What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 4/29-5/3 - News from The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, ACLU of Rhode Island News, RIACLU News

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What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 4/29-5/3

Posted: May 03, 2019|

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Even as the session enters its fifth month, we've begun to see movement on only a handful of the bills that are being tracked by the ACLU.

Here are a few of those bills that have recently been voted on. We know this just the calm before the storm, as dozens of bills that will have a signficant impact on civil liberties are sure to be voted on in the coming weeks. To view the session as a whole and read about bills which are still being held in committee, visit our legislative page.

GOOD BILLS

Reproductive Privacy Act (H 5125) PASSED HOUSE

Introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams, the Reproductive Privacy Act would serve to protect the status quo of abortion care in Rhode Island and ensure that the shifting ideology of the Supreme Court does not impede upon a person’s right to choose. The RPA also repeals several state laws on the books which have been found to be unconstitutional, such as a spousal notification requirement. We are highly in favor of this bill, which passed the House in early March. A hearing has been held on the Senate companion bill to this legislation but has yet to be passed out of committee for a full floor vote.

Benefits for LGBTQ Veterans (H 5443) PASSED HOUSE

For decades, excellent military personnel were forced to leave the military on “less than honorable” discharges once it was made known that they identified as a part of the LGBTQ community. H 5443, introduced by Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson, would ensure that veterans discharged solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity would still qualify for state veterans’ benefits. This legislation passed the House in early April and has been referred to the Senate.

Net Neutrality (S 40) PASSED SENATE

“Net neutrality” guarantees that access to the internet remains non-discriminatory and that internet service providers can’t choose what sites you have access to or how quickly you can access them; the same principle underlies the regulation of phone companies, ensuring that your call to Pizza Hut doesn’t go through faster simply because Pizza Hut pays for faster connection times. We testified in favor of this bill, introduced by Senator Louis DiPalma, and it was voted out of the Senate at the end of April. It has been referred to House Corporations for a hearing in the House.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (H 5340, H 5341) PASSED HOUSE

Two pieces out of a package of legislation regarding sexual harassment in the workplace passed out of the House in late March and were referred to the Senate. Introduced by Representative Carol McEntee and Representative Evan Shanley, H 5340 would toll the statute of limitations during an investigation on workplace sexual harassment for up to one year and H 5341 would extend the timeframe to bring an action for unlawful employment practices. We testified in favor of the full package of legislation and are still hoping to see additional movement on the other pieces of legislation (for a full list, visit our legislative page). A hearing on these bills has not yet been held in the Senate.

Sunscreen in Schools (H 5118) PASSED HOUSE

While we support the provisions and underlying principle of this bill, which would allow students to possess and use sunscreen in school, we argued that this bill was too restrictive in focus and highlighted an absurdity in current regulations; the same student who would be allowed to use sunscreen under this bill still couldn’t use sunburn lotion on school property. H 5118 passed the House and its Senate companion bill was recently heard in Senate Education. We hope it will catalyze the passage of additional legislation which would allow students to also bring and self-administer certain over-the-counter medications to treat menstrual cramps and vaginal yeast infections in school.

BAD BILLS

Presidential Tax Returns (S 342) PASSED SENATE

We have long opposed legislative efforts to impose added qualifications in order for candidates to appear on the ballot in Rhode Island. For that reason, we opposed S 342 which would require presidential candidates to publicly disclose their federal tax returns in order to be listed on the ballot. The ACLU argued that the ability to vote for an individual’s preferred candidate is a critical part of the fundamental right to vote, but the legislation passed the Senate in early April. A House companion bill (H 5727) was heard in March but has not been acted on in Committee.

Threat Assessment Teams (H 5538) PASSED HOUSE

A heightened fear of violence on school campuses has led to legislative efforts intended to mitigate potential threats, but that sometimes impinge on civil liberties; H 5538 is one of these bills. This legislation would create “threat assessment teams” for each school in Rhode Island and allow individual school boards to adopt relevant policies for their implementation.

We’re concerned that assembled threat assessment teams could become heavy on law enforcement and light on staff who professionally provide mental health support. We also noted that enforcement protocols like this would disproportionately affects students of color and students with disabilities, whose behaviors, actions, and words are often perceived as more threatening than those of other students.

This bill passed the House in April and has not been heard in the Senate.

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