The House passed a bill on Tuesday sponsored by South Kingstown Rep. Donna Walsh that will create a Council of Economic Advisors from the public and private sectors to collect and publish economic data, as well as advise the governor and secretary of commerce.
The legislation, (2013-H 6070Aaa), sponsored Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) is part of a larger package of bills passed on Tuesday intended to shake up the way the state fosters economic development opportunities in Rhode Island.
The legislation aims to ensure the state’s economic development efforts are guided by a well-developed plan with long-term and short-term goals. The bills also streamline the state’s commerce-related activities into a single entity, increase accountability and encourage business growth through incentives. With the passage of the six bills today, 11 of the 18 bills in the House leadership package have now passed the House. House Speaker Gordon D. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence) said several of the other bills will likely be included as part of the budget.
“Our goal this year has been to introduce economic development policies that work, with a forward-thinking, sustainable strategy,” Speaker Fox said. “The Executive Office of Commerce would have the tools, authority and oversight it needs to support those policies and strategies so that Rhode Island can step up to create jobs and an economy with a competitive edge. The supporting programs and policies from the legislative package that have passed the House thus far are all part of a carefully integrated plan to shape our state’s future.”
Five similar pieces of legislation passed the House Tuesday:
· (2013-H 6063A) – Sponsored by House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), this bill creates the Executive Office of Commerce headed by a Secretary of Commerce, transfers many functions currently assigned to the Department of Business Regulations, Department of Labor and Training and the Department of Administration to align functions and improve coordination of processes for the business community.
· (2013-H 6069A) – Sponsored by House Majority Leader Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston), this bill establishes an Economic Development Planning Council to convene once every four years in the same years as gubernatorial elections, to develop economic policy and a strategic plan for implementing it.
· (2013-H 6071) – Sponsored by House Majority Whip Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston, Cranston), this bill replaces the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (RICC), which would be responsible for setting guidelines for financial program oversight and evaluation. The secretary of commerce would serve as its chairman and CEO, and a COO would run the corporation.
· (2013-H 6067) – Sponsored by Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol,Warren), this bill creates a more customer-centric Business Development Center. The center would include an ombudsmen and concierge call service.
· (2013-H 6068A) – Sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), this bill establishes “Rapid Rhody,” a small business loan program to provide more timely access to capital for employers with fewer than 100 employees. The program would be coordinated with the existing Small Business Loan Program.
The legislative package was developed during the course of this session after the House held an economic conference in January. Lawmakers used a variety of stakeholders and experts as a sounding board for ideas to improve the state’s economy. Following up on that conference, the committees of the House convened numerous public hearings with testimony offered by business, regulatory, workforce development and education leaders to aid in the development of the legislation.