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Government Involvement in the Internet Isn’t About Freedom

Here’s something I don’t get:  Not that long ago the word went out that retracting net neutrality rules would end the open Internet as we know it, bringing it all the way back to the distant, dark days of January 2015.  So one would expect new proposals reportedly leaked from Senate Democrats to rev up the outrage machine again.  The plan is extremely broad, but a major plank is requirements for verification of users’ identities (at least for non-hackers), as well as…

Other proposals include more disclosure requirements for online political speech, more spending to counter supposed cybersecurity threats, more funding for the Federal Trade Commission, a requirement that companies’ algorithms can be audited by the feds (and this data shared with universities and others), and a requirement of “interoperability between dominant platforms.”

The paper also suggests making it a rule that tech platforms above a certain size must turn over internal data and processes to “independent public interest researchers” so they can identify potential “public health/addiction effects, anticompetitive behavior, radicalization,” scams, “user propagated misinformation,” and harassment—data that could be used to “inform actions by regulators or Congress.”

Of course, this proposal and net neutrality are only at odds if the people pushing either attempt to use the rhetoric of freedom.  If the goal is government control of the Internet, then they’re both perfectly in line, in which case net neutrality supporters were either deceived or have an unjustifiable faith that government overlords will always favor the content they desire.

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England Shows They’re Coming for Free Speech

It is critical we understand that there are powerful factions in the United States who want this to be our reality, here, too:

Free speech has come under increasing pressure in the United Kingdom. National “hate speech” laws have made the public discussion of issues like gay marriage, the transgender movement, and even tradition religious beliefs a potential criminal offense. Pro-life advocates have voiced concern that opposition to abortion, or even speaking in favor of life, is being treated as outside of acceptable public discourse.

Actions like those taken by local governments in Lambeth and Ealing effectively brand pro-life views as anti-social and their expression harassment, pro-life advocates say. Should courts continue to uphold those decisions, many fear the creeping criminalization of opposition to abortion.

The latest incident involved an informational booth at a government-run fair in Lambeth County.  The pro-life group’s materials appear to have been consciously inoffensive, and yet the local government shut it down without warning or explanation.

This is the direction in which a society heads when government becomes available as a means of restricting speech that some find objectionable.  Whatever ideological (let’s face it, religious) view a faction wishes to impose, it need only rephrase to be “hate” or “intolerant.”  Thus it becomes intolerant hate merely to suggest, for example, that society should have structures to link childbirth to marriage while it becomes tolerant love to see people driven from their jobs for disagreeing with progressive dogma.

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Who Pays for Intolerant “Tolerance” on Adoption

Jon Schweppe and Paul Dupont have it right, here:

Consider how the child welfare system works. The state works with adoption agencies and foster care providers to place children in homes. The providers recruit families to adopt or foster the children.

Different providers recruit different types of families. For example, Christian providers, which often work directly with churches or other faith-based charities, usually recruit Christian families. If you get rid of some of the providers, you get rid of some of the families. The fewer providers doing the work of recruitment, the fewer homes for children.

Simple enough, right? Yet the Left obfuscates by claiming LGBT couples should have a right to force providers to violate their faith or go out of business, while showing no concern for children in desperate need of families.

It is more important to progressives to block the ability of Christians and other traditionalists to live according to their beliefs and promote those beliefs than to help our society’s most-vulnerable children.  It happened in Massachusetts a decade ago, and it’s happening in Philadelphia, right now.

Data on these matters will take time to develop and to be analyzed.  No study jumped immediately out of an Internet search, and the interactions are complex.  However, mixing federal data on the numbers of finalized adoptions in Massachusetts with state-level numbers for the number of children ending each fiscal year gives some reason for concern.

Catholic Charities ceased providing adoption services near the end of fiscal year 2006.  From that year to 2014 (the last year for which all data is available), the number of finalized adoptions fell 29.6%, while the number of children (broadly defined) listed as having a “goal of adoption” fell only 6.6%.  Consequently, the number of children who were adopted fell from 24.2% of the total either adopted or awaiting adoption to 19.4%.

