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Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson on Pending Legislation

Guests: Julie Casimiro, State Representative, H-D 31, rep-Casimiro@rilegislature.gov
Camille Vella-Wilkinson, State Representative, H-D 21, rep-vella-wilkinson@rilegislature.gov
Host: Richard August
Topic: Vaping and other pending legislation
Host: Richard August Time: 60 minutes
Representatives Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson discuss a broad range of pending legislation and other matters, which have their concern. Topics include vaping legislation; a veteran joint oversight committee; pharmacist having birth control prescription authority; reproductive health; firearm legislation; climate control; out of school time learning; early parole for young rehabilitated offenders; military sexual assault trauma; and more. Other matters include the need for a constitutional convention; line item veto; minimum wage; and candidate endorsements.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Why Can’t Everybody Be Right?

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 27, included talk about:

  • The Convention Center, the Speaker, the Republicans, and the Projo
  • Sickness in the Warwick teacher contract
  • Making the yellow shirts count
  • (Slim) hope as a new face enters the Providence school scene

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I’ll be on again Monday, February 3, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Catch Up with the Monthly State of the State

If you try to keep track of policy and politics in Rhode Island (and if you’re reading this site, you probably do), you should put the State of the State program on your watch list.  The program usually has two half-hour segments, but sometimes sticks with one guest for an hour, and it’s a good way to get a different point of view from the mainstream, from both the guests and the hosts, who often ask questions public figures and others wouldn’t be asked elsewhere.

The latest episode had a segment on Title IX abuse and another on Second Amendment rights.

1-13-20 Recent Title IX Cases from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

1-13-20 Stun Guns, Tasers and the 2nd Amendment from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

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Opioid Solutions When the Government Refuses to Address Problems

In his recent essay on this site, Dr. Stephen Skoly described the consequences of legislation seeking to regulate prescription opioids, but he stopped short of broad conclusions about the politics involved.  As it happens, one such conclusion fit in well with the other topics that John DePetro and I discussed on December 30.

We can, of course, debate whether a new $5 million fee for opioid manufacturers and wholesalers is actually about solving a social problem, rather than finding a new source of revenue.  But taking the politicians at their word for their motivation, one can at least say that such policies infantilize the people, as if our legislators and governor are the only adults in the state and therefore must protect patients from their irresponsible selves and from greedy doctors.

Something milder and, in its way, worse is probably going on, as well.  The theme that John and I happened upon in our segment was that government officials in Rhode Island shy away from addressing actual problems.  They look for all sorts of ways to get at them without actually naming and attacking the root causes.

When it comes to a failing education system, they seek work-arounds and small tweaks like, like shifting authority toward principals, rather than draw attention to the labor-union structure that makes the system all about the remuneration of adults rather than the education of children.  When it comes to teenage fights at a mall, the focus goes to things like community programs to give kids something to do, rather than unraveling the progressive assumptions that lead to gang-friendly policing and suspension-unfriendly school regulations (not to mention identity-group entitlement).

Just so, going after fentanyl and heroin on the criminal market would manifest in urban areas and among minorities.  Many people in those communities would be grateful for the improved environment, but the enforcement and incarceration statistics would look bad and draw the attention of groups like the ACLU.  So instead, government tries to find a solution from the other side, making things more difficult (literally more painful) for law-abiding citizens, in the hopes that they can limit the market for the drugs and make the dealers go away for lack of profit.

If that approach also produces a $5 million fee for government, so much the better.

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Of Course Police Like Powerful Tools

For the category of the news media constructing narratives on behalf of government, is there any way this finding could have been otherwise?

Police: R.I.’s red flag law ‘likely averted potential tragedies’

As of Oct. 31, state and local police across Rhode Island had invoked the red flag law on 33 occasions since its adoption in June 2018. The law allows police to petition a court for an “extreme risk protection order” that allows them to confiscate firearms from individuals believed to be at “imminent risk” of killing themselves or others.

