Legislators’ relentless attack on Rhode Islanders’ rights may leave only recourse to a constitutional convention.
A run-down of items in Rhode Island political news for the week.
Ballotpedia highlights a new union-helping law in Rhode Island:
On July 8, Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed H5259 and S0712 into law. These companion bills authorize public-sector unions to impose fees on non-members who request union representation in grievance and/or arbitration proceedings. It requires public-sector employers to notify unions within five days of hiring new employees. It also requires employees to file written notice with the state controller in order to discontinue payroll deductions for union dues.
Some labor attorneys with whom I’ve spoken have suggested that this is patently unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Janus decision. They say that if union members do not have to pay extra for a service — that is, if the service of grievance representation is included in dues — then non-members cannot be charged for it.
At the very least, one can say that it is a legally gray area. Consider this from Janus, wherein the court is arguing that the idea that employees are “free riders” if they can’t be forced to pay agency fees is not a very strong point (citations removed):
What about the representation of nonmembers in grievance proceedings? Unions do not undertake this activity solely for the benefit of nonmembers—which is why Illinois law gives a public-sector union the right to send a representative to such proceedings even if the employee declines union representation. Representation of nonmembers furthers the union’s interest in keeping control of the administration of the collective-bargaining agreement, since the resolution of one employee’s grievance can affect others. And when a union controls the grievance process, it may, as a practical matter, effectively subordinate “the interests of [an] individual employee . . . to the collective interests of all employees in the bargaining unit.” Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.
The next paragraph suggests less-invasive means than agency fees, such as charging for the service. However, the text and a related footnote imply that the ability to charge is dependent on the employee’s request for union representation, which seems to suggest that non-members in a collective bargaining unit can choose other representation.
If non-members must be covered by a contract and cannot negotiate their own, separate grievance procedures, they should be afforded the option of hiring some other representative for that narrow purpose than the union. Naturally, this being Rhode Island, we should expect all legislation to be geared toward helping the labor unions rather than balancing the legitimate interests of everybody involved.
For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.
The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new board member, Judge Robert Flanders, recently accompanies me for an appearance on the State of the State show to discuss the effect that state-level rulings and legislation can have on cities’ and towns’ ability to manage themselves and their budgets.
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.
In 2016, the General Assembly and Governor Raimondo hobbled schools’ ability to suspend misbehaving students; in 2019, we’re in a panic about chaos in the Providence school system.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, last week, was about the General Assembly’s budget, the million-dollar chiropractor, and the problems in Warwick’s schools.
VICTORY! For years, our Center has worked, both publicly and behind the scenes, to secure an important and symbolic freedom for Rhode Island families. During the last moments of the 2019 General Assembly session, lawmakers voted to exempt natural hair braiders from the occupational licensing requirement for hairdressers and cosmeticians within the state.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate something positive out of the General Assembly: the passage of legislation that would free natural hair braiders of the need to become licensed as full beauticians:
“For centuries, natural hair braiding has been a common practice for African and African American women and men. Hair braiding skills and techniques are passed down from generation to generation and do not require formal training. Forcing natural hair braiders to meet the same licensing requirements as cosmetologists is a clear injustice. This bill rights a wrong and allows entrepreneurs — including a lot of women from low-income neighborhoods — to make a living,” said Representative Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence). “Natural hair braiding is an art form, limited only by the braider’s creativity. The state does not require licenses to produce art, yet, that is in effect what is occurring now with natural hair braiders. Finally lifting this senseless requirement is a triumph for our community, not only freeing braiders from onerous regulations but also bringing about a bit of sorely needed cultural sensitivity.”
The bill (2019-H 5677A, 2019-S 0260A) defines natural hair braiding as “a service of twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking, or braiding hair by hand or with mechanical devices.” The bill allows braiders to use natural or synthetic hair extensions, decorative beads and other hair accessories; to perform minor trimming of natural hair or hair extensions incidental to twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking or braiding hair; and to use topical agents such as conditioners, gels, moisturizers, oils, pomades, and shampoos in conjunction with hair braiding as well as clips, combs, crochet hooks, curlers, curling irons, hairpins, rollers, scissors, blunt-tipped needles, thread, and hair binders. They may also make wigs from natural hair, natural fibers, synthetic fibers and hair extensions.
The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has been pushing for this legislation for years, now, so it’s good to see those efforts bear some fruit. That said, it’s difficult not to see a dark lining to this silver cloud: all that effort for this minor concession to freedom. Observers must also wonder what the sponsors of this legislation had to vote for as the trade-off.
Similarly, it’s a positive development that House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R, Block Island, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown) forced the legislature to finish up without suspending its rules, but as we move on from the 2019 session, we should ponder whether “not as bad as it could have been” is good enough.
As the budget rolls its way through the General Assembly, it’s useful to look for reminders about the political philosophy of our legislators. In that vein, consider the legislation to ban cashless retail:
The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would protect the rights of customers to pay for things in cash.
