Tracking legislation of interest to seniors as RI General Assembly wraps up – Herb Weiss

Published in RINewsToday on June 28, 2021

 In the waning days of the 2021 legislative session, RI House lawmakers approved a $13.1 billion state budget for the 2022 fiscal year (by a party-line vote of 64 Democrats to 10 Republicans) that boosts key supports for vulnerable Rhode Islanders — particularly affordable housing and social services— without imposing any broad-based tax increases.

The budget plan also fully funds K-12 education, boosts support for higher education, restores funding to Eleanor Slater Hospital and funds a first-of-its-kind statewide program for police body cameras.  

Additionally, the budget codifies the state’s existing Livable Home Grant Program to provide subsidies (up to 50%) for certain disability and accessibility home modifications, which will enable older people to remain in their homes. The budget includes $500,000 for the Livable Home Grant Program.

At press time, the state budget moves to the Senate for consideration. Once passed by the upper Chamber and signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee, the budget covers the new fiscal year, beginning July 1.

In the Waning Days…

According to Larry Berman, the House’s Communication Director, 1,470 bills were introduced in the House and 978 in the Senate. According to the RI General Assembly’s bill tracker, less than 30 are identified as directly related to seniors.

Here is a sampling of these bills:

The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D- District 1, Providence) and Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-District 10, Providence), sets minimum staffing levels for Rhode Island nursing homes and was signed into law by Gov. McKee, two days after General Assembly passage. The legislation (S 0002A, H 5012Aaa) will establish a minimum standard of 3.58 hours of resident care per day, initially, and 3.81 hours of resident care per day beginning January 1, 2023. The bill also provides funding to raise wages for direct care staff to help recruit and retain a stable and qualified workforce.

With final votes in both chambers, the General Assembly approved The Elder Adult Financial Act sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-District 32, Barrington, Bristol and East Providence) and Rep. Joseph J. Solomon, Jr. (D-District 22, Warwick). The legislation requires financial institutions to report suspected financial exploitation of seniors to the Office of Healthy Aging and authorizing them to temporarily hold transactions they suspect as such. The legislation will be sent to the governor for signature. The legislation (S 0264A, H 5642A) would require financial institutions to train employees to recognize indicators of elderly financial exploitation, and on their obligation to properly report it and place a hold on suspicious transactions. The legislation was the result of recommendations made by the Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, a group led by Sen. Coyne that met in 2018 and 2019 to explore the facets of elder abuse and make policy recommendations to address them.

Rep. Gregg Amore (D-District 65, East Providence) and Sen. Valarie J. Lawson’s (D-District 14, East Providence) legislation, The Uniform Control Substance Act, would exclude chronic intractable pain from the definition of “acute pain management” for the purposes of prescribing opioid medication has been signed into law by Gov. McKee. The legislation (H 5247A, S 0384A) calls for new guidelines for treatment of chronic intractable pain based upon the consideration of the individualized needs of patients suffering from it. The legislation acknowledges that every patient and their needs are different, especially those suffering from chronic pain. Chronic intractable pain is defined as pain that is excruciating constant, incurable, and of such severity that it dominates virtually every constant, moment. It also produces mental and physical debilitation and may produce a desire to suicide for the sole purpose of stopping the pain.

The House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. June S. Speakman (D-District 68, Warren, Bristol) to allow visitation for nursing home residents by a designated family member or caregiver during a state of emergency. Under the Rights of Nursing Home Patients legislation, an essential caregiver would be an individual—whether a family member or friend of a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility – who is designated to provide physical or emotional support to the resident during a declaration of disaster emergency. The legislation (H 5543aa) would require the Department of Health to create rules and regulations providing for the designation of essential caregivers to provide in-person physical or emotional support to a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility during the period of 15 days after a declaration of disaster emergency and until 60 days after the termination of the declaration. The bill would require DOH to develop rules and regulations on designating an essential caregiver and the criteria to qualify. Those rules would include health and safety regulations as well as requirements allowing an essential caregiver to have regular and sustained in-person visitation and physical access to a resident of the nursing home or long-term care facility. The bill now goes to the Senate, which on June 1st passed companion legislation (S 0006A) sponsored by introduced by Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-District 26, Cranston).

As part of its ongoing efforts of addressing the cost of prescription drugs, the RI Senate passed legislation that requires pharmaceutical companies to disclose drug pricing information and legislation would prohibit an annual or lifetime dollar limit on drug benefits. The first legislative proposal (S 0494A), which was introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-District 4, North Providence, Providence) would require the pharmaceutical manufacturers disclose to the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner the wholesale acquisition costs of drugs if this cost is at least $100 for a 30-day supply. It would also require the disclosure of pharmacy benefit management information to include rebates, price protection payments and other payments that are saved by the pharmacy, health plan issuer or enrollees at the point of the drug. The second one, (S 0381A), which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-District 29, Warwick), would require that health plans that provide prescription drug coverage not include an annual or lifetime dollar limit on drug benefits. It would also cap out-of-pocket expenses that some consumers would be required to pay for prescription drugs.  The measures now move to the House for consideration.