Yeah, of course any time you take away somebody’s gun, you can say you might have stopped some tragedy.  But (of course) maybe you didn’t.

The implicit bias of this article is indicative of the entire gun-control impulse.  It’s the same mentality that says if we just take away all guns, we’ll obviously be avoiding tragedies.

Except when we don’t.  In those cases, there’s always an excuse and an explanation of how being even more aggressive about taking away guns would work better.  Contrary evidence is also difficult to connect decisively; while law enforcement can claim that every confiscated gun might have “averted potential tragedies,” we simply don’t know what “potential tragedies” might be caused by confiscation.

There are the immediate scenarios, of course, like the woman who obeyed a gun-free-zone law while the stalker who murdered her husband did not or the Texas church-goers who brought a quick halt to a mass shooting attempt.  And then there are the longer-term consequences of being the sort of people who’ll let government promise us greater security if only we’ll sacrifice a little bit more of our freedom.

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Next, They’ll Come for Meat

Earlier today, I highlighted Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to make gasoline more expensive because “we have to get off of gas-guzzling cars for the existence of us.”  By pure chance, today, I also came across this indication, in The Economist, of the future of this sort of argument, under the headline, “How much would giving up meat help the environment?”:

IT IS NO secret that steaks and chops are delicious. But guzzling them incurs high costs for both carnivorous humans and the planet. Over half of adults in both America and Britain say they want to reduce their meat consumption, according to Mintel, a market-research firm. Whether they will is a different matter. The amount of meat that Americans and Britons consume per day has risen by 10% since 1970, according to figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

People who want to eat less livestock—but who can’t quite bring themselves to exchange burgers for beans—might take inspiration from two recent academic papers.

Whether we’ll freely take inspiration from those two academic papers, we can predict that somebody else will take inspiration to use government to force us to stop being “meat-guzzlers.”

Once we allow that government can use its power to nudge us away from exercises of our freedom, activists will find an endless series of activities that the world would be better off without.

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Vaping Shows How Quickly They’ll Take Away Rights

Note this, from Guy Bentley on Reason:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally identified a primary suspect in the wave of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths.

Examining lung tissue samples of patients hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses, 100 percent tested positive for vitamin e acetate, often used to cut marijuana oils. This was not a surprise to those who have been arguing that the cause of these illnesses is not the commercial e-cigarette market, but the illicit market for THC vapes.

Now recall that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo moved quickly to hurt Rhode Island businesses by unilaterally banning a legal product that even then looked likely not to be the culprit.

Yes, we’re decades into a campaign by government to create a superstitious dread of nicotine products, but still… part of me can’t help but feel like every incident like this is a test to see how willingly Americans will give up their rights and their freedom.  The results of this test were not encouraging, at least in Southern New England.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Connecting Political Dots

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 11, included talk about:

  • The problem of public sector pensions
  • The value of the Fung brand for the Mrs.
  • Mayor Pete’s no-media, no-controversy event
  • Nanny Bloomberg and Gina’s RFP
  • No warning on the homeless transplants

Open post for full audio.

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The Limits of Lawlessness in Service of the Progressive Cause


A brief summary of the essential elements leading to no indictments related to the August 14th incident where a Wyatt Detention Center guard drove his truck into immigration-enforcement protesters blocking the entrance to the facility parking lot is as follows…

Protesters at Wyatt wanted some lawlessness, when it gave them an advantage in imposing their will on others.

At the point where the lawless enviornment no longer provided the protestors with the advantage they sought, they wanted the state to step in and take their side.

The system seems to have reached the conclusion that the protestors’ ask was unfair, and has rejected it.

 

The continuation of events following the decision not to indict is also worth noting…

As recorded in the Woonsocket Call, on the day it was announced, the grand jury decision not to indict was protested at the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office in downtown Providence.

However, despite the parking lot for the Attorney General’s office being nearby, the protestors chose not to block traffic or attempt to deny anyone access to a public space during the Providence protest.

