What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 6/3-6/7 - 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 6/3-6/7

Posted: June 07, 2019|

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As the legislative session approaches its final month, the number of bills being voted out of committee, onto the floor, and recommended to the opposite chamber has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, some of these bills contain provisions which violate civil liberties principles.

Catching these bills, and lobbying even harder against them, before they make it to the Governor’s desk is critical. Summarized below are some of the bad bills that have been voted out of either the House or the Senate. For a look at the 2019 legislative session as a whole, visit our legislative page.

Animal Abuse Registry (H 5113) H 5113 would create an “animal abuse registry” similar to the registration requirements already in effect for persons convicted of sex offenses. Like other bills which would impose onerous registration burdens and establish broad community notification requirements, this registry would be costly, undermine rehabilitation of offenders, subject individuals to severe criminal penalties for failing to follow proper registration requirements, and promote the harassment of ex-offenders seeking to reintegrate into the community. We are joined in opposition to these ineffective animal abuse registries by national organizations like the ASPCA and the American Kennel Club, as well as by mental health advocacy organizations that recognize that many offenses that will lead to being placed on the registry, like “hoarding,” are committed by people with mental illness. This bill was voted out of the House.

• Threat Assessment Teams (H 5538, S 818) A heightened fear of violence on school campuses has led to legislative efforts intended to mitigate potential threats, but which sometimes impinge on civil liberties; H 5538 and S 818 are two 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 testified that while we fully support the inclusion of mental and behavioral health specialists on campus who can assist students in need of psychological support, there is a current demonstrated lack of these personnel on school campuses. 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 these would likely disproportionately affect 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 has been voted out of the House and has had a committee hearing in Senate Education. 

• Presidential Tax Returns (H 5727, S 342) The ACLU has long opposed legislative efforts to impose added qualifications in order for candidates to appear on the ballot in Rhode Island. For that reason, we oppose H 5727 and S 342, which would require presidential candidates to publicly disclose their federal tax returns in order to be listed on the ballot. We argued that the ability to vote for an individual’s preferred candidate is a critical component of the fundamental right to vote. This bill has passed the Senate.

• Opioid Confidentiality (H 5383, S 139 Sub A) The ACLU has been vigilant in opposing “solutions” to the opioid epidemic that compromise patient rights, including their right to confidentiality. It is for that reason we opposed both S 139 and H 5383, which would allow hospital emergency physicians in unspecified circumstances to notify the prior emergency contacts of a patient, without his or her consent, who has experienced a drug overdose. Among other things, we noted that some patients may go to dangerous lengths, such as avoiding medical help altogether, in order to avoid having medical personnel disclose their condition against their wishes. This bill has passed the Senate and was voted out of committee in the House.

• “Ghost Guns” (H 5703, S 84 Sub A) We have consistently opposed imposition of mandatory minimum sentencing terms on the grounds that they are ineffective, costly, eliminate individualized consideration of the offender and the circumstances of the offense, and place too much power in the hands of the prosecutors instead of neutral judges. S 84 Sub A, which passed the Senate this week, would impose a mandatory sentence for people convicted of a second offense of manufacturing, selling, purchasing, or possessing a “ghost gun.” We argued that the state should refrain from passing any more criminal laws that impose mandatory sentences.

• Animal Seizures (H 5433) We expressed concerns about the breadth of this legislation, which would allow representatives of the RISPCA, a private organization, to seize from private property any animals that appear to be “aged,” “disabled,” or “sick,” without any requirement of exigent circumstances and without a warrant. This provision is a significant violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, and although we urged rejection of the legislation, it passed the House floor this week.

• Medical Lab Licensing (H 5367, S 138 Sub A as amended) Often, seemingly innocuous occupational licensing bills have provisions that include expansive and vague language which could render individuals with a criminal background, no matter what crimes they have been convicted of or how long ago their conviction was, unable to procure a license. H 5367 and S 138 Sub A as amended are two of these bills, which would resurrect a previously repealed statute governing the licensing of medical lab professionals and would allow for a denial or suspension of a license if the applicant has ever been convicted of any crime that the licensing body deems “could jeopardize patients’ health,” even though these licensees have no contact with patients and there are no standards in place for making such a determination. S 138 Sub A passed on the Senate floor, and we will continue to work on repealing this language for the House version. 

Voicing concerns around harmful legislation is equally as important as working for the passage of proactive and constructive legislation. For more information on how you can lobby at the Statehouse, or how you can reach out to your legislator about these bad bills, visit our Advocacy 101 toolkit.

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