Rhode Island General Assembly’s Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau announced via press releases on Friday that three pieces of legislation with local ties sshave been signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo.

New law requires state to notify businesses of impending road construction, provide assistance

The Department of Transportation will coordinate with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to help small businesses affected by RhodeWorks construction projects under a new law sponsored by Rep. Lauren H. Carson and Sen. Dawn Euer.

The legislation (2018-H 7104, 2018-S 2086), which has been signed by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, is a response to the Broadway Streetscape Improvement Project in Newport, a $5.8 million project that has restricted parking, temporarily rendered a section of the busy road one-way and resulted in significantly less traffic to local businesses.

The law also specifically includes the project to realign the ramps to the Newport Bridge, a major project that could affect area businesses for three to five years.

“Road and bridge improvements have obvious benefits for the community and for local businesses, but the effects during the actual construction can be brutal on a small business. Detours that route the public away from a business, lack of parking and pedestrian traffic, or congested traffic can all keep customers away and really hurt them,” said Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport). “The state should be working proactively with small businesses to help them do everything they can to succeed during construction.”

Said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), “DOT and Commerce ought to plan ahead and communicate with the business community, get feedback, identify ways to minimize disruption and enable businesses to make their own preparations. While we need better roads, we shouldn’t harm small businesses in the process.”

RhodeWorks, enacted in 2016, is a statewide initiative to repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient, bringing 90 percent of the state’s bridges into structural sufficiency by 2024.

Under the new law, the DOT is responsible for identifying the specific impacts of RhodeWorks projects on small businesses, such road and bridge closings, parking restrictions and traffic pattern changes, including the dates of proposed work, road closures or changes to traffic patterns or parking, and communicating that information to the Commerce Corporation with at least two months’ notice.

The Commerce Corporation is then required to assist businesses affected by RhodeWorks projects by sharing the information with small businesses in the affected communities and neighborhoods, providing support to minimize the economic and financial impact during road and bridge construction, meeting with affected businesses to review business plans during construction and providing strategic and marketing assistance as necessary.

Bill enacted to make sexual abuse reporting law more effective

Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. William W. O’Brien to improve the effectiveness of the state’s law requiring school officials to report sexual abuse has been signed into law.

Senator Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) sponsored the law passed in 2016 requiring school employees to report suspected sexual abuse cases to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in response to allegations of abuse over the course of decades at St. George’s School in Middletown. The alleged abuse was not reported to authorities, and there was no law requiring the school to do so because the mandatory reporting law at the time applied only to abuse allegations against parents, guardians or caregivers in a DCYF-licensed program – not teachers or school officials.

The legislation (2018-S 2353, 2018-H 8232), which was signed by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo this week, clarifies the circumstances in which a person should raise a flag about possible abuse, and  also designates school principals and headmasters — or another leader designated by the school —as the person who should make the report to DCYF. The new law also calls upon the Department of Education to issue policies and procedures for handling the reports, which could include training for school officials so they are well-equipped to determine when and how to report.

The changes are meant to ensure that no incident goes unreported because a school official didn’t understand what needs to be reported, and to prevent over-reporting, including multiple reports of the same incident or incidents that do not constitute abuse.

“Our goal here, above all else, is to create a system that protects kids and gives them help when they need it. There needs to be a clear understanding of when schools should contact DCYF about suspected abuse. Making the reporting law more specific will help ensure that incidents cannot be swept under the rug, while also protecting DCYF from having to waste precious resources and time investigating matters that aren’t abuse, or weeding through multiple reports about the same incident, so they can instead focus on helping children who need their services,” said Senator Goodwin.

Said Representative O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence), “Protecting students from sexual abuse is extremely important. We must make sure our laws are effective and clear, and that every adult who works with children at a school understands their responsibility when it comes to reporting suspected abuse. Making this law work optimally will help provide a quick response to abuse allegations, and will also serve as a deterrent to those who would target children at school.”

New law enacted to streamline food truck registration

Legislation introduced by Sen. Dawn Euer and House Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Patrick Kennedy to lighten the regulatory burden on operators of food trucks has been signed into law.

The State Mobile Food Establishment Registration Act (2018-S 2502B, 2018-H 7790A) which the sponsors introduced on behalf of the Department of Administration, standardizes the business registration process for trucks or carts that sell food, ice cream or lemonade by creating a state mobile food establishment registration, and would explicitly exempt such establishments from laws regulating hawkers and peddlers. Currently, food truck and cart operators must navigate different regulatory structures in each municipality in which they operate. The bill, which takes effect Jan. 1, maintains the ability of municipalities to regulate location and hours of operation.

“As popular as food trucks are, Rhode Island’s complicated regulatory hurdles for them can hinder their development. Streamlining those regulations will encourage more people to launch new and exciting businesses that support families, provide jobs and strengthen Rhode Island’s rich culinary atmosphere,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown). “All of our communities are enriched when mom-and-pop businesses are able to flourish. Eliminating overregulation is a way we can support these small businesses, enhancing the character of our communities while allowing hardworking entrepreneurs to succeed.”

Said Representative Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly), “Food truck owners go into business because they have a dream of making food people enjoy, not because they are really good at navigating complicated, confusing regulations. Everyone wins when we eliminate the red tape and help small business owners get closer to making their dreams come true.”

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