Rep. Vella-Wilkinson Bills Would Keep People, Businesses Empowered During Declared Emergencies
STATE HOUSE — The House Committee on State Government and Elections heard testimony this week on legislation introduced by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) that would empower people during declared emergencies as well as aid businesses financially.
The first bill (2021-H 5287) would establish a joint General Assembly Emergency Council, which would be activated 90 days after the governor declares a state of emergency. The council, which would consist of 10 members, would determine if the state of emergency has ended and address the restoration of the state’s economy, if necessary.
“One of the biggest issues we have struggled with during the COVID pandemic is the lack of representative government during an emergency,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson. “Emergency declarations were established to give the governor broad powers when action needs to be taken quickly and decisively during an emergency, but it’s quite a different matter when that emergency gets drawn out for an extended period of time. When that happens, it’s imperative that the General Assembly stand up and provide oversight to make the decisions that need to be made legislatively on behalf of the people.”
The second bill (2021-H 5288) would aid small businesses by establishing a restricted receipt account within the Commerce Corporation for all fines collected from individuals and businesses violating policies or procedures during a state of emergency. Those funds would be kept for distribution to small businesses in the form of forgivable loans or grants by the corporation.
“COVID-19 has spurred an ongoing economic crisis, and small businesses have borne the brunt of it,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson. “While it may be necessary to fine businesses that shirk their responsibilities to the public health, at the same time we should be doing all we can to help small businesses financially. This legislation would ensure that the money collected in fines would be used only to help those small businesses.”