“More and more retailers are shifting to cashless transactions in other parts of the country for various reasons,” said Representative Ackerman. “From a consumer perspective, this could have a negative impact on working class customers, senior citizens and college students who don’t have credit cards.”
The legislation (2019-H 5116A, 2019-S 0889) would make it unlawful for any retail establishment offering goods or services for sale to discriminate against a prospective customer by requiring the use of credit for purchase of goods or services.
Once again, we see legislators — led, in this case, by a real estate title examiner and a lawyer — who presume to set minute policy for every business in Rhode Island. Even if one buys their argument that, all things being equal, it would be more just for businesses to accept cash, imposing that view as a blanket matter across the state makes it that much harder for people to find innovative ways to offer goods and services to each other.
Suppose, for example, there is a particular area prone to robbery. Being able to advertise that there is never any cash on the premises might make the difference between whether a particular business finds it worthwhile to set up shop at all. This problem is easier to understand if you think of a store that sells more-expensive products.
Or think of online sales, which the legislation exempts from the rule. In essence, this bill would make it more difficult for somebody to compete with an online business by providing some person-to-person interaction. That innovator couldn’t set up shop unless he or she is willing to go so far as to create processes for accepting and handling cash, which also includes having change to return to the customer.
One could say not only that this legislation is dumb, but also that it is dangerous and economically destructive to have a legislature that believes it’s even within the appropriate scope of its authority.
Rhode Island health insurers are saying that the individual mandate will lower rates for individually purchased health plans, but a new tax written into state law may play a role, too, hiding an increase for everybody else.
It was to be expected that even inadequate, sound-good education reforms from Rhode Island’s General Assembly would come at a cost, as reported by the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg:
The Senate Finance Committee last month asked Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green what she would need to take on the new responsibilities included in this package of legislation, which, among other things, calls for instituting high-quality civics instruction, expanding world languages statewide, improving instruction for students with dyslexia and giving principals more authority.
“To fully support the requirements of these legislative priorities and to transform the department to focus more on supporting educators, students, and the community, RIDE needs additional expertise and capacity across a wide range of areas, such as implementing high-quality curriculum and supporting school leaders,” said Rhode Island Department of Education spokesman Pete Janhunen. “The request contains a list of proposed positions that align with the priorities of both the commissioner and the General Assembly.”
The ask is for $1.9 million, mostly to hire new personnel. One question remains unasked, however. If this is a “shift” in the nature of the department, are there no roles that no longer need to be filled?
This is another $1.9 million for the state’s education bureaucracy, so it can edge in on the territory of local decision makers. Actually, it’s fig-leaf spending and reorganizing in order to avoid addressing the actual problem: Our public schools have insufficient accountability and are structured for the benefit of the adults who work in them, rather than the children who attend them.
Until Rhode Islanders have had enough and are willing to force elected officials to address that problem, every proposed solution will amount to merely more or less wasted money and time.
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.
Maybe I’m being a little too cynical, but a serendipitous press release from the Rhode Island Senate at least provides an opportunity to contemplate how things operate at the State House.
As readers probably have heard by now, the Democrat leadership of the Senate engaged in an unprecedented last minute political stunt by pulling an abortion bill that decriminalizes fetal homicide from the Judiciary Committee and sends it to the Health and Human Services Committee, which everybody expects to pass it. The reason for this unusual move was that Senate Republicans looked like they were going to leverage their rights as a minority under the chamber’s rules to add two votes to the “nay” side and stop the radical, unnecessary, and deceptive legislation.
The odd thing about it is that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence, North Providence) could have done the same thing. Instead, the Senate president managed to ensure that the bill passes committee without admitting that he voted for it.
Now the press release posted on the Web the same day as the committee maneuver:
The Senate today passed legislation (2019-S-803Aaa) sponsored by President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) that takes a new approach to economic development on large tracts of state land. Spurred by delays and impediments imposed upon the Hope Point Tower proposal for the I-195 Redevelopment District, the bill intends to create a more streamlined process for approvals on these state-owned parcels moving forward.
“We have a rare opportunity for development at the former I-195 land and some other areas across the state,” said Senator Ruggerio. “In the I-195 District, a developer is hoping to invest more than a quarter of a billion dollars to create an iconic structure that redefines the skyline. We should have welcomed this investment with open arms. Instead, we did everything we could to chase the developer away. Thankfully, he’s still here. This process has sent a terrible message to anyone looking to invest in Rhode Island.”
This is a big-money deal of particular interest to labor unions, for which Ruggerio worked until he retired after becoming Senate president. The only reason I hesitate to link this with the abortion bill is that the vote wasn’t really that close: 28 to 8. On the other hand, eight “nay” votes is pretty substantial in our one-sided legislature. Had 10 votes flipped, the bill would have failed. When the bill was in Senate Judiciary, four flipped votes would have stopped it.
So, the lesson: When considering the up-and-down votes on any particular bill, you can’t assume legislators are judging the merits alone. The lives of unborn children, in this case, can perhaps be sacrificed for the sake of a crony development deal. Or perhaps some other backroom deal has been struck so that the House will stop the legislation in exchange for a return favor from the Senate.
