Governor ceremonially signs legislation to address safety of dams throughout state

STATE HOUSE — Gov. Daniel McKee ceremonially signed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) that looks to improve the safety of dams throughout the state.

The legislation is the result of an annual report from the Department of Environmental Management on dam safety.

The first law (2022-S-2294) amends dam safety standards to require the State Building Code Standards Committee to take into account the effect of climate change on inundation areas below dams classified as high, significant, or low hazard.

“This addresses construction in inundation areas downstream from dams, and also is a good opportunity to educate people about those dams and the property damage that could result if that dam were to fail,” said Senator Sosnowski, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill. “This would help property owners to think about how they would proceed with any construction in those areas.”

The second law (2022-S-2295) authorizes the Department of Environmental Management to assess administrative penalties for failure to comply with emergency action plans relative to significant or high hazard dams and would mandate that the department and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency establish a notification system in the event of severe weather conditions consisting of dam advisories, dam watches and dam warnings.

Sen. Sosnowski’s genetic counselors legislation ceremonially signed into law

STATE HOUSE – Legislation (2022-S-2205A) sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski to establish a licensing process for genetic counselors within the Department of Health was ceremonially signed into law by the governor today.

Currently in Rhode Island, there is no legal standard to determine who can represent themselves as genetic counselors.

The legislation would ensure minimum standards for genetic counselors in the areas of academic training, certification, clinical experience and the delivery of high-quality genetic counseling services.

“This bill is about protecting our state’s patients when utilizing genetic counselors while also controlling health-care costs through the ordering of correct tests, the prevention of unnecessary testing and proper interpretation of genetic tests. These patients are experiencing significant anxiety and stress and the legislation will ensure they are treated properly and safely,” said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham).

Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. Genetic counselors are health care professionals who have specialized graduate degrees and experience in medical genetics and counseling. They serve as interpreters of medical information and help patients reach decisions that are appropriate for each individual, according to his or her own beliefs.

Some genetic counselors consult with patients for adult onset conditions such as breast and colon cancer, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and for prenatal diagnosis and pediatric genetic disorders.

General Assembly OKs legislation that would streamline application process for senior SNAP beneficiaries

STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) that would make it easier for senior citizens to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“There are many seniors who are having difficulty obtaining SNAP benefits because of the difficulty of the process,” said Senator Sosnowski. “Many seniors don’t apply for these benefits because the application and recertification process are so cumbersome. We have an aging population that’s really suffering nutritionally and we should do everything we can to make the benefits more accessible to them.”

The bill (2022-S-2317) would require the Department of Human Services to develop a plan to streamline the application, certification and recertification process for SNAP beneficiaries aged 60 and over.

“This legislation really helps our most vulnerable,” said Representative Fogarty. “Those over 60 are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, and this bill takes a difficult process and makes it a little easier by reducing the length of the application, increasing the recertification period from two to three years, and waiving the requirement of interviews for recertification.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to low-income individuals and families that are used at stores to purchase food. The program is administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service through its nationwide network of FNS field offices. Local FNS field offices are responsible for the licensing and monitoring of retail food stores participating in SNAP.

The measure now moves to the governor’s office.

Senate passes Sosnowski bill changing how CRMC administrator is appointed

STATE HOUSE — The Senate today passed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown) that would change the manner in which the administrator of the Coastal Resources Management Council is appointed.

Under the legislation (2021-S-2217), the governor, rather than the council, would appoint an executive director of the agency. The bill also adds the requirement that the gubernatorial appointment be subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The executive director would coordinate with the director of the Department of Environmental Management. The bill also defines the purpose of the director to continue planning and management of coastal resources.

“This legislation would make the CRMC a cabinet-level agency led by a governor-appointed executive director,” said Senator Sosnowski. “This is a positive step needed to modernize, update and reform the agency to achieve more accountability and transparency for an agency that performs vitally important functions that are critical to the future of Rhode Island’s environment and economy.”

The Coastal Resources Management Council is primarily responsible for the preservation, protection, development and restoration of the coastal areas of the state through the implementation of its integrated and comprehensive coastal management plans and the issuance of permits for work with the coastal zone of the state.

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate OKs package of Sosnowski bills that would address safety of dams throughout state

STATE HOUSE — The Senate today passed a package of bills introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) that looks to improve the safety of dams throughout the state.

