Rhode Island Lawmakers Pass Budget And Adjourn For The Year

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island lawmakers passed a flurry of major bills before the legislative session ended Friday, including the state budget and legislation to provide driver privilege cards to people who are in the country illegally.

The General Assembly adjourned early Friday after the state Senate passed the $13.6 billion budget that previously passed the House, sending it to the governor. Senators tried unsuccessfully to modify it to temporarily suspend the state gasoline tax and raise the minimum wage.

The budget for the 2023 fiscal year accelerates phasing out the car tax, eliminating what would have been the final year of the tax next year at a cost of $64 million. That means nearly all residents would not receive another automobile excise bill. It has a one-time child tax credit of $250 per child for up to three children per family.

It also directs how to spend the American Rescue Plan Act federal funding on one-time investments to address longstanding problems. The largest share, $250 million, was allocated for housing initiatives, including building new units of affordable housing. The state received $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief funding.

This week, the House approved legislation to provide driver privilege cards for people who are in the country illegally, with Republican Blake Filippi, the House minority leader, joining Democrats in passing it. He said the state's response to a broken federal immigration system should not be to deny people the ability to drive a car.

The Senate approved granting the driver privilege cards in May and passed the House version of the bill on Thursday. Democratic Gov. Dan McKee is expected to sign the legislation.

The General Assembly also approved several environmental proposals to require the state’s electric utility to contract for up to 1,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity, require the state to get all of its electricity from renewable resources by 2033, provide tax breaks for solar projects and ban single-use plastic bags statewide by 2024. The House speaker backed a package of bills designed to address the state's housing shortage, including elevating the state employee working on affordable housing to a cabinet-level position. All but one passed.

The Senate president's top priority was moving toward universal pre-kindergarten and shoring up the childcare system. The budget nearly doubles the number of free classroom seats available, to up to 5,000 over five years, and provides subsidies for child care workers.

Before the session adjourned, Filippi announced that he would not seek re-election, saying he had served for eight years and felt the time was right to step aside. He was replaced as House minority leader by state Rep. Michael Chippendale.

This legislative session, the state legalized recreational marijuana, reformed the mail ballot process to make it easier to vote by mail and reformed gun laws, which included a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds.