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The Rest of the Bunch

The early part of this year’s General Assembly session was consumed by the truck toll legislation. With that in the rear-view mirror, lawmakers can now focus on more than 1,500 other bills filed since January. This week Jim Hummel takes a closer look at some of the more bizarre bills - from a proposal to move Rhode Island into the Atlantic Time Zone to a bill that would decriminalize shoplifting.


Now that the bridge toll brouhaha is behind us - for now anyway - the legislature can get down to considering some of the 1,500 plus bills filed since January alone. Among them: making it criminal to be a cat hoarder or giving schools the option of not having fire drills during winter months. We pored through all of the bills - so you wouldn’t have to - and picked out some of our favorites.
The Chairman of the House Finance has proposed a law requiring the state budget office to produce a citizens guide to the state budget that is quote: `easily readable and understandable by the general public.’ A great idea, but the real question is: how many lawmakers do you think understand the $9 billion budget they’ll vote on later this session?
Another bill would require the state DOT to establish a toll-free pothole hotline, presumably to report potholes on state roads - the bill doesn’t say anything about actually getting them fixed. It even suggests a number - 1-800- or 1-888-POTHOLE. We all know the way these things go. How about 1-800 DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH?
Here’s another beauty: crackdown on one variation of what drivers around here fondly refer to as The Rhode Island Slide. One lawmaker actually filed a bill that would prohibit motorists from moving into the intersection at a light waiting to turn. It carries up to a $1,000 for a third violation. The question is: who’s keeping track of all this?
There is good news for shoplifters. One veteran representative thinks it’s a good idea to reclassify shoplifting from a crime to just a violation for a first offense. But a second violation would bump it up to a misdemeanor, with only a fine and no chance of prison.
But there’s bad news if you have to go to court to fight that second shoplifting violation or any other potential criminal charge. A proposed law would impose a so-called `occupational tax’ on any out of state attorney appearing in a Rhode Island court, even if they’ve been given permission to do so. Just expect that to get tacked on to you legal bill.
Two bills come under the heading of Massachusetts-wannabe: The first would allow the use of the break-down lanes for travel on Rhode Island’s highways, just like they do on the Southeast expressway in Massachusetts. The law apparently was written by someone who has never been behind the wheel around Rhode Island Drivers at rush hour.
The other law would authorize Rhode Island to move into the Atlantic Time Zone - that’s one hour ahead of where we are now folks - but only if Massachusetts takes the lead and does it first. Some people think Rhode Island is years behind the rest of the world. This would put us an hour ahead of many. And if it does pass, we’d all have an excuse for being late to work for at least a month.
Likewise, a bill that would rename the Pawtucket River Bridge the Mayor James E. Doyle Pawtucket River Bridget after its longtime retired leader would not only drive the traffic reporters crazy trying to say all of that during the rush hour report - it would take at least three more generations before anybody actually calls it that. 
Better mark your calendars now: another proposed bill would designate the third Saturday in April every year as ``Historic Cemetery Restoration Day.’’ I know I have nothing better to do on a beautiful spring day than raise awareness for the importance of preserving and restoring dozens of historic cemeteries in Rhode Island.
Here’s a Game Changer for Rhode Island’s Business community: a lawmaker’s proposal to reduce the annual minimum corporate business tax from $450 to $399. That $51 savings should create or preserve a lot of jobs, jobs, jobs.
One common-sense bill would allow schools like my elementary school here in Barrington to store epinephrine injections - you know them as epi pens - in case of an emergency while in class. We’ve come a long way from my days when you could be bleeding from the carotid artery and the nurse - was she even a nurse? - would give you….a sour ball.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good office pool around NCAA Tournament time? Okay, it’s technically illegal - but a bill offered up by one sports-loving representative could change all of that.
March Madness has grown into one of the biggest sporting events of the year - spread over three weekends and resulting in many wasted hours at work. You may remember that some state workers got pinched by the state police a couple of years back for running a seemingly-innocent office pool. 
That would all change under a law that says basically if the pool is among friends and no bookie is involved - it would be no harm, no foul.
But you better call your senator or rep and tell them to get off the schnide and pass the bill - there’s only one week left until March Madness begins.
And think about this: Last year a total of 2,400 bills were submitted. Of those less than 2 percent became law. And this year it will cost taxpayers $35 million to run their part-time legislature.
You do the math for the return on investment we’re getting from our lawmakers. 
At the State House, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.

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