The Senate also approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-District 27, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) limiting insured patients’ copays for insulin used to treat diabetes to $40 for a 30-day supply. The legislation (S 0170A), which is part of the Senate’s prescription drug affordability legislative package, would apply to all insurance plans that cover insulin. Under the legislation, insurers would be required to cap the total amount that any covered person is required to pay for covered insulin at $40 for a 30-day supply, regardless of the amount or type of insulin prescribed. It also forbids that coverage from being submit to any deductible. The bill does allow insurers to charge less if they choose. The cost of insulin has risen sharply over the years, and the cost is much higher in the United States than in other countries.  Millions of Americans depend on insulin for the management of diabetes. The legislation goes to the lower chamber, where House Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-District. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly) is sponsoring a companion bill (H 5196A).

Finally, the passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Valarie J. Larson (D-District 14, East Providence) would increase temporary caregiver benefits for Rhode Islanders. The bill (S 0688) increases temporary caregiver benefits to six weeks in a benefit year starting Jan. 1, 2022, and would increase temporary caregiver benefits to eight weeks in a benefit year beginning Jan. 1, 2023.Rhode Island was the third state in the nation to pass a paid family leave programs when it enacted the Temporary Caregiver Insurance program in 2013.  It provides up to four weeks of partial (about 60%) wage replacement for workers who need to take time from their jobs to care for a serious ill family member or to bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child.  The worker’s job and seniority are protected while the worker is on leave.An amended companion measure (H 6090A), sponsored by House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-District 63, East Providence) passes the House and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Deputy House Republican Minority Leader, George Nardone (R-Dist. 28, Coventry, Rep. Michael Chippendale (R-Dist. 40, Coventry, Foster, and Glocester and Rep. Raymond A. Hull (R-District 6, Providence) submitted H 5547 to ensure proper, safe, and personal contact with loved ones in congregate care facilities.  The legislation addresses the COVID-19 mandates that denied access to individuals in hospitals, group homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and Veterans homes. The purpose of this legislation is to entitle all residents of healthcare facilities and group homes the opportunity to designate a support person for regular, in-person visits. The policy is designed to balance disease transmission protocols with the benefits of having a loved one present during a lockdown. The House Health & Human Services Committee recommended the legislation be held for further study.

Senate Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz (R-Dist. 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield, introduced S 644 to provide medical assistance coverage for medical services provided qualifying eligible recipients for community-based care. The Senate Health & Human Services Committee has also recommended the legislation be held for further study.

Thoughts from the Sidelines at AARP

AARP Rhode Island says they “…are thrilled that the Livable Home Modification Grant Program, which provides matching funds for needed construction to ensure that Rhode Islanders with disabilities can remain safely and comfortably at home, was included in the FY22 budget,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “That was the highlight of the budget for us. Codifying this program has been a major priority.

“Another important win was enactment of the Elder Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act. This law is an important new tool to fight for the one-in-five older Rhode Islanders who is a victim of financial exploitation, with an average loss of $120,000. AARP-RI wrote to Governor McKee urging him to sign this critical legislation and they are delighted that he has done so.  This will be a game-changer in the effort to protect the life savings of older Rhode Islanders.

“Now we have our eye on the number of prescription drug bills that we’ve been working hard on, and we’re hopeful they will see passage before the end of the session. At this time, there are four Senate-approved Rx bills that need action in the House, and we are eagerly awaiting House passage of Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy’s insulin cap bill.

The Legislative session is expected to end by the end of next week. Stay tuned to see what legislative proposals ultimately make it to the Governor’s desk for signature.

UPDATE:

‘According to Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, a former state representative and Director of Rhode Island’s Elderly Affairs, one of the biggest wins for older adults in the budget — the expansion of the Office of Healthy Aging @Home Cost Share program to increase income eligibility from 200% of the federal poverty level to 250% and to include persons under age 65 with Alzheimer’s/dementia. “Over $2Mil in all funds was added to the budget to do this. It was promoted by legislation sponsored by Sen. Walter Felag and Rep. Joseph Solomon. An estimated 500 persons will get subsidized home care and/or adult day services with this expansion. It was a priority of the Aging in Community Subcommittee for several years,” she says. 

Maigret also notes that the budget also includes Medicaid rate increases for a number of home and community care providers designed to increase access to these options for persons needing care. “These include assisted living, adult day services, shared living and home care. Importantly, with the cost of so many basic services such as rent and food increasing it raises the amount of money a person on home care can keep to pay for living expenses before they must pay a share of the cost of the services,”

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Religious Groups Urge House to Combat Antisemitism and Racism

Published in the Woonsocket Call on June 10, 2019

For the second year in a row, the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Senate Judiciary Committee heard a resolution, introduced by State Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket), calling on lawmakers to denounce and oppose white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The resolution was co-sponsored by Senators Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston), Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) and Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence),

The initial resolution, introduced in 2017, urged state police to consider White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups as terrorists. Because of First Amendment concerns expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island that resolution was held for further study, and the language was reworked this run so as not to run afoul of free speech concerns.

