Weekly State House Preview: June 4, 2018
Posted: June 03, 2018|
We are in the eye of the storm at the State House. While many more bills may be added in the coming day or two, the calendars are not extremely busy thus far for the week. Click here for our civil liberties Advocacy Toolkit. But they nonetheless include a number of bills affecting civil liberties. Here is a summary of some of them:
On the Floor
Medical Marijuana Disclosure
On Tuesday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on, S-2442, a bill opposed by both the ACLU and the R.I. Association of Realtors. It would require real estate agents to notify prospective buyers if medical marijuana is being grown on the premises. Such a requirement undermines the many confidentiality provisions of the state's medical mairjuana law.
Termination of Parental Rights
Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill, H-7593, that it would seem difficult to argue against: it imposes a mandatory termination of all parental rights for any person convicted of sexual assault which results in the birth of a child. The problem from the ACLU's perspective: it applies to convictions for statutory rape, where there could be as little as two years and a day separating the ages of the parents, and regardless of whether the "victim" concurs in the termination of rights.
Drug Dealer Life Sentences
Last week, on a 22-11 vote, the Senate approved "Kristen's Law," 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, opposed the bill for undermining the state's efforts to deal with the opioid crisis as a public health, rather than criminal, concern. Unfortunately, House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the House companion bill on Wednesday. Read the detailed letter of opposition from the medical community and others here. The ACLU is continuing to actively lobby against the bill's passage, and calling on the Governor to veto it should it get to her desk.
At the same meeting, the House Committee is scheduled to vote on H-7729, which would eliminate the counting of write-in votes for persons who have not filed in advance a "declaration of intent." While write-in votes may seem like a futile endeavor, they are nonetheless a valid exercise of a person's individual right to vote. This bill would literally make a lie of the democratic bromide that "every vote counts." Apparently not. The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary commitees in opposition to the legislation.
Death Certificate Gender Identity
Senate Judiciary Committee has a full voting agenda on Tuesday. On the positive side is a vote on a bill, S-2614, that provides guidelines for filling out a death certificate in situations where the decedent’s gender identification differs from the gender assigned to them at birth. Passage of this will ensure that Rhode Island respects every individual's identity and wishes upon their death.
Drug Overdose Death Review Team
Less positive is a committee vote on a Department of Health bill, S-2577A, providing for the state medical examiner to conduct a multi-disciplinary team review of drug-related overdose deaths. Our concern is that the team would consist of a number of law enforcement representatives, which we find particularly problematic in the context of the pending passage of "Kristen's Law." Although the team's purpose is to "examine emerging trends in overdose" and identify "potential demographic, geographic, and structural points for prevention and other factors," its potential for use as a criminal investigatory tool remains too great, regardless of the confidentiality safeguards the bill tries to put in place. That is why the ACLU testified against the bill and urged amendments to remove law enforcement officials from the team.
Animal Cruelty Penalties
Last year, the General Assembly approved a modest, but wide-ranging, criminal justice reform package package, but old habits die hard, as evidenced by the Senate Judiciary Committee's scheduled vote to approve S-2135, a bill that would make it a felony for a person to be twice convicted of the misdemeanor offense of engaging in broadly-defined animal cruelty, which includes such crimes as shearing a horse in the winter or holding a greasy pig contest. A second offense under this particular section of the law increases the potential prison sentence more than six-fold. Earlier this year, the ACLU of Rhode Island released a report, “Rhode Island’s Statehouse to Prison Pipeline,” that took an in-depth look at the General Assembly's overzealous approach to criminal law making and sentencing.
This is just a small selection of bills being considered this week. You can find an extensive and regularly updated list of current legislation affecting civil liberties, along with the status of the bills, on our website here.