To be clear, this should be considered a rough estimate.  The numbers may need some adjustment before being combined, and there are some aberrations from year to year that should be explored.  Still, the apparent trend comports with what one would expect after this significant change in policy.  And if one cares about children (let alone religious freedom) opposing legislation that would allow religious organizations to keep doing what they’ve done for decades betrays a radical, inhumane intention.

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North Dakota Punishment of Progressive Shows Problem with Civil Asset Forfeiture

I probably don’t agree with many of Aaron Dorn’s political beliefs, but his experience in North Dakota puts a spotlight on the inherent corruption in civil asset forfeiture:

He was arrested during a Thanksgiving Day protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 in Mandan and charged with felony reckless endangerment, among other offenses. A state trooper alleged Dorn tried to swerve and ram his vehicle into traffic on Main Street in Mandan.

In June, Dorn was acquitted at trial, but his legal battle isn’t over. Morton County has held his 2003 Chevrolet Silverado since his arrest. Even though Dorn was acquitted, getting his truck back is a separate matter involving civil asset forfeiture, or the law enforcement seizure of property suspected to be involved in criminal activity.

Legitimate points might be made about the tactics in which anti-pipeline activists have engaged and the New York resident’s traveling to another state to cause trouble (from a certain perspective), but those are matters to address specifically in the law.  We should not want a surreptitious way of punishing people whose cases don’t meet the standard required by the law as it is written.

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Incentive for a Disability

News of a former employee of the Rhode Island House Minority office who has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit claiming that Minority Leader (and gubernatorial candidate) Patricia Morgan discriminated against her raises a topic to which our society has perhaps not devoted sufficient debate:

Masciarelli says in her complaint that she suffers from depression, and she alleges Morgan told multiple people she needed to be fired before she was covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Morgan says Masciarelli was fired due to her poor work ethic and she never knew of the woman’s disability. Morgan says she was cleared by the state Commission for Human Rights.

If emotional conditions are going to start carrying the same protections as physical conditions, we’re entering a legal thicket.  When a disability is physical, one can more-easily differentiate between employment decisions that have directly to do with an ability to accomplish necessary tasks and discrimination.  With emotional conditions, where does a “poor work ethic” end and a protected disability begin?

Indeed, the availability of such protections creates incentive for employees to seek diagnoses, and because psychology is more subjective than physicality, fraud would be more difficult to prove.  Even without bringing fraud into the picture, though, doesn’t anything that creates incentive to have a mental health problem make it less likely that the person will overcome it?

How long, one wonders, until people begin to claim that the stresses of their jobs created the hazardous (i.e., stressful) condition circumstances that led to emotional disabilities?

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Chutzpa and Beach-Front Sign Questions Around Trillo

The latest fight for independent gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo is against the Town of Narragansett, which has been trying to get him to remove a giant political sign from a family-owned beach-front property that his sister currently occupies.  The story has a number of angles that might pull a political theorist in conflicting directions.  On one hand, doesn’t a town have a right to set some restrictions on signs in residential zones?

Even if the Trillo property on Ocean Road wasn’t in a “public” zoning district, Manni said, the sign would be too large. In residential districts the maximum size for a yard sign is 6 square feet, he said.

On the other hand, how could a town (or state) possibly have the Constitutional ability to ban specific kinds of speech?

… since political signs are banned anywhere in town until 60 days before voters head to the polls, Trillo would have to wait September before he could advertise for the November general election.

On this count, the law will surely fall the very first time anybody challenges it, and it would be interesting for that anybody to be Joe Trillo.  Of course, that doesn’t mean the sign should stay.  It’s difficult to have sympathy for the property owners on small-government grounds after reading this:

Trillo acknowledged that the private residential property, occupied by his sister, sits in a zoning district designed for public land that does not allow the use of any private signs.  But he says the town should be working with him to remedy the situation, a result of his family decades ago having sold the state the beachfront land.

Without digging into the details, one can infer that the Trillos availed themselves of one of those schemes that allows a property owner to sell property (or development rights) to the government while maintaining ownership of the structure, or some similar arrangement, thus getting out from under taxes and, in some circumstances, blocking others from developing land that might otherwise be sold in subdivisions.

