Another day in the ACLU’s life at the State House - News from The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, ACLU of Rhode Island News, RIACLU News


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Another day in the ACLU’s life at the State House

Posted: April 08, 2019|

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Most of our advocacy work flies under the radar.  Yes, we testify on more than 300 bills every legislative session, but that is just a fraction of what our lobbying on behalf of civil liberties entails.  The hours spent at the Statehouse do not include time spent reading, researching, writing about, and organizing around legislation and policy. For a lobbying team of two people, it often takes 13-hour days to stay abreast of RI legislative activity that affects civil liberties.

To give you a more accurate idea of how much work goes into our lobbying efforts, our schedule from one day last week -- Tuesday, April 2nd -- will give you a good snapshot.  That day, we weighed in on 12 bills (it would have been 14, but two were postponed), and also testified at two hearings on proposed election-related legislation at the Board of Elections (BOE).   And while the days are rarely uniform, this glimpse into our lobbying work is pretty accurate.  It’s also an excellent example of how we’ve maintained our 60-year (and counting!) commitment to civil liberties in the Ocean State.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

9am: Our lobbying duo – Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director, and Hannah Stern, our policy associate, sat down to go over the plan for the day and determine what prep work remained for Committee hearings that afternoon.

9:30am: They attended a meeting with the Coalition for Reproductive Freedom to discuss legislation pending in the Senate which would codify Roe v. Wade. #Repro4RI

10:30am: Straight from the Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, they headed to a meeting concerning the new presence of ICE detainees at the Wyatt Detention Center, an issue that the Affiliate brought to the public’s attention.  Related to the issue, we have been working with The Immigrant Coalition in support of legislation that would address ICE raids at “sensitive locations.”

12pm: After getting back to the office around noon, they spent three hours finalizing testimony on the 12 bills that we were weighing in on that day. They also started planning and drafting commentary for Wednesday’s bills.

3pm: They headed to the BOE. Because we have a lobbying team of only two people, Steve remained at the hearing until it ended, and Hannah left at 3:45 to testify at the Statehouse.

3:15pm: At the BOE, Steve testified in favor of a bill that would include the BOE under the rule-making provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act.

4pm: It was almost time for the legislative session to start, so Hannah arrived at the Statehouse. The bills that we testified on were split between 4 different Committees, and so we made sure to submit our written testimony to each committee prior to the hearings.

4:15-4:45pm: While the chambers were in session, Hannah signed up for bills in House Corporations, House Judiciary, Senate Commerce, and Senate Judiciary committees and confirmed that our written testimony was submitted.

5pm: Steve was still at hearings at the BOE, so Hannah went between the different committee hearings. (Imagine her running frantically between hearings, because that is what actually happened.) The Senate session was over first, so Senate Commerce and a bill which would protect “net neutrality” became the first testimony of the night.

5:15pm: Because we had both House and Senate hearings to attend, Hannah asked someone to text her and let her know when the House adjourned. One of the bills that the ACLU introduced on the interrogation of juveniles by police was being heard in House Judiciary, and she didn’t want to miss our opportunity to testify on it.

5:30pm: Hannah testified on the importance of net neutrality in Senate Commerce, and then headed down to House Judiciary for the rest of the evening. Written testimony on a bill concerning e-currency  in House Corporations had already been submitted.

6pm: The hearings at the BOE adjourn and Steve heads to the Statehouse.  The lobbying team is back together to finish out the day.

6:30pm: They testify on bills in House Judiciary concerning the need for search warrants for electronic devices and communications, and then the legislation is debated amongst the committee members, although no votes are taken.

7pm: After an hour and a half in House Judiciary, our bill on juvenile questioning came up, and we testified (in favor) and talked to the sponsor about strategy for the Senate.

7:30pm: We submitted written testimony on five gun bills up for a marathon hearing in Senate Judiciary, so at 7:30, they checked in to see how that hearing was going. Three of those bills included mandatory minimum sentences, which we strongly opposed. With the hearing expected to last into the morning hours, we relied on our written testimony in that committee.
(It's dark when they leave.)

7:45pm: Headed out! This was a pretty early close to the day.  In the previous several weeks, the team was at the Statehouse until 10pm on numerous occasions.

Imagine the repetition of this process three days a week, every week, for six months with a team of only two. Tuesday had just 12 of the more than 300 bills we will testify on this session, and each bill demands an individual, in-depth reading and thoughtful testimony.  It’s completely exhausting, and 100% worth it.

Want more information?

  • Here are some of the bills we have testified on during the 2019 legislative session.
  • Learn more about lobbying via our Advocacy 101 toolkit, available here.
  • In 2017, we wrote about a day in our life at the State House. Read that post here.

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