This week is another busy one at the General Assembly with about a month of the session left. Here is a summary of some of the bills affecting civil liberties that are being considered in committee or on the floor this week, but note that more may be added to the calendars in the next day:
On the Floor:
Drug Dealer Life Sentence
Postponed from last week, the Senate is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on S-2279A, an Attorney General bill that would impose up to a life sentence on any person who provides an unlawful controlled substance to a person, which results in that person’s death. The ACLU, along with dozens of organizations and medical professionals, is continuing to oppose this bill for undermining the state's efforts to deal with the opioid crisis. Read our testimony of opposition to this bill here.
Cell Phone Tracking
Also on Tuesday, the Senate is considering S-2291, another troubling Attorney General bill that would amend a 2016 law requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before requesting cell phone location information (except in emergency situations). S-2291 will dilute the provisions of that 2016 law that was designed to protect cell phone users' privacy. House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote the same day on the House version of the bill, H-7451.
On Wednesday, the House will be voting on passage of S-2581A, a problematic Senate bill that would make it a crime to electronically transmit nude or sexually explicit images without the subject’s consent, regardless of the sender’s intent. H-7452A, the House version, has been approved by the Senate Committee on Judiciary. The ACLU has opposed this bill since it will chill the media from publishing some newsworthy pictures. By its terms, it would potentially criminalize, for example, publishing some of the photos from Abu Ghraib. Read our full testimony on this bill here. The ACLU is looking into the possibility of a legal challenge to the law if it is enacted.
Mental Health Confidentiality
The Senate is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on S-2545A, a bill that would significantly expand the "emergency" circumstances under which doctors could share a person's confidential health care information without their consent. The ACLU and mental health advocacy groups oppose this new language and are working to have the bill reconsidered.
This week, a few important bills have been scheduled for committee consideration. When bills are voted out of their respective committee, that is when they are placed on the floor for a vote, as the bills above have been. The following are a few notable bills affecting civil liberties being considered in committees this week.
Police in Schools
This legislation, H-7919, is one of many introduced this year seeking to improve school security. Among other things, it would require a school resource officer in every school. The ACLU opposes this approach, believing it will result in the over-criminalization of schools and youthful behavior, and we will be testifying against the legislation in House Finance Committee on Tuesday for that and other reasons.
Senate Judiciary Committee will hear on Thursday a slew of abortion bills. They include a comprehensive bill sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin, S-2163, that would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and ensure that women in Rhode Island continue to have access to safe reproductive health care. The bill also repeals a number of state laws on the books that have been declared unconstitutional over the years. You can read our statement on this legislation here, and click here for a printable factsheet on the issue. At the same time, the committee will be hearing a host of dangerous anti-choice bills, including one that would make it a felony to assist a minor in getting an abortion in another state with more lenient abortion laws.
On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee will consider the "tampon tax" bill, S-2012, positive legislation that would create an exemption for feminine hygiene products from the sales tax. Currently, Rhode Island exempts necessities such as groceries and clothing from taxes, along with a litany of inarguably less necessary items such as jewelry display products and promotional literature of boat manufacturers. However for sales tax purposes, tampons and similar health necessities are treated as "luxury" items.
This is just a small selection of bills being considered this week, we have an extensive and regularly updated list of current legislation affecting civil liberties, along with the status of the bills, on our website here.