing. With housing being the biggest strain on family budgets, increasing housing production is a core part of the solution.

Rep. Jennifer A. Stewart (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket) on her bill to give tenants more notice before rent increases, and on Rep. Cherie Cruz’s (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket) bill to guarantee tenants a right to counsel: “We should use every tool at our disposal to reduce homelessness and make sure Rhode Island families can stay in their homes. Right now, most renters in Rhode Island are asking if they will be priced out of their apartment with the next rent hike. We can add two new tools to our toolbox this session – increasing the number of days’ notice tenants get before a rent increase and guaranteeing everyone a right to counsel – to better protect renters and keep more Rhode Islanders in their homes.”

The tenant notification act (2024-H 7304) will increase the amount of notice a tenant must receive prior to a rent increase from 30 days to 90 days for most tenants and to 120 days for tenants over age 62, helping to give people the time they need to adjust, and reducing the number of families evicted from their homes. The right to counsel bill will provide tenants with the right to civil representation in eviction proceedings and fund legal counsel for their representation. Both measures will keep families in their homes and reduce homelessness.

Rep. José F. Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence) on comprehensive Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights reform: “Safety is a top priority for our state. Holding police officers accountable for excessive force and other misconduct is something that makes all of us safer – and it lets us use our taxpayer dollars on strengthening the economy, and our communities. We need reforms that put rules in place that help us spend less time and money on forcing accountability and trust, and let us focus on helping the neighborhoods longest denied the services that create safe and healthy communities.”

The proposed reform (2024-H 7313) would require that a majority of the LEOBOR panel must be civilians, require that the LEOBOR panel must defer to discipline imposed by the police chief unless it finds that the discipline was arbitrary or capricious and ensure no back pay for a fired officer who has been found to have violated the law. Police accountability is part of community safety and allows cities to focus resources on the things that families need most.

Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) on her bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs by legalizing wholesale from Canada: “Too many Rhode Islanders are struggling with the high cost of prescription drugs. Authorizing the state government to import medicines from Canada is a concrete step we can take to reduce that burden for thousands of families.”

This bill (2024-H 7444) will allow a state agency to become a licensed wholesaler of prescription drugs from Canada, where medicines are cheaper. Florida recently received federal authorization to import prescription drugs from Canada after passing similar legislation. This will save money on healthcare for the families and seniors who need it the most.

Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) on her bill to provide free healthy school meals for every child: “Trying to learn on an empty stomach is a challenge too many children in Rhode Island are struggling with. By providing school meals for all, we can strengthen our families, our schools and our state’s future.”

The bill (2024-H 7400) will provide free breakfast and lunch for all Rhode Island public school students, tackling hunger, boosting learning and enhancing equity in our schools.

Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) on his bill to expand paid family leave to include more Rhode Islanders: “Rhode Island’s paid leave law has secured the best beginnings for children and the best health and future for our state. Making these improvements to the law will expand access to care for more individuals and boost economic participation, thereby fortifying both our state's economy and our communities."

This bill (2024-H 7171) will increase the amount of paid leave that a person can take to care for a family member to 12 weeks per year, and expand the definition of family a person may use paid leave to care for to include a sibling, grandchild or other “care recipient,” meaning an individual for whom the person is a primary caretaker. Representative Giraldo also spoke about increasing wage replacement for paid leave for lower-income workers. Strengthening paid family leave in these ways will allow workers to take the time they need – and low-income workers actually to afford to take – to care for their families.

Representative Alzate on her bill to fund state programs through a new tax to the income of Rhode Islanders that exceeds $1 million per year: “It’s time we fund the services our communities want and need: stronger schools, childcare we can all afford, a better public transit system and so much more. The people who have gotten the richest can pay a little more to make the state that helped them get there stronger.”

This bill (2024-H 7338) will create a new tax on the portion of an individual’s income that is above $1 million per year, generating $126 million per year. The wealthiest have done better and better in this economy, if they pay a little bit more, we can all invest in the things that make that economy strong, including transportation, education and child care.

For more information, contact:
Tristan Grau, Publicist
State House Room B20
Providence, RI 02903