It seems that Senator Steven Archambault, who had been the swing vote on the RI Senate Judiciary committee on the abortion bill, agreed to support decriminalization of fetal homicide in return for nothing of substance.
The revised abortion bill that was introduced yesterday removes the killing of a preborn child during an attack on the mother from the definition of manslaughter, while explicitly adding “the termination of a pregnancy” to the definition of a serious bodily injury under Rhode Island’s felony assault law. But if you listen to Dan Yorke’s interview with RI Attorney General Peter Neronha from earlier this year, starting at about 6:50, you will hear AG Neronha say that harm to a preborn child that occurs during an assault on the mother already meets the definition of serious bodily injury, under the legal theory — acceptable to abortion supporters — that a child is an organ or member of his or her mother. (“Organ or member” is Attorney General Neronha’s description, not mine).
Based on his statements from the Dan Yorke interview and the language in the current abortion bill, the Attorney General should be asked if he believes the new section defining serious bodily injury changes anything about its definition, because it certainly seems that the amended bill makes no meaningful change to the law except for making a point of stripping preborn children of their right to life. With the transfer last night of the abortion bill from the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to the Health and Human Services committee, there are two additional days to seek this expert opinion.
As for Senator Archambault: it looks like he’s the kind of “moderate” Democrat who becomes a progressive, whenever it counts.
Elsewhere in the Boston Globe, Ed Fitzpatrick takes up the topic of requiring a license to purchase ammunition. This part is especially telling about the gun-control lobby’s point of view:
The study noted a gun without ammunition is no more dangerous than any other blunt object. But “unlike the public health view on drug policy, which recognizes the importance of limiting access to both the agent of harm (the narcotic) and the instrument of delivery (for example, syringe), gun policy has focused primarily on limiting access to the instrument of delivery, firearms,” it noted.
The study said guns and ammunition are more likely to be used in violent crimes when they’re in the hands of felons (such as Charlie Vick) and others prohibited from owning weapons
Frankly, I take this to be evidence of an intention to infringe, when it comes to gun regulation. Drugs are not explicitly protected on the Constitution, guns are. To equate the two plows right through the Bill of Rights and steals the base of asserting that both drugs and weapons are inherently harmful.
As for the likelihood of crimes, that’s pretty much a tautology. It would be a pretty useless regulation that didn’t forbid ownership of an item to people who were more likely to abuse that right. Even so, the fact that people who tend toward crime will be more likely to use an item for illicit purposes doesn’t justify making it a crime for other people to buy it without a license.
The supposed “compromise” legislation on abortion would arguably make supporting it worse than radical intellectuals who see abortion as a justified killing.
Legislation exempting the first $25,000 of military retirement income for veterans over 60 years old would be a good start toward recognizing their service.
While we must be wary of giving credit-rating agencies the power to dictate the legislation of our elected representatives, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the significance of this development, which Katherine Gregg reports in the Providence Journal:
A warning from one of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service, has revived the debate over the union-backed continuing-contract legislation that Gov. Gina Raimondo signed last month over the objections of city and town leaders.
The new continuing-contract law indefinitely locks in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The teacher union lobbyists who took the lead in pushing the bill said it was aimed at preventing cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay or making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.
“The law has the potential to provide collective bargaining units with advantages in negotiations,’’ Moody’s public-finance division wrote in a special report out Thursday that echoed one of the biggest concerns raised by Rhode Island mayors and town administrators.
Moody’s worries that the law may be “a significant impediment to local governments’ ability to negotiate labor contracts,” and as a local elected official participating in negotiations, I can confirm that to be the case. It isn’t just a matter of unions’ refusing to make concessions that help government agencies balance their budgets.
The legislation — and even just the fact of its passage, along with the firefighter overtime bill — is already shutting off areas of discussion. A municipality and union trying to balance current expenses with employees’ long-term interests can’t trust that the state won’t change the rules out from under them. Even in a situation when the current members of a particular union have long demonstrated a desire to work cooperatively with management, decision-makers can’t consider only that relationship, but must worry about the unknowns of what future union members might do and how union-friendly legislators might change the rules on their behalf.
As with so much in Rhode Island government, the legislature and governor have demonstrated that they don’t take the broad, long-term effects of their actions into consideration. One imagines that if they were ever to acknowledge the law of unintended consequences, they’d move swiftly to pass legislation repealing it.
Is it too much to hope that a direct negative effect of progressive laws that hits very close to home for one particular progressive superstar would change some minds?
… the very [minimum wage] policies Ocasio-Cortez is set to draw attention to ultimately led to one of her former employers shuttering its own operations.
Charles Milite, co-founder of the Coffee Shop, where Ocasio-Cortez previously worked, said that the increased minimum wage to $15 per hour for businesses with more than 11 employees led him and his partners to reevaluate their business and shut it down.
“I know it doesn’t sound like much—$2 an hour,” