Notes from the Field


2023 Legislative Recap

This year resulted in several enacted bills with positive impacts on our local food system, and further inroads made on other key food system legislation. Twenty-five bills of the 164 pieces of legislation we tracked became law. Climate Change and Food Business were the impact areas with the most legislative activity, as they were last year. There was some limited progress on legislation to improve equity, economic strength, and environmental sustainability in Rhode Island’s food system. As always, this year’s progress at the State House reflected the efforts of a wide swath of engaged and dedicated food system activists, including RIFPC network members, many mission-aligned individuals and organizations, and many of our legislators. 

A breakdown of the FY2023 tracked bills and resolutions by primary impact area is below.  The bills are sorted by primary impact area to make it easier to find specific legislative activity, but many bills impact multiple areas of our food system, and most bills will impact food businesses in some way.  Because of this, a few bills are listed in multiple impact areas.

Access to Healthy Food:  10 introduced, 0 passed, 1 incorporated into the FY 2024 budget

Long-standing efforts to provide healthy school meals for all were continued this year. Three different bills were introduced, two passed through the Senate, and none passed through the House. We expect legislation will be reintroduced on this next year. 

Rep. Morales sponsored a resolution to appropriate $2 million to the RI Community Food Bank (RICFB) in response to dramatic reductions in SNAP benefits in March.  Although this resolution did not pass, the legislature increased support for the Food Bank significantly in the FY2024 budget by allocating $3 million in one-time ARPA funds and $550K in state funds.  Rep. Morales sponsored two other bills focused on improving SNAP benefits, neither of which made it out of committee.  

Related to reducing food insecurity, the legislature also approved a modest increase in funding for Rhode Island’s Meals on Wheels in the FY2024 budget.  

In response to rising food insecurity in the state in 2023, Rep. Spears and Sen. DiPalma sponsored a bill to authorize a sliding scale decrease in benefits as a beneficiary’s income increases up to 250% of the federal poverty level, but these bills did not make it out of committee.

Agriculture:  17 introduced, 3 passed, 1 incorporated into the FY 2024 budget

Sen. Di Palma and Rep. Craven sponsored bills requiring land conservation and preservation restrictions to be liberally interpreted in favor of the grants awarded, and these bills passed and have been signed into law.  They will support efforts to ensure that conservation easements on agricultural land are effective in keeping land actively farmed.

Sen. DiPalma and Rep. McGaw sponsored resolutions to appropriate $5 million for agricultural land preservation to fill a one-time funding gap in Agricultural Land Preservation Commission funds.  These resolutions led to an appropriation of $2.5 million for agricultural land conservation in the FY2024 state budget.  

A bill that regulates the registration and operation of low-speed vehicles (including farm vehicles) and a bill that allows attendance at agricultural fairs as an excused absence for a student were both passed and signed into law.

Sen. Mack sponsored two bills focused on exempting the real, tangible and personal property of urban and small farmers from taxation.  These bills established initial definitions of both small and urban farms.  Both bills were held for further study in committee.  Advocacy on this newly introduced legislation is likely to continue next year.  

Other long-standing legislative efforts that were (once again) not successful this year included a ban on force-fed poultry products, adding pickles/relish to the list of allowed farm home food products, and legalizing the sale of raw milk in the state.

Climate Change:  33 introduced, 5 passed

2023 legislative activity on climate change was modest compared to last year’s bonanza of bills (74) and passage of the mandate for 100% renewably sourced electricity by 2033.  

There were a few smaller wins, like amending the utility base rate statute to include clean transportation, clean heating, and energy storage (Rep. Cortvriend and Sen. LaMountain), and requiring electric vehicle parking spaces in new and expanded parking lots (Sen Lombardo and Rep. McGaw).  

There was also a last-minute boost to wind energy through legislative approval for a submerged land lease for the Revolution Wind Project (Sen. DiMario and Rep. Edwards). 

Rep. Speakman and Sen. DiMario sponsored legislation to address challenges in solar siting in the state with bills that defined core forests and preferred sites for solar development, added commercial and industrial customers, and expanded the Renewable Energy Growth program.  That legislation passed both chambers and was signed into law.  

