As we’ve noted, the ACLU of Rhode Island lobbied on 339 bills and tracked over 800 pieces of legislation over the course of the 2019 legislative session. Of these bills, over 100 passed out of committee and were voted on in either the House, Senate, or both.

Just as critical as all the legislation making its way to the Governor are the bills, positive and negative, that died before they had a chance of becoming law. Some of these bills represented important steps forward for civil liberties in Rhode Island; some would have severely undermined existing protections or law or emboldened future bad policy.

This week we’re highlighting some of the legislation that died in the 2019 session after passing one chamber, and whose passage would have represented substantive movement towards protecting civil liberties in the state. Even though these important bills have died for this year, we look forward to continuing to advocate for them in the next session. 

Net Neutrality (S 40) “Net neutrality” guarantees that access to the internet remains non-discriminatory – 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 connection to Pizza Hut isn’t quicker than the pizza place down the street simply because Pizza Hut pays for faster connection times. We noted that open and equal access to the internet, which this bill, introduced by Sen. Louis DiPalma, would have protected, is a cornerstone to this ubiquitously used and indispensable medium. Like last year, this bill passed the Senate but died in the House.

Gender Rating in Health Insurance (H 5364, 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 gaps in the law allow the practice to continue (and the ACA’s vitality remains shaky). This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Katherine Kazarian and Sen. Susan Sosnowski, would codify this ban into Rhode Island law. Although it passed in the Senate, this bill died in the House.

Discrimination Against Parents with Disabilities (H 5562, S 702) This legislation, introduced by Rep. Terri-Denise Cortvriend and Sen. Louis DiPalma, would preclude the disability of a parent from serving as the basis for denial of their rights in the upbringing of their children. We supported the legislation because a fundamental component of disability rights is the ability to care for one’s family without fear of discrimination and because families have been, and continue to be, subjected to this discriminatory treatment. The Senate passed this bill, but the legislation died in the House.

Uniform Parentage (H 5707, S 789) This important piece of legislation, introduced by Rep. Carol McEntee and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata, would update Rhode Island parentage and adoption laws to reflect the diversity of families that live in the state. The bills would have cleared up ambiguities by guaranteeing the right for LGBTQ families to establish parentage in a manner consistent with all other families and providing clear routes for parentage of children born through assisted reproduction. Although the Senate legislation passed on the floor, the House legislation died in committee. Instead, the House approved creation of a commission to study effective ways to legislate uniform parentage.

Teacher Certification (H 6098, S 866 Sub A) Standardized written tests for teacher certification have been shown to have a particular negative impact on test-takers of color, and do not show the full spectrum of an applicant’s strengths. H 6098 and S 866 Sub A contained a critical provision which would explicitly bar a teacher certification applicant from being disqualified solely because of their performance on a teacher certification standardized test. This bill passed the Senate but unfortunately died in the House.

Juvenile Questioning (H 5334, 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 officials proceed as if they are well-informed adults with a full grasp of the situation. This legislation, introduced on behalf of the ACLU by Rep. Rebecca Kislak and Sen. William Conley, Jr., would prohibit the questioning of a juvenile suspected of criminal activity without a parent or legal guardian present. A case recently handled by the ACLU, in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, transported to the police, interrogated, and detained without her parents knowing, encapsulates the need for this legislation. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House.

Equal Pay (H 5659, S 509) The substantial disparities between the pay grades of men and women are well-documented, and the gaps between the salaries of white women and women of color in Rhode Island are equally as pronounced and troubling. This “equal pay” legislation, introduced by Rep. Susan Donovan and Sen. Gayle Goldin, is essential to not only promote the growth of our state, but to provide economic mobility for women, and women of color in particular, who are already more likely to have lower incomes than virtually any other group. This was a hot topic last year, when the House revised the bill so as to actually make the current equal pay laws worse. This year, the Senate passed the legislation, but the House left it in committee to die.

While these bills passed one chamber, many other pieces of pro-active legislation died in committee, and never received any floor vote. They included such diverse bills as bail reform, parole for juvenile offenders, marijuana legalization, occupational licensing reform for ex-offenders, and making drivers’ licenses available to undocumented immigrants. During the next legislative session, we will continue to lobby for these and other critical bills to provide greater civil liberties protections to Rhode Islanders.

This session saw many victories and setbacks for civil liberties. To learn more about them, come to our 2019 Legislative Wrap-Up event at the Weaver Memorial Library on Wednesday, July 24th. Enjoy delicious donated treats and coffee and hear the good, the bad, and the ugly from your legislators on how the 2019 session impacted the rights of Rhode Islanders.