senior legislation

When the dust settles. Looking back at 2024’s legislative days – Herb Weiss

By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues

Over a week ago, after being in session for 49 legislative days (opening day was Jan. 2, 2024), the Rhode Island General Assembly held its final session at 4pm on June 13, 2024, and ended at about 1:30am on June 14, 2024. During this year’s legislative session 1,167 bills and resolutions were introduced in the Senate, and 1,369 in the House. This total does not include Resolutions, which were  congratulatory in nature or noted prominent Rhode Island residents who have passed away.

With the dust settling at the end of this year’s session, there were 249 bills that passed both the House and Senate, and that are now sitting on Gov. Dan McKee’s desk for his signature to enact, or to pass without signature, or to be rejected.

“This was an outstanding legislative year for Rhode Island’s seniors,” observes House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “In addition to all the investments for seniors made in the state budget that has been signed by Governor McKee, there were excellent bills that will be of great benefit to our aging population, he says. 

Attacking the housing crisis head on

In a joint statement, the House Speaker and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said, “It is critical to attack our housing crisis from many different angles. Allowing ADUs in other states has been proven to make a significant impact by immediately increasing available housing supply.  We are confident that ADUs will be beneficial for the many Rhode Islanders who need flexibility in housing options, particularly seniors wishing to age in place in their communities,” they say.

Shekarchi points out the enactment of ADU legislation sponsored by House Commission on Housing Affordability Chairwoman June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren Bristol) and Sen. Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingston) that would boost the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which are also known as in-law apartments. The House Speaker is the House bill’s top co-sponsor.

“I have heard from so many seniors who would like to downsize and continue to live independently, but would enjoy the extra assurance of living on the property of their children,” he noted, thanking AARP Rhode Island and housing advocates, including Rhode Island Housing, Grow Smart RI and Housing Network RI, who pushed this “significant legislation” across the finish line. 

The bills (2024-H 7062A2024-S 2998A) would provide homeowners statewide the right to develop a single ADU on an owner-occupied property or within the existing footprint of their structures or on any lot larger than 20,000 square feet, provided that the ADU’s design satisfies building code, size limits and infrastructure requirements.

The purpose of the bill is to encourage the development of rental units that are likely to be more affordable than many other apartments, and also to provide opportunities for homeowners with extra space to generate income that helps them maintain ownership of that property.

To ensure that the bill achieves its goal of housing Rhode Islanders, the legislation prohibits ADUs constructed under this provision from being used as short-term rentals, and streamlines the permitting process.

In the HEALTH arena

According to Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, several legislative proposals in the Senate’s health care package passed the General Assembly.

“Few issues are as important as health care, and right now, our health care system is in critical condition. Health care absolutely must be accessible and affordable for all Rhode Islanders,” says Ruggerio, noting that for too many people in the Ocean State is too expensive or too difficult to get. “And we know that many health care providers are feeling enormous strain due to many factors,” he adds.

“Like providers and consumers, our community hospitals, including Fatima in my district, are facing difficult circumstances,” said the Senate President, who recognized his Senate colleagues in the development of this package of legislation.

“As we celebrate our victories in the 2024 session, we are committed to continuing our work on this issue and accomplishing all the objectives of the HEALTH initiative. “

According to Ruggerio, several legislative proposals in the Senate leadership’s HEALTH (Holistic Enhancement and Access Legislation for Total Health) initiative include legislative proposals to join five interstate licensing compacts to make it easier for Rhode Islanders to access the care they need and budget provisions to use $1 million of general revenue to purchase debts of struggling Rhode Islanders and incentivize providers to enter primary care fields.

Advocates on aging give their recap of the 2024 Legislative Session

“The Senior Agenda Coalition of RI supported several housing-related bills (that did not pass) that would benefit older adults including those sponsored by Rep. Meghan Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, and Hopkinton)  and Sen. Linda Ujifusa (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol) to increase the income cap for the Property Tax Relief program to $50,000 and the credit or refund to $850 to help offset the cost, of property taxes and rents for older adults and persons with disabilities,” says Maureen Maigret, Policy Advisor for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI (SACRI), noting the Coalition plan to continue to advocate for them next year.

Maigret warned that with a growing older population the need for more accessible housing will increase and the Coalition supported and will continue to support bills to create greater accessibility in new housing.  

Maigret stated that SACRI will also continue to support legislation to create a caregiver tax credit as provided for in 2024 legislation sponsored this year by Rep. Susan Donovan and Sen. Linda Ujifusa. “Our caregivers are valued and deserve our support. A caregiver tax credit will help the many R.I. family caregivers who provide thousands of hours of care for spouses and parents often spending thousands of dollars of their own money to give their loved ones a better, more comfortable life,” she says.

She noted that SACRI also plans to build on its efforts to further expand the Medicare Savings Program to help more lower-income persons on Medicare afford needed healthcare by covering required co-pays and deductibles and to continue its work to promote quality long term care through support for staffing standards, worker training programs and Medicaid enhanced reimbursement for private rooms to help with infection control issues that became so apparent during the Covid pandemic.

