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What’s Happening at the Capitol

Posted: March 22, 2019|

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The 2019 legislative session is only halfway through, and we’ve already seen significant pieces of legislation introduced, heard, and even passed. Notably, for the first time in over 20 years, a bill to codify the provisions of Roe v. Wade into Rhode Island law passed on the House floor. The FY 2020 budget also includes a proposal for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which we submitted a detailed and in-depth testimony on.

We may only be 3 months into the session, but we’ve already lobbied on over 100 bills. Every week, we update our legislative page with significant bills that could affect your civil liberties, positively or negatively. Here are two of the biggest highlights, and what we’re anticipating for the next few weeks of the session.

Reproductive Privacy Act (H 5125 Sub A, S 0152 Sub A)

The Reproductive Privacy Act has one ultimate goal; to codify the provisions of Roe v. Wade into law in order to protect the reproductive choices and rights of all women in Rhode Island. In the House, the RPA was the subject of a 4 ½ hour floor debate, with multiple harmful amendments being proposed and discussed. The pro-choice majority of the House prevailed, defeating every potential amendment and passing the bill with a vote of 44-30. The RPA has not yet been voted out of Senate Judiciary, but we are hoping for its appearance on the committee’s consideration calendar within the upcoming weeks.

FY 2020 Budget (H 5151 Article 20 Sub A)

One of the most publicized and contentious aspects of Governor Raimondo’s proposed FY 2020 budget is the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana. The ACLU supports the legalization of marijuana in principle, but we also took a deep dive into the full 128-page proposed Article. We echoed concerns from the medical marijuana community who wished to see medicinal and recreational forms of the drug sold and marketed separately, so that those who rely on it for medicinal purposes have consistent, reliable access in a supportive facility.

We additionally raised questions regarding the heavy-handed distribution of fines and penalties for potentially minor infractions, the lack of any employment protections for marijuana users, and the criminal record restrictions on entering the marijuana business, freezing out many people in communities of color who bore the brunt of the war on marijuana for decades. Representatives from the Department of Health, the State Police and the Department of Business Regulation all expressed strong support for the bill, but its fate will probably not be known until the budget gets voted on in June.

Looking ahead

• We testified this week in Senate Judiciary about a substantial package of election-related legislation – some good, some bad. The good included legislation establishing early voting, allowing candidates to use campaign funds for childcare, repealing the state’s voter ID law. The bad included a bill, consistently opposed by the ACLU, which would require tax return disclosure for presidential candidates to appear on the ballot in Rhode Island, and a bill severely limiting the tallying  of write-in votes. Next step for this package is House Judiciary, which will be hearing some of these bills this week.

•  On Wednesday, March 27, House Judiciary will be hearing a number of immigrant-related bills, including legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for a driver’s license. The ACLU and a coalition of groups have been promoting this legislation for years and will be pressing once again for its passage.

• An equal pay bill will also be heard in House Labor on Wednesday. We will be testifying in favor of the bill as written. Given the last-minute revisions of last year’s version, which essentially subverted the goal of the legislation, we will be pushing for the bill to pass as is, with no added amendments.

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