The legislation is the result of an annual report from the Department of Environmental Management on dam safety. Each of the bills addresses a different issue that was raised as an area of concern in the report.

The first bill (2022-S-2294) would amend dam safety standards to require the State Building Code Standards Committee to take into account the effect of climate change on inundation areas below dams classified as high, significant, or low hazard.

“This addresses construction in inundation areas downstream from dams, and also is a good opportunity to educate people about those dams and the property damage that could result if that dam were to fail,” said Senator Sosnowski. “This would help property owners to think about how they would proceed with any construction in those areas.”

The second bill (2022-S-2295) would authorize the Department of Environmental Management to assess administrative penalties for failure to comply with emergency action plans relative to significant or high hazard dams and would mandate that the department and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency establish a notification system in the event of severe weather conditions consisting of dam advisories, dam watches and dam warnings.

The third bill (2022-S-2297A) would establish a fund for the purpose of facilitating the repair or removal of high hazard or significant hazard dams that are unsafe when the dam is classified as an orphan or insolvent dam. The state would have the right of cost recovery against any dam owner for all sums of money expended by the fund plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation.

“The state has a number of dams whose ownership is a mystery due to how long ago they were built,” said Senator Sosnowski. “There are other owners of problematic dams who just don’t have the financial means to carry out repairs, yet those repairs need to be done for purposes of public safety and property protection. This fund would allow the state to assess and repair those dams so they don’t pose a threat to people or property downstream.”

The measures now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Assembly passes Sen. Sosnowski's legislation to allow URI trustee meetings to be held virtually

STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly passed legislation sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty that would allow University of Rhode Island trustee members to remotely participate in meetings. Senator Sosnowski’s bill was passed on Tuesday and Representative Fogarty’s bill was passed on Thursday.

“This bill will grant URI’s trustees the flexibility to continue guiding the university through these challenging times. URI has continuously and successfully adapted to ever-changing difficulties and this bill will allow them to continue to lead the university into a prosperous future,” said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham).

The legislation (2022-S-2372) amends the General Laws by striking the provision that meeting virtually is only allowed if trustee members are unable to be physically present at the meeting location. The bill also states that a trustee quorum is achieved through participating in the meeting, not whether or not a member is present at the meeting location.

The bills now head to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Senate roundtable discussion highlights climate action priorities, including renewable energy, water infrastructure, climate jobs

STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday hosted a public conversation focused on several key environmental priorities.

“An Environmental Roundtable Discussion: Renewable Energy, Clean Water & Jobs” brought together senators, advocates, and others from the community. The discussion centered on proposals to increase Rhode Island’s reliance on renewable energy, protect water resources, and better prepare the state’s workforce for the green jobs these environmental and climate resiliency initiatives create.

“Climate action has never been more urgent. That’s because climate change is not some distant threat. It is here. And we are already feeling its effects,” Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) said during introductory remarks.

He added: “We must act now to reduce our carbon emissions, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and make our communities resilient. That means generating new sources of renewable energy, protecting our most essential resources, and creating a green economy … Confronting this crisis requires commitment from all of us. It requires innovation and collaboration. It requires a true spirit of community.”

Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture, and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, facilitated the discussion.

“The bills we are highlighting today represent just a portion of the Senate’s work on climate action … So many of my colleagues have embraced these issues, and there are many innovative and important proposals either before us already or in the works,” Sen. Euer said.

“As the Ocean State, we all have such a vital interest in climate action. Our state is incredibly special, and it is a wonderful place to live,” Sen. Sosnowski said. “We want to ensure that our children, and their children, can enjoy everything Rhode Island has to offer.”

The roundtable discussion included bill sponsors and key stakeholders from the public. In addition to President Ruggerio and Sens. Euer and Sosnowski, participants included:

  • Michael J. McCaffrey, Senate Majority Leader
  • Hanna M. Gallo, Senate President Pro Tempore
  • Ana B. Quezada, Deputy Senate Majority Whip
  • Walter S. Felag, Jr., Chairman, Senate Committee on Special Legislation & Veterans’ Affairs
  • Jeremy McDiarmid, Vice President, Policy & Government Affairs, New England Clean Energy Council
  • Priscilla De La Cruz, President, Environmental Council of Rhode Island
  • Steven J. King, Managing Director, Quonset Development Corporation
  • Patrick Crowley, Secretary-Treasurer, RI AFL-CIO
  • Michael Sabitoni, President, Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council
  • Michael Grey, Chairman, Governor’s Workforce Board

The discussion took place in the Senate Lounge. It is available in full for viewing via the General Assembly’s website.

