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RI POLITICS

McKee signs bills on equal pay, women’s health, health insurance in R.I.

The new pay equity law combats wage discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, age, and several other characteristics.

Governor Dan McKee with Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos outside the Rhode Island State House in March.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee signed five new bills into law on Wednesday, supporting women’s health and pay equity for all employees, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

The pay equity legislation was first introduced in the House in January by Representative Susan Donovan, a Portsmouth Democrat, and introduced in the Senate by Senator Gayle Goldin, a Providence Democrat, in early February.

The bills made changes to Rhode Island’s “Wage Discrimination Based on Sex” law to expand its definition. The intent was to combat wage discrimination based on race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin by “strengthening and closing gaps in [four] existing wage discrimination laws.”

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Under the new law, employers cannot pay any of their employees at a wage less than the rate paid to employees of another race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or any of the other categories listed above. It also prohibits employers from stopping employees from inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing the wages of another employee or retaliate against an employee who does.

A seniority system is still allowed in the workforce, however, and time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition, or parental, medical, and family leave will not reduce seniority.

Employers who violate this new law may be liable for a civil penalty to be paid to the state’s Department of Labor and Training. Violations could cost an employer up to $5,000.

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Here are the other bills McKee signed on Wednesday:

Requiring public schools to provide feminine hygiene products

First introduced by East Providence Democrats Senator Valerie Lawson and Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, a South Kingstown Democrat, this new law mandates that every public school that serves fifth through 12th grade must provide feminine hygiene products to students, including tampons and sanitary napkins, at no cost.

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Products will have to be in all gender-neutral bathrooms and any bathroom dedicated to females.

Allowing political candidates to use campaign funds for child care

This new law will amend the Rhode Island Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting by allowing campaign funds to be used for child care while political candidates are participating in campaign or officeholder activities.

The bill was first introduced by Representative Justine Caldwell, an East Greenwich Democrat, and introduced in the Senate by Goldin.

Banning health insurers from using gender rating to charge different premiums

This new law will prohibit insurance companies from varying the premium rates charged in a health coverage plan based on the gender of the policyholder, an enrollee, subscriber, or a member. It excludes policies related to disability income, long-term care, and insurance supplemental policies that only provide coverage for specified diseases.

The act was first introduced by Senator V. Susan Sosnowski, a Block Island Democrat, with mirroring legislation in the House by Representative Katherine Kazarian. It will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Allowing patients request their insurers work directly with them instead of a parent or spouse

Designed to protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence, this new law will allow insured patients to make a “confidential communications request,” that would ensure all insurance communications containing confidential health care information be communicated with that individual only at a specific mailing address, specific email, or specific phone number.

The law, which was introduced by Goldin in the Senate and Donovan in the House, would require the request to be fulfilled by the insurance company within 10 calendar days of the patient filling out the request form. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.