What’s Happening at the Statehouse : Week of 4/22-4/26 - 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 4/22-4/26

Posted: April 26, 2019|

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The ACLU testified on 29 bills this week at the Statehouse, with topics ranging from reforming criminal background checks to allowing over-the-counter medication in schools.

Here are the highlights of what we commented on this week; for a look at the session as a whole and how bills are progressing, visit our legislative page

Fair Chance Licensing (H 5863) The ACLU, along with a number of other advocacy groups, has long been concerned about the impact of criminal-record related professional licensing restrictions. Dozens of licensed occupations in our state have some form of conviction-related barrier codified by legislation, and every year legislation gets introduced to include more barriers to licensing based on a person’s past criminal record – no matter how old or irrelevant that record may be. We testified on specific bills which this issue directly affects and which are listed later in this post.

H 5863, introduced by Representative Scott Slater, would ensure that an individual’s prior criminal record is not the sole measure by which an applicant is disqualified for a license, and would create a comprehensive process for determining the relevancy of a conviction to the license being sought. We testified in support of the bill, noting that it would give a fair chance to all Rhode Islanders who meet applicable and appropriate qualifications to obtain an occupational license. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Harold Metts.

Criminal Background Checks (H 5367, S 138, S 443, S 576) Often, seemingly innocuous licensing bills have provisions including 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 certain occupational licenses. H 5367, S 138, S 443, and S 576 are some of these bills.

- H 5367 and S 138 would resurrect a previously repealed statute governing the licensing of medical lab professionals and would allow for a denial or suspension of a license for a conviction of any felony or misdemeanor for which an “essential element is dishonesty.”
- S 443 maintains language which includes under unprofessional conduct a “conviction of a crime of moral turpitude,” a vague, undefined, and highly subjective phrase which the ACLU has worked to remove from statute for years.
- S 576 includes offenses such as felony banking law violations and felony drug possession as grounds for denial of a license for massage therapy, despite the irrelevance of the crimes to the practice of massage and regardless of the amount of time that has passed since the conviction.

These pieces of legislation perpetuate systems of discrimination against individuals with past criminal records; we urged the Committee to impose specific and strict limitations on the use of criminal records in order to avoid inappropriately preventing individuals from entering fields for which they may be eminently qualified.

Immigration Status (S 231) We supported S 231, introduced by Senator Harold Metts, which would prevent landlords from inquiring about the immigration status of their tenants or potential tenants. In our testimony, we noted that this legislation is critical to ensure that undocumented individuals can maintain healthy housing without fear, and to guarantee that a landlord couldn’t use sensitive information for a retaliatory or threatening purpose.

Marijuana Real Estate Disclosure (S 334) Although vetoed last year by the governor, S 334, which would require disclosing whether a property had been used to grow marijuana before being sold, was re-introduced this session and continued raising concerns. We opposed the bill, commenting that it could breach medical marijuana patient confidentiality and that it did not differentiate between growers and large cultivators, meaning that a patient with two personal plants could be subject to exposure for their method of obtaining medication.

Right to an Education (H 5252) For students in low-income communities, remedies for a lack of educational equity are particularly urgent. H 5252, introduced by Representative Mary Messier, would propose an amendment to the Rhode Island constitution guaranteeing the right to an adequate education. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has several times rejected the notion that students have a judicially enforceable right to an education; this bill would ensure and constitutionally establish this right as fundamental. The ACLU supported this legislation.

In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students (H 5919) H 5919, introduced by Representative Grace Diaz, would ensure the accessibility of higher education to students who have spent a considerable amount of their adolescence in Rhode Island but may not have citizenship status. Not only is affordability of higher education a crucial component of educational equity, but particularly for undocumented students, the benefit of having affordable and accessible higher education close to home cannot be overstated. The ACLU supported the bill.

Uniform Parentage (S 497, S 789) We supported S 497 (introduced by Senator Gayle Goldin) and S 789 (introduced by Senator Erin Lynch Prata), which would update Rhode Island parentage and adoption laws to reflect the diversity of families that live in the state. The bills clear up current ambiguities by guaranteeing the right for LGBTQ families to establish parentage in a manner consistent with all other families and provide clear routes for parentage of children born through assisted reproduction. Companion bills introduced in the House by Representative Carol McEntee (H 5706, H 5707) were heard earlier this session but have not been voted on.

Source of Income Discrimination (S 331) S 331, introduced by Senator Harold Metts, provides a critical protection against housing discrimination based on a potential tenant’s source of income, which particularly impacts tenants of color and those with disabilities. Currently, landlords can deny housing applications simply because the applicant uses income originating from areas such as Social Security, child support payments, or Section 8 vouchers. This legislation would prohibit this practice and ensure that no tenant is denied housing because of where their rent money came from. We supported the bill. The House version, introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams, was previously heard but has not been voted on.

Over-the-Counter Medication in Schools (S 264) Introduced by Senator Ana Quezada, S 264, would allow the possession in school of medications which treat menstrual cramps and vaginal yeast infections without parental authorization. We testified in favor of a similar bill in the House previously in the session, H 5323, sponsored by Representative Susan Donovan.

Compassionate Care Act (S 320) At the core of our constitutional freedoms is the right to self-determination, both throughout one’s life and at the very end of it. Legislation introduced by Senator Gayle Goldin and supported by the ACLU would allow for certain terminally ill patients to make knowing and competent decisions about death and peacefully determine the end of their lives with dignity, autonomy, and privacy. Representative Edith Ajello introduced the House companion bill, which we supported earlier in the session.

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