SACRI will also push next legislative session to enact legislation to establish a formula for state funding to support local senior centers and programs based on a community’s population of those 65 years and over.  

Raise the Bar on Resident Care and other advocates successfully pushed the passage of H 7733 and S 2621 legislation sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) and Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, (East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown) that would establish the Nursing Home Work Standards Board (NWSB). According to Raise the Bar, NWSB will help stabilize the nursing home system by establishing training standards, promoting caregiver rights, depoliticizing funding allocations and implementing financial oversight of nursing homes.  A 13-member board (including frontline staff, nursing home management representatives, state government and community organizations will work with Medicaid to ensure comprehensive and informed decision-making.

“In 2023, Minnesota passed its own Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board and just voted to raise wages for caregivers to over $23 an hour in 2027 while guaranteeing 11 paid holidays. Here in Rhode Island, the Workforce Standards Board is a critical step toward transforming nursing home jobs into sustainable careers that can support a family and provide quality resident care. Now we need Governor McKee to show his support and sign this bill into law,” said Jesse Martin, Executive Vice President of SEIU 1199 New England, member of Raise the Bar on Resident Care.

Raise the Bar also advocated for the passage of the Financial Transparency Act (S 2604 | H 8204) but ultimately pulled the bill in order to re-adjust some of its language. This legislative proposal, S 2604, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist.13, Newport, Jamestown) and its companion measure, H 8204, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Dawson (D-Dist.65, East Providence) would require nursing homes to provide annual, audited financial statements that include detailed income, expenses, and cash flow, alongside transparent ownership information to prevent for-profit owners from misusing Medicaid and Medicare dollars. “We look forward to advocating for its passage in next year’s legislative session to ensure all for-profit nursing homeowners are held accountable to investing public dollars appropriately in direct care,” continued Jesse Martin. 

Advocates for Better Care in Rhode Island, a grassroots community organization founded to advocate for the rights and interests of residents of long-term care facilities in RI, celebrates the passage of S. 2263. The Long-Term Care Residents Rights Camera Bill, notes Director Kathleen Gerard. 

“The legislation gives residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and their legal representatives the right to install a monitoring device in their room provided all residents in the room consent. The consent can be withdrawn at any time, and a variety of safeguards exist to protect resident privacy,” says Gerard.

The legislation, S 2263 A, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary and H 7969 A, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington and Warren) has been signed by the governor and will take effect Jan. 1, 2025.  

According to Gerard, the legislation was first introduced in this form in 2021, but the care staffing crisis and massive 138% increase in serious deficiencies cited in RI long-term care facilities since 2022 made it even more urgent to finally pass it this year.

“Speaker Shekarchi worked tirelessly to reach a compromise that was acceptable to the various parties supporting and opposing the bill, and long-term care residents will consequently soon be able to have their care and condition monitored remotely by loved ones and care-partners, resulting in more peace of mind for everyone,” she says. 

“A legislative proposal we backed this year and that we hope to see enacted next year was introduced by the Rhode Island Department of Health.  The legislation, (S 2818 sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence and H. 7819 sponsored by Rep. June S. Speakman), would improve financial transparency in nursing home ownership and prevent the rapid extraction of equity from facilities that we see with many private equity firms, real estate investment trusts, and investor groups,” says Gerard.

Next legislative session, Gerard says Advocates for Better Care in Rhode Island will also continue to advocate for legislation requiring assisted living facilities to support family councils.   This requirement already applies to nursing homes, she notes.

“We’ve Only Just Begun, says Sandra Paquette, representing Advocates for COLA Restoration and Pension Reform, a non-profit representing 4,700 retirees. “Our group numbers continue to increase, along with our determination and commitment, to fight for the justice which was so unnecessarily and ruthlessly taken away,” she says. .

According to Paquette, there were legislative proposals pertaining to current and future state and teaching retirees, which did not reach the floor of the House or Senate. One legislative proposal applied to those active employees whose retirement is based upon an arbitrary “rule of 95”. This translates into a calculation where the years of service and the age of those wishing to retire must add up to 95. The law would have changed this total to 90. Another one for which we strongly advocated, and for which we provided thousands of letters, verbal testimony and volunteer lobbying sessions was Pat Serpa’s (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry and Warwick), H-8193, would have restored a compounded Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to all current and future retirees, and would have been enacted as of July of this year.

“Our goals for next year will remain— to advocate through testimony, letters, media and lobbying–for the passage of the two bills which will provide the now essential support to the victims of the 2011 Rhode Island Retirement Security Act,” says Paquette.

And here are specifics about other bills that impact seniors:


To read more articles by Herb Weiss, go to:

Herb Weiss

Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to


  1. Michelle LeBrun on June 24, 2024 at 2:12 pm

    Very perceptive, Herb. Thank you!

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