The conversation was based around the following package of bills:

Renewable Energy:

  • The Affordable Clean Energy Security Act: S-2583, sponsored by Sen. Euer, aims to move Rhode Island closer to a clean energy future by requiring electric providers to issue a request for proposals for 600 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity by August 2022. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture
  • 100% Renewable Energy Standard for electricity: This bill, S-2274, which the Senate passed last year, has been reintroduced by President Ruggerio. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce.
  • $300 million school bond issue: This bill puts a statewide referendum on the November ballot for the next round of school construction funding. The bill includes incentives for green construction: a 5% bonus to the state share when school districts include certain energy efficiency measures in their projects, and a 10% bonus to the state reimbursement rate when they meet the highest standards for energy efficiency. The bill also adds a staff member at the School Building Authority dedicated to green building standards. This proposal, S-2596, is sponsored by Sen. Gallo. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

Water Infrastructure:

  • Replacement of all lead pipes: Legislation is in development to identify and replace all lead pipes, giving priority to communities hardest hit by the presence of lead pipes. This will be sponsored by Majority Leader McCaffrey.
  • Dam safety bills: sponsored by Sen. Sosnowski, three dam safety bills (all referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture):
  • Establish a fund to pay for dam repairs or replacement (S-2297);
  • Create a dam hazard notification system and allow the Department of Environmental Management to set penalties for noncompliance with dam emergency action plans (S-2295); and
  • Require that building codes account for high-hazard dams (S-2294).
  • PFAS abatement: requires water suppliers to monitor for presence of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The legislation (S-2298), sponsored by Sen. Felag requires establishment of standards and regulation of PFAS in drinking water and groundwater. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture.

Workforce Development:

  • Renewable energy labor standards: This legislation would ensure that larger renewable energy projects utilize labor standards, including apprenticeship utilization. Any project over 2 megawatts receiving public dollars would be subject to these provisions. This bill, which is in development, will be filed by President Ruggerio.
  • Makes the Real Jobs RI program permanent: The effective Real Jobs RI worker training program trains and connects workers with sectors of the workforce where they are needed, such as in the green economy and in the trades, which already have a strong partnership with Real Jobs. Real Jobs RI is a crucial vehicle for fueling the growth of green jobs, many of which are in the trades. This bill, which the Senate passed a version of last year, will be resubmitted by President Ruggerio.
  • Corrosion prevention apprenticeships: This bill calls for the creation of registered apprenticeships for individuals who apply corrosion prevention materials. It would ensure these individuals are credentialed and meet the highest standards, and would apply to all public projects, helping to ensure community resiliency. This program would help ensure the next generation of tradesmen and women will have the skills and certification they need to properly perform corrosion prevention and mitigation. This work ensures the longevity and protection of our state’s infrastructure. The bill, S-2303, is sponsored by Sen. Quezada. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture.

Recognizing our First Responders

Twenty years ago, following the horrors of the September 11 attacks, Americans stood in solidarity with our heroes on the front lines. It seemed that all of us recognized the courage and valor of our first responders.

Americans are more polarized today, but I am grateful that the vast majority of my colleagues in the Senate still respect and appreciate the vital role of first responders in keeping us safe.

This session I was proud to win Senate passage of a pair of bills to recognize the tremendous work of the numerous local volunteer firefighters who selflessly serve their community.

In May, the Senate unanimously passed a Resolution I sponsored to honor the heroism of several Union Fire District volunteers who located and saved an unresponsive man and his dog in a structure fire. Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to these volunteer firefighters Deputy Chief Tony Cinquegrana, Captain Tyler Parks, Lieutenant Eric Holmander, and Firefighters Matthew Viner and Daniel Kiley.

The Senate also passed legislation allowing municipalities to provide property tax exemptions to their volunteer firefighters. Under the bill, cities and towns across the state could, if they choose, offer their volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians a break on their property taxes.I will continue to work with my colleagues to win passage of this important bill through the House of Representatives so that this modest but important proposal can be implemented. It is a small token to recognize the valor and selfless service of the volunteer firefighters who protect us.