So, yeah, when you manipulate the law to get special treatment for your property, demanding to be able to use that property for your own political advertising takes a bit of chutzpa.

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How About a No-Poach Agreement with Government on Private Decisions

Here’s another example of people who have a certain philosophy seeing government as a sort of universal corporate board or universal labor union:

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is leading a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general seeking information about “no-poach” agreements meant to block employees from leaving one fast food franchise to work for another franchise in the same chain.

Healey says Monday the agreements limit the ability of low-wage workers to seek promotions and earn a better living.

The attorneys general say 80 percent of fast food franchisors have no-poach agreements.

Franchises make agreements with their lead corporations for a host of reasons, from marketing to supply purchases to business operations.  They’re simply a step removed from a more-straightforward corporate structure, in which the executives would be able to set policy for when and how employees can transfer from branch to branch.

The key point — that which makes this not a matter of corporate giants versus the little-guy employees — is that these are all ways of making decisions and balancing interests.  The big-government view breaks everything into power, rather than relationships of shared interest, and posits elected officials and bureaucrats as overseers balancing interests.

A shared-interest perspective reveals this to be oversimplified to the point of falsehood.  Good employees are valuable to corporations, which won’t impose burdensome restrictions on them.  A great register operator who wants to move up into management can always move out… to a similar company, so the chain doesn’t have incentive to shackle him or her to the front counter rather than share within the brand.

But that interest has to be balanced against other considerations, like the trust of franchisees that the corporation won’t set them up to fail in competition with each other for customers and employees.  Government isn’t in a position to (or very good at) making these decisions for people, and should stay out of them in the absence of truly egregious abuses.

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Maybe RI Regulators Will Listen to the Military

It amazes me that relaxing occupational licensing regulations even for military families is too much for special interests to accept, but Rhode Island should really take this news into consideration during next year’s legislative session:

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the presence of state laws on reciprocity of professional licenses for military families would now be a consideration when evaluating future basing and mission decisions in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

And that’s not all:

The statement — in a keynote address to the Western Governors Association meeting in Rapid City last month —came four months after Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Secretary of the Army Mark Esper sent a letter to the National Governors Association in February encouraging states to consider licensure reciprocity legislation while noting that the quality of local schools near a base would also be a new factor considered in future basing and mission decisions.

Imagine that… the U.S. military is concerned that its employees families have access to good schools and economic opportunity.  Rhode Island is fortunate, indeed, that private companies and individuals don’t have the same standards.

ADDENDUM (3:10 p.m., 7/10/18):
For those who can’t tell, that last sentence is sarcastic.

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A Plank in the Moderate Platform

Although one can’t really claim it to be a “moderate” idea, a policy pledge that Bill Gilbert sent out as a Moderate Party press release would be really fun to watch:

The Moderate Party’s candidate for RI Governor is advocating a tit-for-tat response to the current administration’s inappropriate use of eminent domain to seize private property for construction of a new PawSox stadium. “If elected I will work with the State Properties Committee to acquire Raimondo’s and Mattiello’s real estate for the public use and public good. I will convert these areas to public parks and open space forever named after each of them,” said Bill Gilbert.

Raimondo and Mattiello have threatened the rights of every tax-paying property owner in RI by passing a law that says they can use money never appropriated by the voters to confiscate a person’s land and give it away to billionaires, so they can build a PawSox stadium. Gilbert stated, “It’s governmental thuggery at its worst!”

Of course, if Gilbert were to win, Raimondo would simply be a private citizen, making the plan feel less appropriate, not to mention pointing to the reality that best way to impose a consequence and improve the function of government (and its respect for our rights) is to knock bad actors out of office.  In that regard, Gilbert’s candidacy is arguably at cross purposes with his intentions, creating the possibility that he’ll deprive a non-Raimondo candidate of victory by bleeding votes.

Indeed, the Moderate Party has arguably been one of the leading causes of Rhode Island’s inability to impose accountability on governors for two election cycles, now.

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How Is the Governor Not Excommunicated?

Election season — with opposition from can’t-get-to-his-Left Matt Brown — is pushing Rhode Island’s progressive governor Gina Raimondo to shore up her support from those on the fringe of her party, as the Associated Press reports:

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo says she would like the state legislature to return for a special session on abortion rights following the announcement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement.

