What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 4/8-4/12
Posted: April 17, 2019|
The legislative session is on spring break this week, but the days leading up to the session break were full for the ACLU. Last week, we testified on 28 bills, with the topics ranging from drug reclassification to gender rating in health insurance to comprehensive election and voting reform.
Here are the highlights of what we commented on last week; for a look at the session as a whole and how bills are progressing, check out our legislative page.
• Juvenile Life Without Parole (S 341) As the Supreme Court has noted, adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.” S 341, sponsored by Senator Harold Metts, addresses the problem of lengthy prison sentences for juveniles who are charged as adults. We testified in support of the bill, which would allow juveniles sentenced in this manner to automatically come before the parole board after fifteen years, regardless of the length of their sentence. While the Senate held their hearing last week, we also testified in favor of this bill in the House earlier in the year.
• Civil Forfeiture (S 229) Rhode Island is one of only 10 states where probable cause is all that is necessary for assets to be confiscated by police in a civil proceeding. This means that law enforcement in RI can confiscate and retain the property of any person merely suspected of having committed certain offenses, whether or not that person is convicted or even charged with a crime. We testified in favor this bill and similar legislation in the House (H 5357 and H 5721) that would address this critical issue by significantly revising the forfeiture process.
• Drug Reclassification (S 472) The implications of a felony charge versus a misdemeanor are substantial, and impact numerous facets of one’s life, including access to employment, housing, and higher education. S 472, introduced by Senator Michael McCaffrey, would reclassify simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. We spoke in favor of the legislation, noting that this bill would ensure that an individuals’ criminal record does not automatically exclude them from the very structures they need to support their recovery.
• Bail Reform (S 492, S 602) While wealthier individuals who can post bail are permitted to go home while awaiting their hearings, those without immediate cash flow are often forced to stay in jail until their case is heard, creating a wealth-based incarceration system. We testified in favor of these bills, which would confront this aspect of the criminal justice system by promoting pretrial release of individuals without the requirement of monetary bail.
• Gender Rating in Health Insurance (S 445) Nationwide, women have historically been charged more for the same health insurance as men, solely because of their gender, leaving women less able to purchase vital health care coverage. This practice is generally illegal under the Affordable Care Act, but attacks on the law continue. This legislation (S 445), sponsored by Senator Susan Sosnowski, would codify the federal ban into Rhode Island law. We testified in support of the bill in both the House and the Senate, but neither chamber has held a vote on the legislation.
• Health Insurance Privacy (S 580) In an effort to protect the medical privacy of individual members on a health insurance plan, S 580, introduced by Senator Gayle Goldin, would require that explanation-of-benefits documents be sent to the member that they concern, rather than the holder of the plan. We supported this bill, noting that guaranteed patient privacy would empower members of the plan to seek the medical attention they need without worrying about their information being seen by someone else. The House companion bill to this legislation was heard last month, and we supported it as well.
• Election Reform (H 5292, H 5698) We supported H 5292, which would create a meaningful process for early voting, and H 5698, which would subject the Board of Elections to the rule-making provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, as it is virtually the only major state agency exempted from the APA. We had previously supported these bills in the Senate.
• Write-In Candidates (H 5709) Regardless of who a vote is for, even if it’s for an inevitably losing cause, all voters fundamentally deserve the right for their votes to be counted. For this reason, we opposed H 5709 which would eliminate the counting of write-in votes for persons who had not filed in advance a “declaration of intent.” The Senate heard this bill last month, and we opposed it then.
• Juvenile Questioning (S 496) It’s no surprise that juveniles are generally less able than adults to understand, and act upon, their legal rights while being questioned, but law enforcement proceeds as if they were well-informed adults with a full grasp of the situation. S 496, introduced on behalf of the ACLU by Senator William J. Conley, Jr., would generally prohibit the questioning of a juvenile suspected of criminal activity without a parent or legal guardian present. A case recently handled by the ACLU encapsulates the need for this legislation, when an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, transported to the police station, interrogated, and detained without her parents being contacted. We supported this bill in the House last month.
• Discrimination Against Parents with Disabilities (S 702) S 702, introduced by Senator Louis DiPalma, would preclude the disability of a parent from acting as a basis for discriminating against them in terms of guardianship, custody or similar situations. We supported the legislation because it recognizes the fundamental rights of parents with disabilities to raise a family without government interference, and because families have been subjected to this discriminatory treatment. The companion bill in House was also recently heard.