Newly signed laws protect women's equity and health

Representatives Justine A. Caldwell, Susan Donovan, Carol Hagan McEntee, and Katherine S. Kazarian; Senators Gayle Goldin, Valarie J. Lawson, and V. Susan Sosnowski; and House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi; Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio joined Gov. Dan. McKee and women's advocates and organizations today for the ceremonial signing of multiple pieces of legislation that will support women's health and equity in Rhode Island.

The first bill ensures pay equity for all employees, regardless of gender or ethnicity.

“I have experienced first-hand what it’s like to be paid unequally when you are doing comparable work,” said Rep. Susan Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), bill sponsor. “It’s a devastating blow, both emotionally and financially, for so many women and people of color across Rhode Island. Women work just as hard as our counterparts to advance our careers and support our families, and we deserve to be compensated equally. This bill has been my priority since my first term in the legislature, and I am thrilled to see it pass the General Assembly.”

“This legislation provides employees a more effective, realistic set of tools for addressing unfair pay practices, and it helps our state identify unequal pay where it occurs,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), bill sponsor. “While we have always known wage disparity is a problem, the pandemic has forced a disproportionate number of women out of the workforce completely, compounding the inequity women already faced. This bill will go a long way toward addressing the gaping holes in our existing fair pay laws and establishing financial stability for Rhode Island employees and their families.”

The second bill bans health insurers from using gender rating, a discriminatory practice of charging women and men different premiums for individual insurance.

“Women face unconscionable disparities when buying health insurance in the individual market,” said Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), bill sponsor. “Women sometimes are charged 10 percent to 25 percent to 50 percent more than men for insurance providing identical coverage, especially during the age bracket associated with child-bearing years.”

“The discrimination that women have faced when it comes to the costs of health insurance has existed for far too long and needs to end,” said Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), bill sponsor. “If we truly value the positive impacts of regular healthcare, there is no reason women should be discriminated against and forced to pay much higher rates for their medical care. This bill will eliminate this gross injustice and finally bring women in our state the healthcare equality that they rightfully deserve.”

The third bill will require all public schools to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost.

“We all know how necessary feminine hygiene products are, but what many people do not realize, and I see this as a long time educator, is that a lack of access to these products can cause students to miss crucial school days. These products are a daily necessity to so many students and just as schools provide toilet paper for the bathrooms, these products should also be readily accessible for our students in need,” said Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), bill sponsor.

“These products are not luxuries, they are necessities for many of our students. If soap and paper towels are available in bathrooms, so should feminine hygiene products, it’s as simple as that. This bill will prevent the embarrassment suffered by our students who have an accident during the school day and afford them the dignity that they deserve,” said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), bill sponsor.

The fourth bill will allow candidates for office to use campaign funds for child care while they are participating in campaign or officeholder activities.

“Rhode Island is better served when our elected officials truly reflect the people they represent, and that includes parents of young children. Child care expenses are a roadblock that excludes people from running for local or state office and participating in the political process,” said Senator Goldin, bill sponsor. “You shouldn’t have to be wealthy to run for office.”

“While child care can be a concern for potential candidates of any gender, it is a consideration that can deter many women from running for office. Guaranteeing the legitimacy of using campaign funds in this way can help to encourage more women to run, bringing valuable perspective to state and local government. Child care that enables a candidate to perform their political or officeholder activities is a necessity, so of course it should be recognized as a valid campaign expense,” said Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), bill sponsor.

The fifth bill will protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence by allowing people to request that their insurers send health communications directly to them instead of a parent or spouse.

“While federal laws have long guaranteed health care privacy rights between a patient and clinician, those protections fall apart when the health insurance industry sends information about the visit to the patient’s home. The details included in the statements that are mailed to insurance policyholders can discourage patients from seeking a medical intervention that they need. We want to make sure everyone feels safe to seek the full range of care: from mental health, to reproductive care, to getting a broken bone set. Our bill will provide an option to protect patients who need health care without their family knowing all of the details,” said Senator Goldin, bill sponsor.

“Ultimately, this bill is about keeping Rhode Islanders safe and eliminating roadblocks that keep people from seeking the treatment they need. Adult children on a parent’s health insurance policy should not have to worry about that information being shared. And no one should be put in danger by having their personal health care information sent to someone with whom they would rather not share it,” said Representative Donovan, bill sponsor.

