January 9, 2022 Letter

I hope your New Year has begun in good health. Last Tuesday, the Rhode Island Senate began the 2022 session by approving a supplemental budget of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, overriding two vetoes and confirming judicial appointments. 

As discussed in my December 19, 2021 letter, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed gaps in our social service “safety net,” as well as continuing challenges for the State’s economic recovery. The Senate approved a supplemental budget with a “down payment” of $119 million in ARPA funds to address these issues, which I was pleased to support with my vote. As this year’s session continues, the Senate Finance Committee will hold hearings to develop a budget (in coordination with the House Finance Committee) to make best use of the remaining almost $1 billion of ARPA funds. I look forward to working on that issue and keeping you informed.

Tuesday’s first veto override vote involved a bill introduced by Senator Euer requiring the registration of “short term rentals,” which are rooms and homes that are listed by such platforms as AirBnb. While these rentals provide benefits to property owners and visitors, they require regulation in such areas as compliance with the fire safety code. As I described in a letter I wrote while on the City Council, Providence has begun to regulate these properties, especially those in which the owner is in effect an absentee landlord, presenting the risk of “party houses” and disruptions to the neighborhood. The veto override (which I voted to support) passed both the Rhode Island House and Senate, and the new law will require short-term rental platforms (which had opposed the bill) to cooperate with the Department of Business Regulation in assembling the registration. I believe this legislation advances consumer protection and public safety, while still allowing property owners and tourists to make use of this alternative.

The other vetoed bill contains three measures to reset the balance between and among automobile repair shops, insurance companies and the public. I agreed with the first two of them, which require insurance companies (1) to disclose more information to insureds about “total loss” vehicle disposals and (2) to use consistent price lists when paying for repairs. I voted against the bill, however, because of the third measure’s (in my opinion) overbroad definition of the insurance company’s payment obligations to auto repair shops for “sublet services,” such as towing companies, or when the auto repair shop sends a car to a dealer to repair the vehicle’s computer system. The bill requires the insurance company to pay the auto repair shop an “automotive industry standard markup” in addition to the charge by the “sublet service” and the repair shop’s staffing costs to monitor and coordinate the outside work. In my opinion, it is not necessary for the auto body shop to receive an overhead profit for this outside service when it already is being made whole for the payment to the “sublet service” (including the outside vendor’s profit) and for its own related staffing and coordinating costs. I also have concerns about the granular level of detail contained in the bill itself. I believe it is better for this type of detail to be addressed through regulations rather than through a statute. Both the Rhode Island House and Senate passed the veto override. The administration now has the opportunity, through regulations, to define the term “automotive industry standard markup” in a way that will advance consumer protection.