Builders Request More Space Tops List of Legislative Session’s Lesser-Known Bills
February 17, 2020
PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly is taking its first weeklong recess, beginning on Presidents Day, Feb. 17. Here are few lesser-known bills from the first five weeks of the 2020 session:
The Rhode Island Builders Association wants to make a deal. For any residential land that is preserved from development, converted to ground-mounted solar arrays, or other commercial development, the municipality must set aside residential property of an equal amount in another part of the city or town.
The bill (H7256) is opposed by land conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy and the Rhode Island Land Trust Council. Land planning advocates Grow Smart Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association say the program would make it difficult for municipalities to implement their comprehensive plans.
The legislation is also opposed at the state level by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Office of Energy Resources, and the Division of Statewide Planning.
Grow Smart noted that most land in cities and towns is already zoned residential. To be forced to convert more property for home building would make it harder to expand commercial development, build schools, and preserve farms and forests.
Rupert Friday, director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, said land preservation decisions are typically left up to the property owner, not municipalities.
“The municipal planning and zoning authority does not regulate property owners’ rights not to develop their property,” he said.
The bill was held for further study.
DEM opposes a bill (H7281) that allows the public to harvest wild mushrooms on state land. The collection is only for personal use but DEM is concerned that certain restricted areas will be disturbed. Poisonous mushrooms may also be collected unintentionally and pose a health risk, according to the state agency. The bill died in committee last year.
Tax break for flooding
Realtors and environmental groups back a bill (H7083) that allows cities and towns to give a tax break for improvements to flood-prone property. The property tax exemption wouldn’t apply to the entire property but to the assessed value of improvements such as levees and flood walls. It would also include credit for the demolition, elevation, and relocation of structures.
Advocates for the bill say improvements would stabilize falling property tax revenue for properties most at risk to sea-level rise and coastal and riverine flooding. The program, they say, will improve municipal credit ratings and lower insurance costs for property owners.
The company managing Rhode Island’s program for collecting leftover paint has amassed an $800,000 reserve account since the program began in 2012. A 75-cent fee assessed at the purchase of a 1-gallon can of paint funds the nonprofit take-back service, which is run by PaintCare Inc. A bill (H7337) would allow Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the quasi-state agency that operates the Central Landfill, and other entities to bid on the service rather than allow the state to select a vendor. PaintCare, based in Washington, D.C., offers the service in eight other states and says it’s the only company in the country that manages paint take-back programs.
The bill was heard Feb. 13 and is expected to get a vote by the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources on Feb. 27.
Senate bill S2111 expands the state prohibition on idling beyond diesel-powered vehicles to include all vehicles. The 2007 law prohibits idling longer than 5 minutes during a 60-minute period. The Conservation Law Foundation supports the bill, noting the health problems linked to exhaust such as asthma and cancer.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation wants exemptions for all construction vehicles within work zones, public-works vehicles, and DOT maintenance operation vehicles. Exempted vehicles of note include snow plows, street sweepers, cement trucks, and vehicles with flashing arrow boards.
The bill is expected to be amended to exclude emergency-response vehicles and the exemptions sought by DOT.
In an effort to control the spread of destructive plants such as bamboo, the Senate heard a bill (S2110) that outlaws the sale, import, possession, and purchase of invasive plants. DEM says it supports the idea but needs more staff and funding to implement the current law, which prohibits the possession and import of freshwater aquatic plants. The Rhode Island Farm Bureau wants a study commission to first determine which plants would be banned because non-native plants used for farming might be prohibited, such as alfalfa and Sudan grass.
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