“I'm proud to support women's health and equity. Today, Rhode Island is closing a number of discriminatory gaps and eliminating a collection of practices that have unfairly impacted women for generations,” said Governor Dan McKee. “Thank you to the remarkable and dedicated group of legislators who worked day-in and day-out to ensure that these bills became law, and to the advocates whose tireless work and spirit ensured that this progress continues.”

New law increases net metering for Block Island, Pascoag utility districts

A new law introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi (R-Dist. 36, New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly) will allow for increases in net metering peak for utility districts in New Shoreham and Burrillville.

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. The bill (2021-S 0022, 2021-H 5503) amends the maximum peak load of allowable capacity for the net metering systems in the Block Island Utility District and the Pascoag Utility District to not exceed a maximum peak load set by the utility district.

“State law restricts net metering for private solar and wind installations,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The Block Island Utility District Board of Commissioners have been developing a new policy for further installations. In order for that to happen, we need to lift the cap on net metering beyond the allowed percentage.”

The bill, which took effect immediately when it was signed yesterday, changes the maximum aggregate amount of net metering from 3% to a percentage set by the utility district based on its operational characteristics, subject to approval of the Public Utilities Commission.

“On Block Island, we’re an environmentally conscious community, and we’ve already used our 3% capacity,” said Leader Filippi. “There are hundreds of homeowners that want to purchase solar voltaic cells and put them on their roofs and produce clean renewable energy. This bill is necessary for Block Islanders to increase their solar capacity.”

New law to increase use of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil

The General Assembly has approved and the governor has signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski to phase in significantly higher percentages of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil sold in the state.

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils such as used cooking oil and soy byproducts. It must meet standards and is blended with petroleum heating oil to burn cleaner and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It requires no alteration to existing heating equipment.

Rhode Island already requires heating oil to be sold as a mix that contains 5 percent biodiesel. That requirement was phased in between 2014 and 2017 under legislation that Senator Sosnowski sponsored and Representative Ruggiero cosponsored in 2013.

The new law will phase in higher percentages of biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel blended into home heating oil. It requires home heating oil to be 10% biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel in 2023, 20% in 2025 and 50% in 2030. Renewable hydrocarbon diesel is made from the same vegetable oils as biodiesel, but through a different process that requires higher pressures and temperatures. Some large refineries are being converted to make renewable hydrocarbon diesel.

“Every gallon of biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% when compared to a gallon of petroleum heating oil. A blend of 15% biodiesel burns cleaner and has more greenhouse gas reductions than natural gas,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). “Local leaders in the heating oil industry helped develop this bill, because they understand that in order to stay in business today, they need to modernize and eliminate their carbon intensity by doing what’s right for healthy outcomes for all of us. When people build homes they can go with gas or electric, but with biodiesel blends, home heating oil burns more efficiently and cleaner.”

Said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Biodiesel reduces the emissions of soot and toxins released into the air. The Environmental Protection Agency’s research indicates that biodiesel emits 11% less carbon monoxide and 10% less particulate matter than diesel. A study done by the departments of Energy and Agriculture found that use of biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%. Unlike petroleum, which contains sulfur and carcinogens, biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable.”

According to the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island, in 2017, the existing 5-percent requirement resulted in the use of 12 million gallons of biodiesel being blended into heating oil in the state, diverting cooking oil and other byproducts from landfills and reducing our reliance on petroleum products by 12 million gallons. About one-third of Rhode Island homes rely on oil heat.

Switching to higher concentrations of biodiesel in home heating oil will help Rhode Island achieve the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, established through the Act on Climate passed earlier this year. Those goals are to reach emissions that are 10 percent below 1990 levels this year, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2040 and net-zero by 2050. Approximately 35% of Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions are from heating.

Enacting the bill helps keep Rhode Island in step with neighboring states. Connecticut’s lawmakers passed similar legislation last month, and Massachusetts has an incentive that currently results in much of its home heating oil supply being sold at a 10-percent blend.

Ban on intentional release of balloons signed into law

The General Assembly has approved and the governor has signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Susan R. Donovan and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski to protect the environment and wildlife by prohibiting the intentional release of large groups of balloons.

The new law, which takes effect Nov. 1, bans intentional, simultaneous releases of 10 or more balloons into the air.