 

Worth discussing, especially with people with divergent views on how the police, prosecutors and the court system are dealing with these types of events; is why the protesters chose blocking access to a public space as their tactic in one place but not the other. There are variety of possibilities and working through them may be revealing.

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Block Calls for Investigation of Warwick

Ken Block has been one of the most visible reformers looking for change in the State of Rhode Island, and last year, he directed some of his attention toward the City of Warwick, its financial problems, and the questionable way it was handling some of its operations.  That’s when his Warwick-based office received a visit from the fire marshal, conducting a surprise inspection based on an “anonymous, non-specific complaint.”

After waiting a year for Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon to deliver on his promise of a review of that inspection, Block has filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office:

I write today to file a formal complaint with your office regarding the City of Warwick. I believe that I have been the victim of abuse of power and an unfair and possibly illegal search. …

The visits to my office by first the fire department, then the Mayor and lastly the tax office conspired to send me a crystal-clear message: stop causing trouble or we will make your life hard.

Public servants should never abuse the power that is only made possible by the voters and taxpayers that support them. I look to your office as an important check on this sort of abuse.

Reformers are always at a disadvantage when pushing back against government abuse, particularly in a state like Rhode Island, which is incredibly lopsided, politically, and becoming more so, not less.  If the legal system and judiciary won’t act as a check on abuse, then all truly is lost. The same is true if people, like Ken Block, stop pushing back.

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The Foundation of Human Rights

A British court ruling made international headlines last week when it decided that the Bible is incompatible with human dignity. The case involved a Christian doctor who, out of the conviction of his beliefs, refused to refer to a transgender patient by their desired pronouns. As a result, the doctor was fired.

Should, God forbid, these same sentiments become commonplace in the United States, we should fear that it would mark the beginning of the end of not just religious liberty, but the acknowledgement of universal human rights in general. The most important piece of the philosophy upon which America was founded is the idea that we are endowed by our Creator the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This statement recognizes that human dignity is absolute, not because of the decisions made by judges, rulers, and governors, but because of the dictates of a God that is infinitely more powerful and authoritative.

If the United States, like this British court, at some point decides to throw God out of the picture, we would be forced to come to terms with the fact that government, being the most authoritative force over our lives, is the entity that has the final say over the definition of our rights and dignity. As it currently stands under the precepts of the Declaration, government does not grant us our rights, it dutifully acknowledges them as absolute, universal, and eternal, and protects them accordingly. A society that rejects God’s say in this matter grants this authority to its government, and had better hope and pray it doesn’t change its mind on what human rights should be.

For more thoughts on the issue of human dignity, I have written a more extensive piece on my personal site.

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Freedom… From the Progressive Point of View

Perhaps the most clarifying statement in Rhode Island politics, recently, came from one of the candidates now involved with Matt Brown’s Political Cooperative (which, despite the name, is not an alt-country band):

“Thought I may be the epitome of the American dream I cannot sit around and watch while many of my brothers and sisters are denied a shot at that very dream,″ said Jonathan Acosta, tracing his own story from “first generation American born to undocumented migrants from Colombia″ to the Ivy League.

“I believe that we are not free until we have dismantled structural inequality, developed sustainable clean energy, enacted a $15 minimum wage that pays equal pay for equal work, extended healthcare for all, provide[d] affordable housing, ensured quality public education starting at Pre-K, undergone campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, and implemented sensible gun control,″ said Acosta, running for the Senate seat currently held by Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls.

So, to Mr. Acosta, we’re not free until we’ve taken from some categories of people to give to others, limited people’s energy options to benefit fashionable technologies, forbidden employers and employees from setting a mutually agreeable value on work to be done, taken money from some people in order to pay for others’ health care (as defined by a vote-buying government) and/or put price controls on what providers can charge, placed restrictions on who can live where and what they can build, tightened the regulation of politics with limits on the donations and privacy of those who become politically active, and reduced the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

If that doesn’t match your understanding of “freedom,” you’re not alone.  Indeed, by its mission, this “cooperative” is cooperating against anybody whose understanding of freedom differs, because it cannot possibly cooperate with anybody who disagrees.  You simply can’t hold a definition of freedom that doesn’t have satisfactory outcomes for the interest groups that progressives have targeted.