WLNE-TV reports that Raimondo called the need to codify Roe v. Wade “more urgent and necessary than ever.”

Here’s a serious question Roman Catholics may rightfully be asking themselves: How is Governor Raimondo not excommunicated from the Church?  Here she is, a prominent Catholic, explicitly encouraging extraordinary steps to preserve the right to kill unborn children in Rhode Island in the face of still-speculative and distant change in federal law.

On both the grounds of the disposition of her own soul and her highly visible role in undermining Church teaching, how she can possibly continue to be recognized as a Catholic in good standing?

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Having to Win the Culture War to Allow Pluralism

Rod Dreher posted a great comment from one of his readers that captures something important in what I would propose as the pretty typical conservative view:

In a weird way, I’m kind of angry on behalf of liberals, if that makes any sense, because it pisses me off that such fundamental questions can be decided by presidential elections or judicial nominations. Which goes back to why I’m a conservative: I don’t think many of these issues belong in the political realm in the first place, and when they do, I’d prefer they be dealt with at the lowest, most local level of government where it’s practical to do so.

In a country as large, diverse and populous as the United States, it is INSANE for one part of the country to dictate to another, vastly different part of the country how it shall conduct its affairs. I have absolutely no interest in telling people in San Francisco how to live their lives or govern themselves, but it feels like I have no choice because if I don’t, they’ll turn around and impose THEIR will on ME, and I have NO desire to live like San Franciscans. It’s crazy.

Conservatives come to these battles reluctantly, because outside some basic constitutional guarantees, we think all of the difficult questions that the country faces should be answered at the state… if not at the local or community… level.  In the past, I’ve presented the three basic freedoms that ought to be guaranteed at the federal level as the right to speak your mind, the right to work to change the government, and the right to leave.

Progressive zealots can’t abide anything like that.  Progressive non-zealots (what we used to think of as liberals) used to be able to do so, but it seems less and less feasible.  More and more, it seems, those on the Left can’t even differentiate between believing that somebody ought to have the right to do something and believing that it ought to be done.  How do we move forward as a pluralistic society if that isn’t a possibility?  Conservatives are beginning to come to the realization that we can’t.

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Rules Against Bigotry Can’t Be a One-Way Door

The principle of “turnabout is fair play” applies to a story Glenn Reynolds noticed, of a University of Michigan-Flint economics professor who has asked Northeastern University, in Boston, to investigate whether one of its Women’s, Gender and Sexual Studies professors violated Title IX by publicly expressing hatred for all men:

“She has not only publically demonized and belittled all males at Northeastern University, she called out publically for the universal hatred of all men, including all men at your university,” [Mark Perry] wrote. “That makes Ms. Walters a confirmed sexist and bigot in violation of Title IX and your university’s own stated policies that prohibit such discrimination.”

Perry suggested that Northeastern should prevent [Suzanna] Walters from teaching male students, or have sway on decisions relating to male colleagues in her department, and be forced to partake in diversity training/anger management courses to address her sexism.

The humor of Professor Perry’s request (and the poignancy, even if we see no humor) resides in the fact that the door of bigotry is only supposed to swing one way.  As we see every year in Rhode Island, when Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo discriminates against school boys in her “governor for a day” contest, progressives really don’t believe that rules and mores against discrimination apply to their own beliefs.  By definition, in their minds, they are free of such taints.  To wit: “I am not a bigot.  Therefore, my beliefs cannot be bigoted.”

But the double standard cannot hold, and those of us who maintain that the entire scheme of political correctness and the punishment of speech and beliefs is wrongheaded shouldn’t be shy about challenging it in its own terms, as Perry has done.

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Assumptions in the Elimination of Parental Rights

An advocacy-as-news article from Megan Mitchell, a reporter/anchor for WLWT in Ohio, inadvertently brings into stark relief a flawed assumption and deadly blind spot in the promotion of transgenderism among children.  Teresa Schrader supports the decision of her daughter, Riggins, to present as a boy:

“I know my transition was easier because of my family and friends, but I also know that other kids like me don’t have it as easy because they don’t have the support,” said Riggins.

