2013-03-21 / News

Bills introduced to help state’s economy

Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed and several members of the Rhode Island Senate last week unveiled a package of legislation designed to improve Rhode Island’s business climate and its position on national surveys relating to business friendliness.

The package of bills was developed from the recommendations of a joint report by the Senate and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council called “Moving the Needle.” Among the proposals included in the report were initiatives to reform the Economic Development Corporation, require a longterm strategic vision for economic development, address bureaucratic hurdles, bolster workforce development, and reduce business costs.

“The economy is the Senate’s priority, and will remain the Senate’s focus this session,” said Paiva Weed, who represents Jamestown and Newport. “Successfully moving the needle and improving the business climate will require all of us in the public and private sectors working together towards a shared objective. This cohesive package of bills is aimed at making Rhode Island more attractive to entrepreneurs, improving our image within our state and outside our borders, and helping companies that are here to grow and create jobs.”

More than two dozen bills were introduced last week as part of “Moving the Needle.” The bills were broken down into commerce, workforce, education, health, energy, tax reform, and codes and regulations.

Legislation would:

• Create a division of economic data within the Department of Administration to keep constant and accurate information on the state’s economy;

• Require a written long-term economic development strategy for the state, and require that each gubernatorial administration convene a broad group of stakeholders to review, revisit and revise the long-term plan every four years;

• Reform and rebrand the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation;

• Convene a governor-appointed Commerce & Workforce Coordination Cabinet comprised of officials from state agencies with responsibility and oversight relating to economic and workforce development;

• Place two additional members on the state planning council to represent the interests of businesses.

• Maintain the renewable-energy fund within the Economic Development Corporation that enables them to work with businesses with high-energy costs to help reduce costs;

• Improve the EDC website;

• Enable individuals receiving unemployment benefits to volunteer to be matched with businesses who are seeking employees. The businesses would agree to provide up to six weeks of quality training through trial employment at no cost to the employer;

• Expand the provision of childcare to families with income below 180 percent of the federal poverty level participating in training approved by the Department of Labor and Training;

• Establish a web-based system operated by the Department of Labor and Training to more proactively link employers with prospective employees;

• Help former students finish their degree;

• Require the Board of Education to establish a reverse-transfer policy for Rhode Island’s public institutions of higher education to enable credits earned toward a four-year degree to be transferred and counted toward the awarding of a two-year associate’s degree;

• Establish a dual-enrollment policy so high school students can take classes at community college;

• Establish a statewide electronic permitting system to take administrative burden off of cities and towns;

• Ensure a more uniform environmental protection policy across the state.

• Convene a state council to resolve differences and inconsistencies among the state’s various building, fire and elevator codes to determine which code takes priority in certain situations;

• Expand the requirement for competitive pricing to drive down the cost of the renewable energy being produced by the smallest projects;

• Expand the sales-tax exemption statewide for original works of art;

• Restore the state tax credit on the restoration of historic properties. This bill reflects the language and intent of the governor’s budget article, utilizing unused credits to continue this program.

The bills had their inception last fall, when Paiva Weed directed the Senate Policy Office to examine the metrics that are looked at by those who produce the national business surveys – such as CNBC and Forbes Magazine – and to make recommendations on how to improve the state’s rankings. When it was learned that the R.I. Public Expenditure Council was working on a similar project, it was decided to combine efforts to produce the “Moving the Needle” report and proposals.

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