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Governor Signs Executive Order to Increase Smoking

The appropriate response to Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s executive order banning certain forms of vaping in the state is to challenge her authority to do so.  If we accept the principle that the governor can simply ban products she doesn’t like, we’ll soon find our governors believing they can simply ban anything.

What makes the governor’s action doubly objectionable, however, is its complete reliance on fact-free emotion:

In response to the growing public health crisis of e-cigarette use among young people in Rhode Island, Governor Gina M. Raimondo today signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Health to establish emergency regulations prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The Executive Order also puts in place a number of other measures designed to the curb the initiation of e-cigarette use by young people.

As far as I can tell (and the press release doesn’t provide anything additional), the only “crisis” is that people are doing the thing that the governor wants to ban.  Indeed, the governor is banning “flavored e-cigarettes,” while the only actual “crisis” has been illness nationwide, mostly having to do with people vaping THC (the marijuana chemical).

For vaping generally, it isn’t even clear that it has had a net negative effect.  The governor’s press release may insist that decreases in teen smoking are “thanks to decades of public health education and advocacy,” but the numbers for smoking and vaping suggest that there’s more to the question.  This is from a post in this space in January 2018:

… According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, “from 2011 to 2015, the percentage of 12th-grade students who had ever used an e-cigarette increased from 4.7 to 16 percent.” But over that same period of time, the percentage of seniors who said the same about actual cigarettes decreased from 10.3% to 5.5%. Smokeless tobacco (like snuff and chewing tobacco) is down from 8.3% to 6.1%. (These groups aren’t exclusive, meaning that there’s some overlap between them.)

As of 2014, more students had used an e-cigarette than an actual cigarette. The question that the advocates and (in turn) the journalists miss is this: If the alternative to e-cigarettes is not nothing, but smoking or chewing tobacco, isn’t this outcome positive?

If, as looks plausible, the availability of vaping has reduced smoking, one foreseeable consequence of banning vaping will be an increase in teen smoking.  The fact that this possibility doesn’t come up in government statements or coverage thereof suggests that the whole thing is just a moral panic stoked for political reasons.

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The Essence of Educational Freedom… for Providence Pols

Ian Donnis’s article looking into the educational choices of government officials who live in Providence has received much-deserved attention.  I don’t think anybody has adequately noted how telling it really is.

The upshot is that, out of 38 officials he reviewed, Donnis found only eight with school-aged children, of whom there were 13 between them.  Of these:

  • Four go to private schools (religious or otherwise)
  • Three go to charter schools
  • Six go to regular district schools

That’s not the whole story, though.  One of the children in district schools went to charters before entering high school.  He and one other politician’s child go to Classical, which has been ranked #1 in the state.  Two more go to a particular elementary school, which Erika Sanzi implies is “on the fancy side of town,” with a lottery even for children in the neighborhood.

This scenario illustrates the essence of educational freedom that wealthier families enjoy.  If they are interested in utilizing public schools, they’ll move to specific zip codes for that purpose.  If that isn’t an option, or if the schools change, they apply for charter schools.  If they don’t win that gamble, or if a particular school has an entrance exam and their children don’t succeed on the test, then they’ll turn to private schools.  (I’ve long suggested that charter schools’ introduction was in some respects an attempt to capture those families that were escaping to private schools.)

If we consider education to be as critical as politicians like to claim, then it shouldn’t only be families of means who can make these decisions.

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Education Freedom: Our Children Need Opportunity Today

Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation, and a vital basis for renewed economic growth.

Yet, very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly. Look at the broken Providence School system. Parents need answers for their children today, not reforms that may help students five or even ten years down the road. Educational freedom is the answer.