The new bill, proposed by Ohio Rep. Thomas Brinkman (R), from Mt. Lookout, would require school and hospital staff to inform a parent if a child indicates they aren’t sure about their gender.

Transgender advocates say the bill can create an unsafe environment for transgender children who aren’t supported by their family.

“The suicide rate for transgender kids is around 40%. So who wants their kid to possibly commit suicide because they’re not feeling comfortable with who they are or their not feeling supported?” said Schrader.

In an argument over legislation that would require teachers and therapists to inform parents of their children’s gender dysphoria, the party asking what parent wants his or her child to commit suicide should be the one insisting that parents have a right to know what’s going on with their children.  Schrader is assuming not only that satisfying the transgender impulse can be the right answer, but that it should be assumed always to be the right answer if the child with the dysphoria thinks it is, and that some parents might actually be willing to risk his or her suicide to disagree.

The more dreadful point, though, is the one less remarked upon.  The implicit argument is that schools and therapists should help to push children — children in a group that is more prone to suicide — into a situation in which they’re deceiving their parents about something supposedly central to their identities, possibly changing their own biology behind their parents’ backs.

A reasonable argument might exist that the legislation should be amended to account for those extreme and rare circumstances in which a parent can be excluded from the notice, but even getting that far is apparently beyond consideration.  Parents are villains until proven woke.

Rhode Islanders should pay attention, because policies being promulgated at the state and local levels infringe on parents’ rights in exactly the way Representative Brinkman is striving to remedy in Ohio.

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In Search of “Agency Fee” Refunds

Here’s an interesting twist in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, yesterday:

Public-sector workers across the country are seeking to recover back wages they paid to labor organizations in the event the Supreme Court declares mandatory union fees unconstitutional.

Class action suits have been filed against eight unions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, California, and the state of Washington, accusing individual unions of violating workers’ rights by collecting mandatory dues payments. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a groundbreaking case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which challenges the constitutionality of forcing public-sector workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The suits argue that any public-sector employee who participated in forced dues systems should receive financial “redress” from labor organizations.

Let’s stipulate that the number of public-sector employees in this category is probably pretty small in Rhode Island.  If not being in a union saves only a little bit of money or none at all because you have to pay an “agency fee” for the work the union does on your behalf anyway, you might as well be a member and get the full benefits, whatever they are.  One source puts the number of agency fee paying teachers under the National Education Association of Rhode Island at only 146, for instance.  I did some research on this a few years back, and although I can’t find my notes, that sounds about right.

Still, being forced to pay a private organization in order to keep your public-sector job is a sufficiently egregious violation of an employee’s rights that those in this situation should seek a return of the money that was taken away from them unconstitutionally.

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Thinking Through Trillo’s Campaign Finance Complaint

Billboards promoting Allan Fung’s candidacy may or may not violate campaign finance law, but Joe Trillo’s formal complaint about them raises questions that Rhode Islanders really should consider:

According to Trillo’s campaign, Fung is using several illuminated digital billboard signs in North Providence, which he did not report on his campaign finance reports.

“Allan Fung has been utilizing three corporate owned, illuminated digital billboard signs along major thoroughfares in North Providence, since December 3, 2017, but never officially reported paying for any such advertising on his past or present campaign finance reports. This is a violation of Rhode Island campaign finance laws, and yet another example of Allan Fung’s clear and intentional mismanagement of his campaign finances,” said Trillo.

Here is the current state of campaign finance law in the Ocean State, based on my own reading and experience dealing with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit: If the candidate paid for the billboards, they would have to be listed as an expense on his reports.  If the owners of the billboards put them up without consulting with the candidate, the candidate should report them as an in-kind contribution, and the owners should possibly file reports as if they are political action committees (PACs).

That last situation is patently unconstitutional.  The state government of Rhode Island cannot regulate and limit residents’ free speech rights just because what they say supports a candidate for office.  That is true no matter the motivation or whether the person asked the candidate for input before expressing his support publicly.

This same logic transfers directly to the candidate.  If it falls under free speech rights to express support for another person, and it absolutely does, then it must fall under free speech rights to express support for one’s own candidacy.

