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Sunday, July 16, 2017

UPDATED: "Hat trick" bills by Sue Sosnowski now SIGNED by the Governor

UPDATED: Curbs on cell phone use, renewal energy on farms and food safety bills all pass

Here is a summary of three bills that have been sent to Gov. Gina Raimondo for signature by our local state Senator Sue Sosnowski: 

UPDATE: ALL of these bills have now been signed into law by the Governor. 

Ban hand-held cell phone use by drivers

The General Assembly approved 2017-S 0175A, 2017-H 5182 introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown) to outlaw the use of any non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel or in emergency situations.

Those caught violating the provisions of the legislation () would be subject to a fine of no more than $100. That fine can be suspended for a first-time violator who provides proof of acquisition of a hands-free accessory subsequent to the violation and prior to the imposition of the fine.

The measure now heads to the governor’s office for her signature.

“Distracted driving is extremely dangerous, claiming 3,477 lives in 2015 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” said Senator Sosnowski, who has submitted the legislation for the past four years. 

“And it’s not just texting; talking on the phone while having one hand off of the wheel is equally distracting. Many of us have grown accustomed to using mobile devices in almost every aspect of our lives, including in our cars and trucks. This is especially true for our younger population, which grew up with this kind of technology embedded in their daily lives. It’s important not to forget that every time we step into a vehicle, we are taking our lives and the lives of others into our own hands.”

“According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 10 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to be ‘distracted’ at the time of the crash,” said Representative Fogarty. 

“In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.”

Renewable energy exemptions in farmland use

The General Assembly passed 2017-S 0570A, 2017-H 6095Aaa introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) that would create an exemption to the land use change tax for farmlands that establish renewable energy systems.  The measure now moves to the governor’s office.

The legislation dwould exempt no more than 20 percent of the total land acreage previously classified as farm, forest or open space land from a land use change tax if the change is for purposes of a commercial renewable energy system.

“Not only does this legislation encourage the creation of renewable energy systems in Rhode Island,” said Senator Sosnowski, who serves a chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, “it also helps farmers who are having economic struggles to pursue an additional form of income. That benefits everybody: it encourages renewable energy and helps to preserve our farmland.”

DEM will be responsible for Food Safety Act enforcement

The General Assembly passed 2017-S 720A, 2017-H 6345 introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) that would make the Department of Environmental Management responsible for enforcing the provisions of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

The legislation would authorize the director of the Department of Environmental Management to enforce the act as it pertains to commercial growers of fruits and vegetables. The measure now moves to the governor’s office.

“Our farmers are always the first to advocate for a safe food supply,” said Senator Sosnowski, who serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture. 

“This particular federal act puts an incredible burden on the small farmer. Rhode Island sells a larger percentage of direct-to-consumer produce than any other state in the country. That’s why it’s imperative that this act be enforced locally by an agency that knows farmers — namely the Division of Agriculture in the Department of Environmental Management.”

Farm organizations in the state, including the Rhode Island Farm Bureau and the Rhode Island Agricultural Council, contacted lawmakers asking that enforcement of the federal regulations be under DEM auspices rather than the Department of Health in the belief that agencies that were already familiar with agricultural needs would be better suited to implement the regulations fairly and reasonably.