New year ushers in new state laws

The new year marks the start of a number of new laws in Rhode Island.

The laws that made big news already took effect. Decriminalization of marijuana kicked in in April. Same-sex marriages began in August.

Most of the laws intended to turn around the state's economic outlook will take effect Wednesday.

The General Assembly promised to concentrate on the economy this last session. One bill lawmakers passed will increase the minimum wage for workers in the state to $8 an hour. Massachusetts is considering a $9 minimum.

The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is not opposed.

"The chamber was not opposed to the raising of the minimum wage this year. Our focus has always been that it should be done on an annual basis," said the chamber's Kathryn Dunkelman.

Dunkelman said workers should be able to support themselves on full-time work, no matter what it is.

A business friendly measure was passed by lawmakers last session as well: the chance to pay workers every other week, rather than weekly.

"It was great to see state legislators and the small business community and the business community in Rhode Island work together on a bill that brought Rhode Island on par with our neighboring states in the region," Dunkelman said.

But then rules put on the measure make it harder for businesses to take advantage of the new law.

"We make a big fuss in this state about improving the business climate, and so we take one step forward. And then for reasons that are very hard to understand, we oppose regulations and so we take one step backward," said Gary Sasse of Bryant University.

Sasse used to run the business group Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. His opinion about the dozens of bills that passed under the umbrella of improving the business climate in Rhode Island were much more about changing process, he said, and in the short term will have little impact on the economy.

"It was like catching butterflies while the elephants continued to parade through the room. We were the only state that lost middle tier jobs between 2010 and 2013. We have the second-highest unemployment rate," Sasse said.

One change beginning at midnight -- there will no longer be a Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. The agency is not going away though, just getting a name change. It will be the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. and have most of the same responsibilities.