In the abstract (although probably not under current law as adjudicated by the Supreme Court), one could possibly argue that states can regulate the money that people give to candidates and how they spend it, but restrictions on anything having to do with speech are clear infringements on our rights.

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A Local Hook for Restaurateur Discrimination

As local papers often do with national stories, the Providence Journal strove to provide local color to a growing trend in the area of Washington, D.C., of driving Trump Administration figures out of restaurants:

“I know hundreds of restaurant owners in R.I., and I can’t think of one that would turn someone away,” said Bob Bacon, owner of the Gregg’s restaurant and bakery chain and a past chairman of the R.I. Hospitality Association, an industry trade group.

“We are all thrilled to death to be given your business,” he said.

Presumably, reporter Gail Ciampa isn’t aware of Revival Brewing Company’s cancellation of an America’s Future Foundation event at the last minute for political reasons earlier this year, even though I wrote about it in her paper.

It’s very easy for restaurants to proclaim that they’d never turn people away, and it’s easy to find a group of them that would be telling the truth with that proclamation, but that doesn’t capture the reality.  AFF had a similar experience with a different establishment shortly after, but I didn’t have time to write about it, and nobody else in Rhode Island media seems to care.

“It could never happen here,” the saying goes… except when it does.  Then nobody will notice so that they can continue to believe their pleasant fiction.

Not long ago, Christian writer Rod Dreher coined the Law of Merited Impossibility, which observes a common insinuation from the American Left whenever these sorts of stories emerge:  “That will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”  This is human nature, and conservatives should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better, but it’d be nice if professionals who believe themselves to be objective were able to acknowledge it.

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Notable Powers for Notary Publics

During our weekly on-air conversations, John DePetro and I have long pondered the increasing significance of notary publics to political campaigns. A campaign with some extra money can deploy people to go out and get votes by bringing absentee ballots to them and signing off on their signatures.

Today, John noticed a statement from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea touting the General Assembly’s passage of legislation implementing “a model” that only 11 other states have pursued “designed to standardize notarial requirements and procedures.” I’ll freely admit that my knowledge of the subject leaves me unable to assess how different the provisions of the new law are to current practice, but whether the following provisions will be new or are already in place, they are conspicuous in light of this increase in the prominence of political notaries:

  • Another person can sign for somebody who is “physically unable to sign a record.” That inability is not defined, but it seems likely to include not only physical impairment (like broken hands), but also an inability to write for any other reason. (“Physically,” in this reading, would be meant as a distinction to prevent people from signing for somebody who can’t sign because he or she is somewhere else, for instance.)
  • Notaries in other states or even other countries would be able to verify signatures.
  • Notaries could accept “signatures” by digital technology, meaning “an electronic symbol, sound, or process.”
  • Notaries don’t need to check ID if “the individual is personally known to the notarial officer.”
  • To the extent that ID is needed, a notary can accept IDs that have expired within the prior three years.
  • “Errors” don’t carry any penalty unless they can be shown to be outright fraud.

In short, it’s very easy to see how notaries could haul in votes as if with fishing nets even without doing anything fraudulent, and be separated with several layers of ambiguity from actual fraud.

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The Conditions Under Which Progressives Will Lease Us to Businesses

One last minute bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly, H8324, may or may not be going anywhere, but it’s worth a look as an educational exercise.

Very simply, it would require any “hosting platform” (e.g., AirBnB) that allows people to “offer any property for tourist or transient use” to be responsible for making sure that the rentals are in compliance with state and local laws and regulations.  It would also require the platform operators to take a more active role in the collection and transfer of all relevant taxes.

This little change in law, affecting a narrow portion of a single industry in the state, carries some important questions of the sort that we don’t consider thoroughly enough.  What is the nature of commerce?  Who works for whom?  Who has responsibility for whom?

From a free-market perspective that starts with the individual as the origin of all economic activity, the property owners are responsible for the product that they are offering, and the hosting platforms work for them.  Because they are the constituents of state and local government, they have a say in that government and can arguably be said to have consented to granting it some authority to regulate their activities.

