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A Hummel Report Investigation

Under the Radar

So far this year more than 1,000 bills have been filed in the Rhode Island House of Representatives and another 800 in the state Senate. This week, Jim Hummel sifts through the proposed legislation, offering a look at some of the quirkier bills flying under the public's radar.

SCRIPT

So far this year more than a thousand bills have been filed in the House and 800 in the Senate. Only a fraction of these will ever see the light of day in this part-time legislature where everything important happens in the last week of the session. This week, our look at some of the quirkier bills flying under the public's radar.

Governor Chafee is getting the lion's share of attention for his plan to broaden the state's sales tax, but this year there are dozens of bills that will nickel and dime you right into bankruptcy. Take this one from a Providence lawmaker who wants to increase fees for speeding and other motor vehicle violations. What you may not know is how many potential violations there are when you get behind the wheel. Like $85 for following too closely, or obedience to stop signs - what the rest of us call the Rhode Island slide. The person who came up with these so-called violations is obviously from out of state.

Clearly a freshmen lawmaker from Woonsocket didn't get the `tax everything' memo in his orientation packet. He wants to reduce the gas tax by five cents a gallon, and the cigarette tax by a buck a pack. Hate to break it to him, but this guy is not on the House leadership track.

For nearly three years large vehicles have been prohibited from crossing the Pawtucket River Bridge - because quite simply...it's been falling apart. But now a legislator has formalized it - making it illegal to cross the bridge if your vehicle has more than two axles. Like the $3,000 fine enough of a deterrent?

Speaking of bridges there is a bill pending that would exempt the Ironworkers Union - you know the guys who actually build the bridges from having to do drug and urine testing. With all due respect to the iron workers, aren't these the guys you'd want to make sure have a clear head when they're putting up these things?

This may be one of the most practical bills of the session. For years the education brain trust has been trying to figure out how to get underperforming schools like this one to improve. Now, one Providence representative is playing hardball threatening to lengthen the school year unless the kids shape up. How do you think that will go over when the temperature hits 90 in July?

A senator from Smithfield has filed a bill to make it illegal for kids to have cell phones in school. Illegal. That's just what we need, a new layer of cell phone police. Maybe we'll all be better off if he directed his attention to improving SAT scores.

Finally, lawmakers every year file a spate of bills directed at themselves, with varying degrees of success. This year's offering: a mandated 20-percent co pay on their health insurance. And companion bills that would require them to disclose any business dealings with those having an interest in legislation before the Assembly - or better yet, any relative employed by the state or a local community. All of those should go over a like a lead balloon.

Keep in mind, Rhode Island has a part-time legislature. Can you imagine if they were full-time up?

I'm Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.

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