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A Thoroughly Predictable Chain of Events at the Wyatt Detention Center


In response to the events at the Wyatt Detention Center from two weeks ago, Our society could choose to accept anarchy, to accept that whoever has the bigger, tougher, better organized gang wins for themselves the use of public spaces; literally implementing might makes right as a governing principle. This does not seem to be a pathway that governing authorities in Rhode Island will consciously choose, as state government quickly remembered the importance of deterring violence from escalating, once the focus of events became people not involved in the intentional blocking of traffic.

A second possibility would be to cut the problem off at its root: enforcing laws and norms against blocking traffic and against denying people the right to travel in public spaces, and uniting around a shared norm that has served our society well. (I concede that that last phrase is a bit normative).

Of course, this depends on the right to travel being a norm that is widely shared. Is this still the case? The affinity repeatedly shown by protestors for blocking traffic, combined with the so-far one-sided response by Rhode Island authorities, suggests that it may not be; this, in turn, points in the direction of the third possible evolution of the system: convincing people that it is acceptable for government to protect fundamental rights within the context of a caste system, where some people have fewer rights than others. For various reasons, this is an unlikely candidate for smooth implementation.

That is your universe of choices. In the end, any way forward that abandons the impartial defense of the right to travel will lead to more and more cycles of violent conflict that will only be eliminated once the norm acting against those who try to block innocent people from traveling in public spaces is rediscovered.

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Felonious Dark Humor from Teenagers

An Associated Press story on WPRI’s Web site raises two questions:

A Florida teenager faces a felony charge after getting so fed up with her little sister’s noisy phone that she threatened to shoot up a school. …

The teen told investigators she was so annoyed by the sounds from a sixth-grade group chat that she took her sister’s phone and wrote: “Next person to say something is the first person I will shoot on the school shooting that will take place this Friday.”

The police have officially determined that the 16-year-old does not actually have any plans for a school shooting.  While we can all be grateful for that, one must wonder:  Isn’t felony sarcasm a bit of an extreme charge in response to teenagers’ famously poor judgment?

A second question follows on that one:  Should we really want children to internalize the idea that just mentioning a school shooting is a major crime?  It seems to me that we’d want the threats to be made so that they could be quickly investigated, not only to determine whether there’s an actual threat, but also to discover whether the teenager needs help.

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Looking to the Data on Gun Control

Leah Libresco’s Washington Post commentary on gun control is worth a read, not only for information on that specific issue, but also for some perspective on how political issues should be considered:

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

One often gets the impression that the motivation for gun laws really is an assertion of power over the types of people who own them.  Another motivation often seems to be a personal sense of having done something about some tragic event by passing new laws, which shouldn’t outweigh the rights of others.

The key quality of Libresco’s thinking is that she apparently began by asking what her objective was and then measuring possible solutions.  Following her lead would also allow us to weigh one objective against another.

For example, among the policies that she suggests is “identify[ing] gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures” using “an algorithm.”  This brings to mind the Community Safety Act in Providence, which places extreme limits on the lists that law enforcement can use to track gang activity.  If reducing gun violence is a critical goal, then a policy like the CSA would have a different context.

Maybe one policy wins out over another, or maybe neither makes sense, but if our public policy debates were more logically structured and more rationally conducted, at least we would be weighing pluses and minuses.  Instead, it too often seems that the arguments proceed with participants feeling that the problems and solutions are obvious and easily resolved if not for the intransigence of the other side.

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The Question of Cashlessness and Dictatorship

Since we’ve recently had some discussion about cashless business and the way it connects with freedom, which is particularly appropriate this week, developments in Hong Kong deserve a timely mention:

In Hong Kong, most people use a contactless smart card called an “Octopus card” to pay for everything from transit, to parking, and even retail purchases. It’s pretty handy: Just wave your tentacular card over the sensor and make your way to the platform.

