There’s no doubt that this year’s legislative session of the General Assembly was one for the history books, but there do remain a few lingering questions as the session winds down, with a tentative adjournment date of this Thursday.
As far as things accomplished, Rhode Island legislators made headlines by becoming the 19th state in the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and open up the state to a new source of economic expansion. While critics will continue to parrot tired conspiracy theories about how this move will contribute to the fall of society, we find it more likely that it will fade into the background as just another element of societal progression that results in few drawbacks while generating revenue for the state. We hope that elected officials will keep their eyes on the prize and ensure that this revenue is used for such worthwhile endeavors as better drug education in our schools, and treatment programs for those suffering from substance use disorders.
Also making news was the passing of three new gun laws, which Governor McKee signed into law on Tuesday. While debate on this topic could fill a newspaper by itself, we are encouraged by the legislature’s efforts to do something, anything, in order to possibly prevent more pain and suffering from gun violence. At the very least, increasing the age at which someone can buy a gun to the same age at which they can purchase alcohol is a good start. If you’re not old enough (or mature enough) to legally buy a beer, why should you be legally able to purchase a gun?
Questions remain about the future of the state’s hospitals, as a merger between Lifespan, Care New England and Brown University was shot down by regulators earlier this year. Kent Hospital is siphoning money each month, so it remains to be seen if there will be any short-term efforts to bolster the facility.
The Rhode Island Senate now has the job of finalizing the $13.6 billion budget approved by the House last week, which includes $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act spending, notably taking $250 million to target better housing outcomes, as well as measures to bolster future COVID response and fund behavioral health care clinics throughout the state. Residents should also be happy that the car tax is slated to be phased out a year earlier than expected, along with a $250 child tax credit that provides relief for up to three children born prior to 2022 within families.
Questions and critiques are sure to mount as the details of the state’s massive budget is further explored. For now, lawmakers will certainly be relieved to take their summer recess.
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