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Picking and Choosing What Voters Get to Consider

Last night, Tiverton’s Board of Canvassers decided that it had the authority to pick and choose what voters could vote on based on their feelings about it.  The Town Council is hostile to the resolutions, and the town solicitor, who serves in his $98,000-a-year position at the pleasure of the Town Council, told the canvassers that they might face a complaint if voters passed the resolutions.

Never mind that the board was nearly certain to face complaints for blocking the resolutions and the solicitor couldn’t say which lawsuits would be more likely to win.  The canvassers chose to disenfranchise electors rather than do something that the Town Council didn’t want.

As I write on Tiverton Fact Check:

This is the Board of Canvassers.  They’re supposed to be completely neutral referees making sure that all sides in a political dispute have equal access to the ballot.  In this case, the Town Solicitor — who has $98,000-plus reasons to do whatever the Town Council wants him to do — said people might file complaints against the town if voters agreed with the resolutions, and the Board of Canvassers decided to take the vote away from them.

It would be hard to overstate how shocking that is.  Tiverton’s Home Rule Charter states that “All… Elector Resolutions shall be included on the ballot for the Financial Town Referendum and presented at the Financial Town Hearing provided that they are accompanied by 50 qualified elector signatures.”  There is absolutely no dispute that the resolutions the Board of Canvassers blocked had 50 signatures and followed the process in every way, because they followed the same process and had almost identical signatures as other resolutions that were not blocked.

Once again, government officials in Rhode Island show their belief that the law is whatever they say it is at any given moment.  Hopefully, a judge will conclude differently.


An Obvious (But Insufficient) Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Isn’t it strange that there should even have to reforms like this?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed into law a forfeiture reform bill last week that will require law enforcement officials to obtain a criminal conviction before permanently taking a person’s cash or property, making Wisconsin the 15th state to do so.

The law is intended to address the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, a common legal maneuver that allows police to seize and keep cash, real estate and other property from people suspected of criminal activity, regardless of whether those people are convicted. …

Nationwide, forfeiture actions amount to a huge transfer of property and wealth from private people to government agencies. At the federal level alone, asset seizures topped $5 billion in 2014, greater than the amount of property lost to burglary. The inspector general of the Justice Department last year found that since 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration alone took more than $3 billion in cash from people who were never charged.

The article, from the Washington Post, goes on to suggest that even this sort of reform is not enough, given the loopholes.  For instance, the requirement for those whose property has been taken to file a complaint and go to court creates a large disincentive in cost and convenience.  A person who had his or her money confiscated while passing through a distant state might not find it worthwhile to pursue the matter.

Still, some reform is better than none, in this case.  Ideally, legislation would require the confiscating agency to pro-actively return the property, and that shouldn’t be a difficult addition unless, of course, the practice is more a money maker than a law enforcement tool.


A Progressive Plan to Give Workers Rights They Already Have

A couple of weeks ago, I expressed support for the notion of employees’ becoming owners of their workplaces, suggesting that the best way forward was to remove government barriers to their doing so.  As WPRI’s Ted Nesi notes on Twitter, progressive Democrat Representative Aaron Regunberg of Providence has a hearing today on his legislation to, as Nesi puts it with reference to Benny’s, give employees “the right to buy the retailer and turn it into a worker-owned co-op, rather than let it shut down.”

Reading the bill, however, I can’t see that it really does much of anything.  When employers are about to take an action that requires them to notify the federal government about a substantial layoff, the state Department of Labor and Training (DLT) would remind the employees that buying their workplace is an option.

The employees would then take a vote on whether to buy the company.  If the vote succeeds, then any employees who are interested would form an entity in order to buy it.  If the vote fails… well… I guess any employees who are interested in buying the company would do exactly the same thing.  In either case, the employer can decline to sell.  In other words, the bill does nothing but give a politician another talking point about supporting “working Rhode Islanders.”

Of course, because it is so ineffectual, one suspects that this legislation would be the foundation for an incremental change that activists think wouldn’t have chance if pushed into law all at once.  In a few years, progressives might argue that too many owners are unwilling to sell for the price that employees are able to pay and remove their ability to say “no thanks.”  Or maybe a state bank would come along, and these sorts of buy-outs would explicitly be given preferential treatment for loans.

Considering the origin of the bill, the safest bet for Rhode Island would be for the General Assembly simply to let it fade away.  In the meantime, we should reinforce a simple truth that progressives seem to want people to forget:  We already have inalienable rights that come from a higher place than the State House, and we don’t need government to step in and claim to be creating them for us, as if from nothing.

After all, if government can grant a group the right to buy a company, it can remove another group’s right to do the same.