Senate Moves to Fight Antisemitism and Racial Intolerance Head On

At the May 30 hearing, Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) pushed for passage of S0829, a resolution calling on Rhode Island to “denounce and oppose and the totalitarian impulses, violent terrorism, xenophobic’ biases, and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis.” She reminded the Senate panel that Rhode Island was founded on Roger William’s principles of religious tolerance, and the state should denounce any type of white supremacy or neo-Nazism and take a stand for religious freedom and tolerance.

Nesslebush’s Senate resolution unanimously passed in Senate Judiciary Committee and ultimately on the Senate Floor. With its passage, no further action is required and the resolution will be transmitted to the Secretary of State, who is charged in the resolution with transmitting certified copies of the resolution to President Donald J. Trump, the members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation, and Governor Gina Raimondo.

When asked about a House companion resolution that denounces and opposes White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups, Larry Berman, the House’s Director of Communication, says that Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket) had planned to introduce one but “because it was getting late in the session” he was unable to get his bill introduced. It should be noted that Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio allowed Nesselbush to introduce her Senate resolution recognizing its merit and importance to the Jewish community.

Calls for the House to Confront the Boldness of Hate Groups

As the House is poised to release its anticipated state budget, religious groups and supporters of Nesselbush’s resolution, call for the lower chamber to take a strong stand to denounce and oppose White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups.

As President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, being active and serving as Rabbi at Temple Beth-El, Rabbi Sarah Mack, says it’s not too late for the to take a stand against antisemitism. “As Jews, we fight against bigotry and extremism because as a people we have experienced the danger of hate firsthand. While it is important to focus on extremism in all of its forms, we appreciate this resolution that calls attention to white supremacists, neo-Nazis and their hateful agenda. Because of this, I am so thankful to the Senate for passing this resolution, and I beseech our House leadership to do the same.”

Adds Adam Greenman, President and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, “we are committed to combating hatred in all forms. This resolution would give our state the opportunity to stand up against groups that promote anti-Semitism, white supremacy and other forms of toxic and dangerous rhetoric. We ask those in the House of Representatives to join us in supporting this resolution.”

Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson, Executive Minister, of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, notes the importance for the House to support Nesslebush’s Senate resolution to fight hate. “In recent years hate speech has found a new platform in social media and is flourishing in the current political climate. This explosion of hate DEMANDS a response from our political leaders. Rhode Island is blessed with wonderful interfaith leaders who interact on a regular basis and have built an atmosphere of caring, respect and trust. This group consistently and often speaks against hate, but we need to hear from ALL of our political leaders. We urge passage of this timely and thoughtful resolution.”

Steve Ahlquist, a reporter at UpriseRI, a Rhode Island news web site covering progressive issues, testified in support of Nesselbush’s Senate resolution, gives his two cents about the importance of politicians combating hate groups. Ahlquist stressed, “Though this resolution is largely symbolic and does not have the force of law, it is important nonetheless that our elected officials ally themselves with Rhode Islanders most at risk of white supremacist violence. It has been documented by myself and others that these groups have twice come to our state to engage in violence, and have promised to return. Residents of Rhode Island need to know that our elected officials will have our backs when they are confronting these hate groups.”

“Our elected officials should be eager to repudiate white supremacy and neo-Nazism. There has been violence done and violence planned in Rhode Island by hate groups visiting our state. There has been and hate crimes at synagogues and mosques. The Senate passed a resolution with ease. It is truly the least we can expect from the House to follow suit,” says Ahlquist.

Rhode Island Religious Community Takes a Stand

For years, it has been reported that antisemitism is becoming firmly entrenched in the Ocean State. In 2017, the Providence Journal reported that the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League recorded 13 incidents of antisemitism in Rhode Island. Nazi swastikas were painted on a Providence building, at Broad Rock Middle School in North Kingstown, and even at a Pawtucket synagogue in Oakhill, just a five-minute walk from my house, reported Rhode Island’s largest daily.

When I testified for passage of Senate Resolution 0829, I told the Senators that I often wondered what I would have done if I stood on a street in Germany in 1938 seeing all those windows broken (during a two-day pogrom, referred to as Kristallnacht. Would I have the courage or the gumption to go up to somebody dressed in a brown shirt with a swastika armband and stop him from hitting an elderly Jew?
Hopefully yes, but who knows.

But, on May 30, 2019, at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, I sat beside Sen. Nesselbush and Steve Ahlquist as we “took a stand,” calling on the Committee to pass S 082. Knowing the wisdom in denouncing and opposing the hateful philosophy of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups that is becoming all too common in Rhode Island, the Senate took its stand.

After all, Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams on the principle of religious tolerance, and we’re the home of America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue, in Newport. What does it say to the nation, and especially to the state’s Jewish, racial, ethnic, LGTBQ communities if the House does not take an opportunity to oppose and denounce hate in their own backyard?

Hopefully, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello will reconsider allowing a resolution, with no fiscal cost, to be introduced to give House lawmakers, like their Senate colleagues, an opportunity to oppose white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups. It is important for both chambers to take a legislative stand to combat the rising incidence of antisemitism and racist incidents. The resolution serves the purpose of sending the message, hate groups who are planning to come to Rhode Island to cause violence are not welcome here.