The progressive perspective that has long been insinuating itself into Rhode Island government and encroaching on Rhode Islanders’ rights is very different.  That view doesn’t begin with individuals as autonomous sources of responsibility and power.  The Rhode Islanders seeking to rent their property don’t truly have ownership of themselves.  Rather state and local government has claims on their activities, and the hosting platforms own their rental businesses.  It is therefore reasonable for the government to require platforms to make sure that their workers comply with its requirements.

From a free-market perspective, a government that imposes requirements on people might create incentive for them to hire a contractor to do tasks for them — for AirBnB to provide inspections for regulatory compliance, for example, with an extra fee.  But from a progressive perspective, the government has a right to tell companies that intend to draw profits from its people what conditions they must impose, or else they cannot do business here.

In other words, progressives implicitly believe that the government is renting us out to the companies.

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“Equal Pay”: From the Radical to the Uselessly Disruptive

Fortuitously, the Providence Journal ran an op-ed by me explaining how insanely radical proposed equal pay legislation actually is:

This legislation must, therefore, be about something other than simple fairness in the workplace. Sure enough, the biggest piece making this legislation so radical is its broad scope — going well beyond the battle of the sexes. Indeed, the “equal pay” umbrella extends to the categories of “race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin,” covering all “comparable work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differences that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality. For any two employees who aren’t more or less demographically identical, the lower-paid one could initiate a complaint with the state with the same weight as complaints that the employer withheld pay. The law explicitly puts the burden on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase the difference, even if it’s innocent.

Today, the Rhode Island House will consider an amended version of the bill that gives reason to think that some legislators are not quite as crazy as the original bill would require them to be.  House 7427A limits the scope of the bill to race and gender, exempts companies under 18 employees, and reduces employers’ liability in a variety of ways.

The question now is why the legislature is passing anything at all.  Existing law already covers such things, so all this bill will do is create some new regulatory burdens with unproven legal language that may have unintended consequences.

The only explanation is political: that politicians want to be able to say they did something, even if they did nothing good in practical reality.  This gives momentum to the people who are manipulating the cultural narrative while tangling up Rhode Islanders who are doing their best just to support their families and move our society forward.

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Timbs v. Indiana May Not Go Very Far, but It Would Be a Good Step

It is unlikely that a ruling by the Supreme Court Timbs v. Indiana will go far enough to rein in civil asset forfeiture, even if it turns out to be a victory for that cause, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction:

The case is Timbs v. Indiana. It arose in 2013 when a man named Tyson Timbs was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to one year on home detention and five years on probation. A few months after his arrest, the state of Indiana also moved to seize Timbs’ brand new Land Rover LR2, a vehicle worth around $40,000. A state trial court rejected that civil asset forfeiture effort, however, on the grounds that it would be “grossly disproportionate to the gravity of [Timbs’] offense” and therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids the imposition of “excessive fines.”

The state’s forfeiture effort clearly qualifies as excessive. Timbs’ original crime carried a maximum financial penalty of just $10,000. And as the trial court observed, “a forfeiture of approximately four (4) times the maximum monetary fine is disproportional.” The trial court was right to deem the state’s actions unconstitutional.

But the Indiana Supreme Court took a different view when it decided the case in 2017.

If nothing else, the case is an excellent indicator of the fundamental injustice of civil asset forfeiture, inasmuch as it creates an additional category of penalty that isn’t technically considered a penalty.  “We’re taking your property away, but it’s not a penalty; it’s just that your property doesn’t really count as your property.”

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Another State Edging Toward Licensing Reform (Including for Hair Braiders)

Occupational reform catches on in Pennsylvania:

Being a barber, an auctioneer, or even a “campground membership salesperson” in Pennsylvania requires a state-issued license.

That should change, says Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wolf, a Democrat, called Thursday for the state legislature to abolish 13 occupational and professional licenses, following the completion of a year-long review of Pennsylvania’s licensing laws. In place of some of those licenses, the Wolf administration says workers could be required to register with state boards. For others, such as hair-braiders, the administration has recommended eliminating the state’s role entirely.

Is Rhode Island going to take the lead on economic freedom for its residents or be among the last states holding on to insider deals?  Sadly, that isn’t difficult to predict… unless voters start surprising us.