The Herd of Rhode Islanders Can Afford to Allow Some Freedom

Some families don’t believe that the fact that their children go to school with other children gives the government the right to force them to take drugs related to sexually transmitted diseases.  Many become more suspicious when they hear of terrible side effects that some appear to experience and observe the overlapping financial interests of state government and company behind the drug.

Mind you:  If the government simply recommended the drug, there would be no problem.  But as it is, dedicated families feel the need to become activists and testify in pursuit of legislation to return their freedom.  On the other end are bureaucrats whose social concern is difficult to entangle from the pursuit of metrics:

Among her arguments against the “personal belief” exemption that some lawmakers are seeking: “The proposed legislation, if enacted, will potentially decrease our state’s vaccination coverage rates, putting people at risk … [especially] those who cannot be vaccinated″ for medical reasons. …

In one letter to the lawmakers, [Director of Health Nicole] Alexander-Scott wrote: “Most vaccine-preventable diseases are transmitted from person to person. When a sufficiently large proportion of individuals in a community are immunized, those persons serve as a protective barrier against transmission of the disease in the community thus indirectly protecting those who are not immunized … This phenomenon is referred to as ‘herd immunity.’”

Good of the government to have such concern about the “herd.”  One doubts that Alexander-Scott highlighted the fact that Rhode Island’s HPV vaccination rate was already high, and that the mandate increased it almost not at all.

That is, acting of their own free will — not as herded cattle — Rhode Islanders were already doing what the government wanted.  Knowing that, one can reasonably infer that making us do things is the point, establishing the principle that we have to go where they think we should.


Racking Up Fees from the Working Class Through Licenses in Tennessee

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is embarrassed to report this, from his home state of Tennessee:

“I never did any other job but hair braiding my whole life,” she said. “I cannot recall a time when I did not know how.”

But in recent years, Tennessee has forced Fatou to pay a staggering $16,000 in fines, simply because she employed workers who did not have a government license to braid hair. Nor is she alone. After examining meeting minutes and disciplinary actions for the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, the Institute for Justice has identified nearly $100,000 in fines levied against dozens of braiders and more than 30 different natural hair shops and salons since 2009. All of those violations were for unlicensed braiding; none were triggered by any health or sanitation violation.

It’d be interesting to tally up all such fines in Rhode Island, not only for hair braiding but for every other egregious occupational license.


The Irrational Assumptions Allowing Elimination of Down Syndrome

George Will writes powerfully against the West’s efforts to “eradicate” Down Syndrome:

An Iceland geneticist says “we have basically eradicated” Down syndrome people, but regrets what he considers “heavy-handed genetic counseling” that is influencing “decisions that are not medical, in a way.” One Icelandic counselor “counsels” mothers as follows: “This is your life. You have the right to choose how your life will look like.” She says, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended.” Which makes Agusta and Lucas “things” that were not “ended.”

Because Iceland’s population is only about 340,000, the problem (again, see the photos of problem Agusta and problem Lucas) is more manageable there than in, say, the United Kingdom. It has approximately 40,000 Down syndrome citizens, many of whom were conceived before the development of effective search-and-destroy technologies. About 750 British Down syndrome babies are born each year, but 90 percent of women who learn that their child will have — actually, that their child does have — Down syndrome have an abortion. In Denmark the elimination rate is 98 percent.

For many — maybe most— political or ideological positions with which I disagree, I can imagine my way around to understanding how reasonable differences about assumptions can lead people to conclusions with which I disagree.  Especially with improved medical imaging technology, the reach of my imagination cannot make a pro-abortion stance reasonable.  (I’ll also acknowledge that my thinking was objectively unreasonable back when I held that monstrous view in my youth.)

Aborting a pregnancy because a screening is suggestive of Down Syndrome is tantamount to saying, “My child will have a developmental disease; let me kill him or her before it becomes more morally complicated for me to do so.”  The underlying assumptions that make such a statement seem rational must be either irrational or morally repugnant.


Linda Finn Provides an Example for the Definition of Q.E.D.

Conservatives have the same (or a corresponding) tendency, no doubt, but sometimes progressives charge forward in their righteousness in a way that justifies the opposing arguments against which they’re railing.  Former Democrat legislator and gun-control advocate Linda Finn recently offered a fine example on Twitter:

Why, yes, how unreasonable for people to believe conspiracies!  A politician and activist who wants to use government to criminalize a member-supported group that she doesn’t like should perhaps shy away from promoting her opponents’ fear of government as evidence of their insanity.


