Health Care, Gambling, and Education Top Legislative Agenda (posted January 4, 2000)

Health care, gambling, and taxes top the General Assembly agenda for 2000 as the legislature comes back into session. With the collapse of Harvard Pilgrim health providers that left nearly 120,000 Rhode Islanders having to scramble for a new carrier, legislators are going to struggle with how to provide access to quality health care without introducing an expensive new social program. With the third year of reductions in income taxes, auto taxes, and business inventory taxes restricting the ability of the General Assembly to propose new programs, legislators may be forced to adopt procedural reforms requiring better disclosure for carriers that leave the state. Currently, there are tough disclosure rules and regulations for new carriers who enter the state, but none for those that withdraw. Legislators almost certainly will fill that void with new rules mandating disclosure of financial information and sufficient prior notification as to allow consumers more time to deal with health care disruptions.

The Narragansett Indian tribe will renew its effort to place an item on the 2000 ballot that would allow it to build a gambling casino. A staunch opponent of the expansion of casino gambling, Governor Lincoln Almond has promised to veto this legislation. To override the governor's veto, 60 percent of the members of both the House and Senate would have to vote to overturn the governor. While there may be majorities in each chamber willing to put a gambling referendum on the ballot, it is not clear at this time whether there is the 60 percent super-majority required to overcome the governor's opposition.

Education promises to continue to be a major concern in the Statehouse as many legislators and citizens complain about the quality of public education in Rhode Island. Right now, the issue is bogged down in a legal battle between central cities and suburbs over the formula used to distribute school aid funds. While that issue winds through the courts, legislators will have to decide whether they can find new funds for public schools or whether the Assembly can come up with some way to redirect the manner in which current monies are spent.