All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable, end up as litter on waterways and landscapes. Animals, attracted by their vibrant colors and shapes, mistake them for food, causing injury or death to countless sea and land creatures each year. Balloons are also a nuisance to commercial fishermen and can even cause power outages when they tangle with power lines.

“Balloons may conjure up sweet images of childhood innocence, and the sight of them rising into the sky may seem wondrous and beautiful. But what goes up must come down, and when balloons come down, they become a particularly insidious kind of litter. They often end up in the water, and are among the types of plastic litter that kill and painfully maim fish, birds and other wildlife,” said Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). “Releasing balloons is harmful. While I’m grateful that these events have become rarer in recent years as awareness of their impact has spread, they should be made illegal to ensure that they become a thing of the past. Dumping hazardous plastic into the environment is not a suitable celebration of anything in 2021.”

Said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Rhode Island’s identity, much of our economy and our lifestyle are so dependent upon a healthy ocean. Releasing balloons in the Ocean State – where 21 of the 39 cities and towns are coastal – is just not in line with way of life or our efforts to improve our environment. Releasing balloons is littering and endangering animals, and it should not be tolerated in Rhode Island.”

The legislation provides exceptions for scientific or meteorological balloon launches with government permission, hot air balloon launches and indoor releases. It applies only to intentional release, not accidental release. Each violation is punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent ones.

According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 503 balloons were found along Rhode Island’s shoreline during the September 2019 International Coastal Cleanup.

The legislation had widespread support from environmental groups across Rhode Island and fishermen’s associations. In 2018, the New Shoreham Town Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a means of addressing this issue. The new law does not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.

Representative Donovan, an avid kayaker who represents a coastal district, has witnessed firsthand the danger balloons pose to animals. A few years ago, while kayaking on the Sakonnet River off Portsmouth with a friend, she encountered a seagull entangled in the string of a balloon. She captured the gull, which was injured and suffering, and used some nail clippers she had with her to free it from the string.

Governor signs law allowing for the direct dockside sale of fish

Gov. Dan McKee has signed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown) and Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown) that allows for the direct dockside sale of fish.

The law permits the dockside sale of allowable species upon issuance of a direct sale dealer license by the Department of Environmental Management to a commercial fishing license holder. The legislation allows finfish to be processed but not filleted dockside from the vessel. Lobsters, crabs and whelk would be sold live.

“Commercial fisheries have taken a particular beating during the COVID pandemic,” said Senator Sosnowski. “Those in the seafood industry are just starting to get back on their feet now since the closure of restaurants and other businesses and supply chains.”

Last year, Senator Sosnowski worked closely with the DEM and members of the shellfishing industry to find alternatives to the supply chain and to ensure that the seafood industry is protected and served. The DEM issued provisions temporarily allowing fishermen to sell their catch dockside to consumers and retailers.

“Commercial fisheries are an important part of the coastal economy of Rhode Island,” said Representative Fogarty. “This bill is a lifeline to that industry while preserving safety and public health by ensuring that all seafood be stored and handled in a safe and sanitary manner pursuant to department regulations.”

Clean Water Association honors Senator Sosnowski as legislator of the year

The Rhode Island Clean Water Association has honored Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) as its 2021 Legislator of the Year.

The award recognizes outstanding legislative contributions to ensuring clean water for Rhode Island. Senator Sosnowski was recognized for her persistent efforts in phasing out cesspools.

“The Rhode Island Clean Water Association created the Clean Water Legislator of the Year Award to recognize all the hard work involved in getting substantial, effective legislation enacted in support of the water environment. We selected Senator Susan Sosnowski for the 2020 award because of her persistent efforts over many years to phase out cesspools,” said RICWA President Peter J. Connell.


The award was announced during the Rhode Island Clean Water Legislative Summit, held virtually Feb. 25. House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, Senator Jack Reed and Congressman Jim Langevin all spoke, along with R.I. Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, Narragansett Bay Commission Executive Director Laurie Horridge and Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone.

“I am honored that the Clean Water Association would recognize my efforts in improving the quality of water in Rhode Island,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The bill I sponsored, which became law, is an important step in improving Narragansett Bay and our drinking water.”

Established in 1952, the Rhode Island Clean Water Association (RICWA), formerly the Narragansett Water Pollution Control Association (NWPCA), is a nonprofit organization created to promote the advancement of knowledge concerning the nature, collection, treatment, and disposal of domestic and industrial wastewaters.