Two Bills: When You’ve Got Rights, and When You Don’t, in Rhode Island

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By way of providing a sampling of the bills that have driven me to anxiety while reading through the entire collection of them in both chambers of the General Assembly (now nearing 1,500), here are two introduced in the House this week.

The first is H6088, sponsored by:

  • Eileen Naughton (D, Warwick)
  • Larry Valencia (D, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond)
  • Elaine Coderre (D, Pawtucket)
  • Scott Slater (D, Providence)
  • Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth)

The bill’s intention is to grant the recipients of any (vaguely defined) care and education services a right not to be restrained for anything short of an emergency, whether with one’s body or by some other method.  Its effect, though, would be to cost businesses and customers (for private providers) and taxpayers (for public schools and providers) more money for training about the new law as well as alternate strategies for dealing with people whom they might previously have restrained.

More importantly, it would force the professionals in such organizations to second-guess every decision in circumstances in which failing to react quickly can be dangerous or even deadly.

But with a focus on the legislators’ beliefs about the world, the relevant point is that they think potentially dangerous and disruptive people have a nearly absolute right not to be held back, down, aside, or any other way.

Now move on to one of the most frightening bills I’ve come across this season, H6099, which would create a quasi-public statewide water district called the Ocean State Water Authority.  Here are the sponsors (take a moment to make note of their names, if you’re so inclined):

  • Christopher Blazejewski (D, Providence)
  • Stephen Ucci (D, Cranston, Johnston)
  • Elaine Coderre (D, Pawtucket)
  • Scott Slater (D, Providence)
  • Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket)

Here’s the description that I’ve written for use on RIVotes.com:

to create a quasi-public statewide Ocean State Regional Water Authority, with a board consisting of a majority of members appointed by the mayors of Providence, Cranston, and North Providence. The authority would be available to purchase water systems from the local organizations that currently operate them and to bring in water from out of state. It would be able to issue bonds, and would have the power to enter without permission onto any property in Rhode Island to examine the land and drill and dig into the ground. It would also have powers of eminent domain, to take land that the board determines it needs for current or future use. It would also set rates for water and have authority to place liens on properties of delinquent customers, as well as to shut off their water.

But don’t take my word for it and therefore deprive yourself of the experience of reading about how “agents or employees… shall so far as possible restore the land to the same condition as prior” to their traipsing around on it.  (While you’re reading the bill, double check that I didn’t miss a requirement that the owners of the property will be notified that the water authority will be digging up their land; I didn’t see one.)  And read for yourself how state and local governments would have to give permission for their own land to be taken, with the local municipal government authorized to grant permission on behalf (so to speak) of residents and other organizations whose property is to be condemned and confiscated.

So, turning back to beliefs about rights, the collective rights of people threatened by a dangerous patient have to be immediate and otherwise impossible to protect in order for that person to be restrained, but the collective rights claimed by the State of Rhode Island (though mainly its urban core) to plan and operate water systems mean that a new unelected board should be able to modify your land without even telling you and take that land away if there’s a chance it would be useful to its purposes.



  • Mike678

    If you want to pay through the nose for water, support this bill. Of course, if it passes, goodby Dem majority.

  • Warrington Faust

    There more of this authority around than most would guess. For instance, surveyors are immune to claims of trespass.

    Massachusetts has a similar water authority, the MWRA. According to Howie Carr, the initials stand for "Mostly We Ride Around". I don't know what good it has done. In towns just South of Boston, such as Quincy, water bills are as large as RE tax bills. I believe that the MWRA has power to bond, and the cost has to come out of the water. As with most agencies "some is good, more is better". So there seems to be no limit on water projects. Some years ago I knew a member of the Boston Water Commission. I was given to understand that 20% of houses in Boston did not have a meter. That meant their water was free.

    I know little of these things, but it would seem that the Blackstone could supply all of Rhode Island's needs. Too simple?

  • mangeek

    Water is always a tricky thing. Whole towns were deep-sixed when the Quabbin was created:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quabbin_Reservoir

    I wouldn't worry too much about the water bill, as another commenter mentioned, there are already plenty of entities that have the right to come onto your property to do things 'for the greater good', like trim trees that impact traffic or utilities, replace gas meters, surveying, gas work, etc.

    The 'freedom from restraint' thing seems a bit absurd, though. I have friends who 'restrain' mentally unstable people for a living. It seems like onerous amounts of paperwork to fill out. Not everyone is a special little angel who just needs to be calmed down and put in 'time out'.

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