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Assets Forfeited and Returned by RI Police

Based on data provided by the attorney general’s office responding to an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request, the state’s various police agencies have seized $10,337,190 worth of cash and property since 2012, returning $1,417,559.  That’s an 86% forfeiture rate.

RI-assetforfeiture-forfeitandreturned-2012-2018

 

That rate is not evenly distributed across programs, however.  Law enforcement kept every dollar seized under a search warrant or on the grounds of eluding police, with other crimes producing the following forfeiture rates:

  • Tobacco: 10%
  • Gambling: 30%
  • Prostitution: 50%
  • Counterfeiting: 60%
  • Narcotics: 92%
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Missouri Takes the Obvious Step for Hairbraiders

Missouri has taken a step that Rhode Island should follow:

Previous state legislation in Missouri had required people who wanted to braid hair for profit to obtain a cosmetology license — which required the completion of 1,500 hours of training.

This requirement was time-consuming, expensive, and created an unnecessary obstacle that made using one’s knowledge and skills to earn a living more difficult. Furthermore, it mostly affected women of color, who primarily make up both the customers and the braiders.

The requirement was yet another example of the ways regulations hurt everyday Americans’ ability to provide for themselves and to pursue their own economic liberty.

We can discuss in a more rigorous way when licensing is needed.  Is the use of chemicals a line?  Should it be a matter of life and death or contagion?  But surely, when one person consents to give money to another to braid her or his hair, the government doesn’t have to be in the middle of that transaction, especially to require a license for something that hair braiders don’t actually do.

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The Size of the Forfeitures

As the Stephen Hopkins Center brief (PDF) mentioned in this space yesterday explains, the actual amounts of cash and property that law enforcement agencies seize aren’t huge on a case-by-case basis, bringing into question the assertion by supporters of forfeiture that this power is central to disrupting cartels and kingpins.  Out of curiosity, I put together this chart of the amount of money forfeited to Rhode Island law enforcement agencies in 2016.  (That is, money the agencies got to keep.)

RI-assetforfeiture-cash-2016

 

Consistent with the Hopkins Center brief, these results don’t show an obvious focus on major busts.  The largest number of cases (45) involved cash amounts in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.  Sure, that’s a good bit of money for a person to be carrying around in cash, but that could just be proof of the complaint from anecdotes around the country — namely, that law enforcement is considering having a good amount of cash to be suspicious activity of itself.  But money in this range could be intended for benign things like buying a used car or preparing to go on vacation.

Note, by the way, that these bars use the ranges from the Hopkins Center report.  If we were to break them out by even $500 increments, the largest group would be $501-1,000, which even less suggestive of big-time drug dealers.

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Some Numbers on Asset Forfeiture

The Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights this week released analysis (PDF) of the state’s narcotics-related civil asset forfeitures, wherein police agencies take money and property from people who have not been — and may not be — charged with a crime, under suspicion that the money or property is connected with the illegal drug trade:

Joee Lindbeck, lobbyist for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, testified at both the House and Senate Judiciary committee hearings in opposition to legislation which would require a criminal conviction before seized assets may be forfeited. Ms. Lindbeck asserted in both hearings that the proposed reforms would serve only to protect drug cartels and drug kingpins.

The Hopkins Center reviewed data collected by the Rhode Island General Treasurer on forfeiture cases in in 2015 and 2016, which was provided to us and requested under the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act. The Center then aggregated and analyzed that data in order to assess the realities of how the law is currently being used. The results are clear – the majority of forfeitures were for small dollar amounts, not the type of cash or property “wealthy drug lords” have on hand.

As the brief explains, out of the $970,524 seized, 28.34% was given back as not legitimately confiscated.  A closer review of the numbers shows instances in which law enforcement ultimately returned most of the money or property, but kept some of it.

Rhode Islanders can disagree about whether the ability to take citizens’ property without prosecution is a legitimate use of government power even when those citizens are big time drug dealers.  We will probably mostly agree, however, that the limits should be strict and the guaranteed due process rights very strong on behalf of those whose property is taken, which is what the legislation mentioned in the brief would do.

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