Other legislative efforts to increase climate change education and workforce development, increase membership of the energy facility siting board, require state funding for alternatively fueled vehicles, and other approaches to strengthening state efforts to meet the Act on Climate mandate, were held in committee for further study. 

Environmental Protection:  13 introduced, 2 passed

Long-standing legislative efforts to ban Styrofoam food service containers were finally successful. Rep. Bennett and Sen. Miller’s bills to prohibit any disposable containers composed in whole or part of polystyrene passed both chambers and were signed into law.

Despite last year’s legislative progress on measuring and controlling PFAS pollution, bills to create a more comprehensive ban on PFAS (Rep. Cortvriend and Sen. Kallman) were held in committee for further study.

Equity & Justice:  4 introduced, 0 passed

There was no progress in this area.

Rep. Morales and Sen. Mack sponsored bills to create Green Justice Zones, but these did not get committee hearings.  

Rep. Alzate and Sen. Euer sponsored bills that established requirements for granting permits for activities that would have an environmental impact on an environmental justice area, but these were held in committee for further study.

Fisheries and Aquaculture:  18 introduced, 4 passed

Successful legislative activity this year focused on improving operations of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the Marine Fisheries Council.  Rep. Handy and Sen. DiMario sponsored bills to create an appointed Executive Director of the CRMC and define some of their duties.  Rep. Spears and Sen. Sosnowski sponsored bills that amended multiple sections of law related to the Marine Fisheries Council.  These bills passed both chambers and were signed into law.

A number of bills that would have made more dramatic changes to the operations of the CRMC, including Rep. Tanzi and Sen. Gu’s bills to replace the CRMC with a state department, were either held in committee or had their hearings postponed.

Sen. DiPalma and Rep. Edwards’ bills to restrict the location of all new aquaculture leases on the Sakonnet River to at least 1000 ft from the median high tide line were held in committee for further study.

Food Safety:  2 introduced, 2 passed

Rep. Fogarty and Sen. Sosnowski sponsored bills to establish that the state of Rhode Island assents to the provisions of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  These bills passed both chambers and were signed into law.

Food Businesses:  58 introduced, 10 passed

Rep. Hagan McEntee and Sen. Valverde sponsored legislation to create a commission to study and provide recommendations on how to reduce plastic bottle waste.  These bills passed both chambers and were signed into law.  All other legislative efforts to address plastic bottle waste during this session were held in committee for further study.  Stay tuned for the commission findings.

Responding to continued requests to maintain COVID-19 modifications, Rep. Hagan McEntee and Sen. DiMario’s legislation to extend the moratorium on penalties related to COVID-19 modifications to food businesses passed both chambers and was signed into law. 

Several bills focused on protecting employees were passed and signed into law:  Sen. Kallman and Rep. Craven’s bills to increase the criminal penalties for wage theft; Rep. Corvese and Sen. Ciccone’s bills to amend sections of state law relative to workers’ compensation; and Sen. Goodwin and Rep. Hagan McEntee’s bills to eliminate the sunset on the increase in the total amount of earnings a partial-unemployment insurance claimant can receive before being disqualified for benefits.   

Several bills that would have amended the state’s minimum wage laws were held in committee for further study.  Also held for further study were bills allowing happy hours, requiring additional food allergy warnings in food service establishments, and restricting the provision of single-use foodware accessories to ‘on request’ only.  

Recycling, Recovery & Wasted Food:  9 introduced, 0 passed

There was no progress in this area.

Rep. Hagan McEntee and Sen. DiMario’s bills to provide a tax credit for food donations by qualified tax payers to nonprofit organizations were held in committee for further study.  Similar legislation will likely be reintroduced next year. 

Rep. Cortvriend and Sen. Valverde’s bills to increase the organic waste ban to 30 miles were held in committee for further study.  Advocacy on this returning legislation aimed at increasing the amount of organic waste that is composted/digested will likely continue next year. 

Miscellaneous:  5 introduced, 0 passed

Rep. Sanchez’s bill to require public high schools to offer nutrition and food preparation courses was held in committee for further study.  There was no companion bill in the Senate.