But no one used their Octopus card to get around Hong Kong during the protests. The risk was that a government could view the central database of Octopus transactions to unmask these democratic ne’er-do-wells. Traveling downtown during the height of the protests? You could get put on a list, even if you just happened to be in the area.

So the savvy subversives turned to cash instead. Normally, the lines for the single-ticket machines that accept cash are populated only by a few confused tourists, while locals whiz through the turnstiles with their fintech wizardry.

How do I reconcile my agreement with the concerns of Reason’s Andrea O’Sullivan, who wrote the above, and my aversion to the Rhode Island government’s ban on cashless retail?  Well, I ask myself an important question:  Did the General Assembly pass and the governor sign that legislation in order to preserve the rights and anonymity of the people of Rhode Island?

No.  By all appearances, somebody complained to a legislator or two about running into difficulty making a purchase at some point.  The politicians thought the legislation would buy them some good will from desired constituencies (like young voters), and they don’t give much thought to the rights of business owners to define their own business models.  That doesn’t mean that the legislators’ conclusions were wrong or right, but it does suggest that they weren’t crafted carefully in such a way as to balance the interests of various groups and all of our interest in preserving our freedom.

Yes, Hong Kong does give us preview of a dystopian future.  Everybody’s accustomed to life without cash, and they’re on the dangerous edge of a communist dictatorship.  In evaluating legislation in the Ocean State, we shouldn’t start by imagining how it would play if transported into a dictatorship, but rather by asking whether it brings us closer to being one.

To avoid the dystopia, we need the freedom to innovate.  A society in which the government does not feel it has the authority to impose business requirements is one in which people will develop new technologies and value their freedom, competing against large conglomerates that, themselves, would one day be subject to takeover by a central government.

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Center Hosts Fourth Annual Shotguns & Cigars Fundraiser At Addieville

On Friday, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity hosted one of our signature events— our fourth annual Shotguns & Cigars fundraiser was a huge success. The day features outdoor fun, camaraderie, cigars, bourbon and wine, and a juicy steak all at Addieville East Farm. Teams of four enjoyed practicing our shotgun skills with sporting clays. We, once again, proved that our Second Amendment rights can be used responsibly.

Here are some images from this incredible day. Please e-mail Info@RIFreedom.org to inquire about joining us next year.

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Relentless Perpetuation of the “Equal Pay” Myth via Legislation

Helpful headlines notwithstanding, the Rhode Island Senate once again passed legislation to address the mythical “wage gap”:

A plan to close the gender wage gap in Rhode Island by adding new, sharper teeth to the state’s fair pay law and banning employers from asking job candidates their salary history sailed through the state Senate again Thursday.

“Rhode Island first passed an equal pay law in the 1950s, and I am sure it was revolutionary at the time, but we have not gone back and updated it unlike many other states,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, lead sponsor of the pay equity legislation. “Passing this bill is not going to resolve the wage gap on its own, rather, this bill in combination with so many things we have worked on… is the way we will address the gender wage gap.”

And so it goes.  As long as progressives want to foster division and grievance, this legislation will keep appearing.  Maybe some year the gears of political necessity will get it over the finish line.  As that process plays on from year to year, opponents will tire of saying the same thing over and over again.  That’s the advantage of the left-wing approach to public “debate”:  When you refuse to acknowledge the other side’s arguments and just keep repeating the talking points, the other side moves to other topics, and the public just becomes used to the deception.

By way of a preventative measure, here’s my op-ed on the topic, from the Providence Journal last year around this time, which I published in more casual, expansive form in this space the month before:

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differentials that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality.  That is, 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 treatment as complaints that the employer withheld pay, and the burden is on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase it.

Think about how much of an encroachment on private activity and interactions that is, as well as the presumption that government is some sort of neutral judge that can accurately assess every business decision.

If this legislation ever passes, I expect it will have some degree of the same effect as the ill-advised paid leave legislation which progressives did manage to pass last yearl.