The Burden of Proof with Civil Asset Forfeiture

Talk of civil asset forfeiture has been in the air, recently, and this story from 2016 is worth plucking from the flow.  A New Jersey man was stopped for speeding driving through Tennessee.  A traveling insurance adjuster, he had $22,000 in cash in his vehicle, which the police officer proceeded to confiscate on suspicion that he’d gotten the money through illegal means.  Here’s Officer Larry Bates:

Bates said the amount of money and the way it was packed gave him reason to be suspicious.

“The safest place to put your money if it’s legitimate is in a bank account,” he explained. “He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”

“But it’s not illegal to carry cash,” we noted.

“No, it’s not illegal to carry cash,” Bates said. “Again, it’s what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “But you had no proof that money was being used for drug trafficking, correct? No proof?”

“And he couldn’t prove it was legitimate,” Bates insisted.

As previously noted in this space, when it comes to civil asset forfeiture, it’s the object that is technically under investigation, and cash has no presumed right to remain with its owner.  So, rather than the government’s having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you’ve created a crime, you have to prove that your money was not acquired through criminal actions.


Gun Control Past the Firewall of the Bill of Rights

This paragraph is worth highlighting, from Jacqueline Tempera’s article last week in the Providence Journal, covering local politicians’ speeches to “about 100 students, teachers and activists” promoting gun control:

These are “easy votes” that should lead to tangible results, [Democrat Mayor of Providence Jorge] Elorza said. He took a shot at second amendment advocates, many of whom rallied at the State House last week to oppose the legislation.“Now the second amendment folks might say we are violating their second amendment rights to own and bear arms, but the truth is you cannot own anti-aircraft artillery. You can’t own a grenade launcher. You can’t own tanks,” he said

Those “second amendment folks” may be taking the lesson, recently.  Elorza illustrates how precarious it is for gun-rights advocates to compromise, creating incentive to be increasingly absolutist.

As the mayor proves, each compromise will become justification for the next infringement.  Civilians don’t need anti-aircraft artillery, grenade launchers, or tanks, so (the reasoning goes) they don’t need “military-style assault weapons.”  Well, inasmuch as “military-style” is almost entirely an aesthetic description of how scary the gun looks, if second amendment advocates cede that ground in the debate, it won’t be long until other guns of similar functionality supposedly aren’t permitted.  The steps will continue.

An objective, reasoned review of the matter suggests that we’re already well beyond what the Bill of Rights should allow, and increasing extremity on the gun-control side may very well be met with increased challenges to expand rights in the other direction, which no longer trusts that everybody is sincerely after a common sense middle ground.

The solution is to have a national debate that defines where the line should be through an Amendment to the Constitution.


When Your Money Becomes the Criminal

Something is telling in this civil asset forfeiture story out of New Hampshire:

New Hampshire’s new rules came as states across the country are re-thinking the civil asset forfeiture system, the result, in part, of several high profile investigations which uncovered widespread abuse. Backers of the tighter rules, including many libertarian-leaning groups, criticize forfeiture for creating what they consider the wrong incentives for law enforcement, labeling it ‘policing for profit.’

New Hampshire’s new rules, though, don’t apply to federal civil asset forfeiture cases.

In practice, that means all a state trooper or local cop needs to do is call in federal partners, such as the FBI or Homeland Security, and have them seize the money, even if there isn’t an arrest and conviction.

That’s what happened with Alex Temple’s money, which is now moving through the federal court system under the case name U.S. vs. $46,000.

It’s the money that’s on trial, and of course, money has no rights.  How much clearer could it be that this is outrageous?


A Familiar View of Religious Liberty

Andrea Gagliarducci recently analyzed, for the Catholic News Agency, the Chinese government’s policy pushing to “sinicize religions”:

The new regulations on religious activities in China came into effect Feb. 1. Worship can be practiced only in designated churches, and according to a schedule approved by government administrators, while every other place, including private houses, is designated “illegal for worship.”

Group prayer is forbidden in private houses: if one is caught while doing that, he can be arrested. The regulations also require that every church must display at its entrance a notice that the building is “prohibited to minors under age 18,” and that children and teenagers are not allowed to take part in religious rites.

While this is obviously a more-extreme manifestation, I can’t help but find something familiar in the perspective on religious liberty taken by Western progressives.  The Obama administration sought to impose a mandate to cover contraceptives on the Little Sisters of the Poor because they were not technically a church organization.  Massachusetts pushed the Catholic Church out of adoption services because it wouldn’t conform to the government-approved definition of marriage.  Progressives insist that every professional who provides services to the public has no right not to take jobs because they would conflict with their traditionalist beliefs.  Rhode Island legislators recently proposed to give government authority to police public and private schools to ensure that they aren’t violating progressives’ understanding of discrimination.

So, yes, China’s oppression is far advanced, but would anybody think that American progressives would object to speech codes restricting traditional views to approved expression within the four walls of a church, or blocking minors from entering places in which they might hear such subversive things?


Rhode Island Wants in on All Immoral Profits

Given the national attention, Rhode Islanders can probably expect their legislators to shy away from implementing Providence/North Providence Democrat Senator Frank Ciccone’s proposal to impose a government fee for viewing online pornography.  Let’s take the lesson, though.

Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown puts her finger a growing attitude that I’ve been pointing out in Rhode Island government, lately (emphasis added):

What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo’s proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state’s general treasury “to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking.” (But… if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn’t that make the state a trafficker?)

With its fingers in alcohol, gambling, and marijuana, Rhode Island government continues on its path toward replacing organized crime.  Government officials will want a cut of anything that has the feel of a vice.  Whereas mobsters built an infrastructure to provide what the law had blocked, government has that infrastructure already in place and capitalizes on it either by making things that are currently legal slightly less so or by letting things that are currently illegal filter through its coffers.

Meanwhile, Ciccone would have the state collect a record of every Rhode Islander who requests access to pornography.  Nobody should be comfortable with gangster government’s having access to a list like that.


The Massachusetts Experiment in Gun Control

Writing in the Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby argues that harsh gun-control laws haven’t worked in Massachusetts:

IN 1998, Massachusetts passed what was hailed as the toughest gun-control legislation in the country. Among other stringencies, it banned semiautomatic “assault” weapons, imposed strict new licensing rules, prohibited anyone convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking from ever carrying or owning a gun, and enacted severe penalties for storing guns unlocked. …

The 1998 legislation did cut down, quite sharply, on the legal use of guns in Massachusetts. Within four years, the number of active gun licenses in the state had plummeted. “There were nearly 1.5 million active gun licenses in Massachusetts in 1998,” the AP reported. “In June [2002], that number was down to just 200,000.” The author of the law, state Senator Cheryl Jacques, was pleased that the Bay State’s stiff new restrictions had made it possible to “weed out the clutter.” …

But the law that was so tough on law-abiding gun owners had quite a different impact on criminals.

Since 1998, gun crime in Massachusetts has gotten worse, not better. In 2011, Massachusetts recorded 122 murders committed with firearms, the Globe reported this month — “a striking increase from the 65 in 1998.” Other crimes rose too. Between 1998 and 2011, robbery with firearms climbed 20.7 percent. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.7 percent.

That’s in contrast with its neighbors.  Jacoby points to work by John Lott showing that the Bay State’s murder rate has grown relative to its neighbors.  At the beginning of its gun “reform,” Massachusetts had 70% of the murder rate of the rest of New England.  Now it has 125%.

According to the FBI’s statistics, Massachusetts achieved that result by failing to see the decrease in murders that the rest of New England experienced.  One notable exception is that Rhode Island failed to see any decrease, as well, and at 2.4 per 100,000 is higher than Massachusetts’s 2.0.  Rhode Island, as we often hear, is in the top 10 states for strict gun laws, and it isn’t at all clear that climbing to the top would reduce violence in the state.


The Gun Controlling Governor Who’s Never Shot One

As people (mostly gun rights advocates) line up to testify on gun control legislation as if they’re low-income people caught up in the UHIP debacle or Providence drivers nabbed by speed cameras, I thought I’d highlight this interesting detail from Ted Nesi’s latest weekend roundup column (emphasis added):

Governor Raimondo, meanwhile, has been devoting a lot of her public appearances to promoting gun control. In an interview with Kim Kalunian on Thursday, she said she supports her daughter’s plans to join an upcoming school walkout – and has never shot a gun herself.

We would err if we cultivated the standard that only people who know about a thing can ever comment on its use, but the fact that the governor has never, ever shot a gun seems unusually relevant in this case.

After all, she’s pushing legislation to forbid people from buying particular guns and accessories and to expand the ability of government to take guns away even though she has no personal experience with how they might handle differently.  She has no basis to say, “You don’t need that gun instead of this gun,” because she doesn’t know what practical difference there might be.

Moreover, she’ll probably never have to consider firing guns for anything other than sport, because she’s followed around by people with taxpayer-funded guns, and she’s wealthy enough to afford various forms of security even after she leaves public office.

So, the fact that the governor of Rhode Island has never pulled a gun’s trigger doesn’t remove her right to opine on gun ownership.  However, it should encourage some humility in somebody seeking to limit access to a constitutionally protected tool when she hasn’t ever used the tool herself and can expect always to be able to rely on hired help to use it when she needs it.