PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island lawmakers on Tuesday overrode two of Gov. Dan McKee’s vetoes, paving the way for a statewide registry for short-term rentals and legislation favorable to the auto body repair industry.
The House and Senate, meeting for the first time in 2022, also passed legislation to allocate about $119 million — or 10 percent — of $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money. The money will go toward small businesses, support for children and families, and the tourism, hospitality and events industry.
With that, the General Assembly kicked off a legislative session under a cloud of consternation and crisis: As a handful of Republican lawmakers opted not to wear masks, McKee arrived at the State House to sign the $119 million in spending after visiting the Rhode Island Hospital emergency department earlier in the day. The hospital is critically understaffed and operating at crisis levels.
Addressing the staffing crisis in hospitals is one of the measures House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said his chamber would focus on, along with putting together the budget, spending more federal rescue dollars, and moving forward on marijuana legalization.
On marijuana legalization, Shekarchi said in prepared remarks that the House and Senate “intend to soon have draft legislation ready which will serve as a framework to begin a robust public hearing process.”
The overrides were long anticipated, with some supporters and opponents already having their reactions lined up and ready to go. The votes were on legislation to create a statewide registry for short-term rentals, which the company Airbnb had opposed, and on auto body legislation that insurers had opposed.
McKee had rejected both bills, but the General Assembly overrode his vetoes, meaning they will become law.
The short-term rental registry bill, several years in the making, came as the short-term rental industry boomed in Rhode Island. Supporters said it would include only the most basic information about a property, kept centrally at the state Department of Business Regulation. McKee had said these issues were better addressed at the local level; a strong majority of lawmakers disagreed with their override, even as state Rep. Blake Filippi, a Republican of Block Island, called it bureaucratic overreach and unnecessary.
Airbnb’s public policy manager, Manny Capellan, said the override would hurt Rhode Island’s tourism industry.
“This bill was originally vetoed by the Governor with the support of the Department of Business Regulation because both recognized the overly burdensome nature of the policy, both for the state and its short-term rental Hosts, and it’s incredibly unfortunate that the legislature decided to double down on a law that will hurt Rhode Island’s tourism economy, which supports 1 in 9 jobs in the state, and our Host community’s ability to make important additional income,” Capellan said.
But the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, whose members include hotels, welcomed the override.
“Short-term rentals are operating as hotels but without any of the health and safety rules that govern hotels, escaping most rules and regulations that every other small business in the state must follow,” its president and CEO, Dale Venturini, said in a written statement. “Requiring these businesses to register is a simple process that will provide information, consistency and create a level playing field for owners and consumers alike.”
The General Assembly also overrode McKee’s veto on auto body legislation, which would put new requirements on auto insurers. It prohibits insurers from refusing to pay certain markups and from refusing to pay for “sublet” services, like “towing, transportation, suspension, alignments, electronic calibrations, diagnostic work, mechanical work, and paid charges to release a vehicle.”
Proponents described it as prohibiting “auto insurers from refusing to pay standard industry costs for auto body repairs.”
Opponents called it a giveaway that would make people’s car insurance premiums go up. The override “shows that once again the General Assembly has chosen to side with a small number of auto body industry insiders at the expense of hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island drivers who already pay the highest auto body repair costs in the nation, and some of the highest auto insurance premiums as a result,” Frank O’Brien, vice president of state government relations for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, said in an emailed statement.
The Senate was also expected to take up several judicial appointments for advice and consent.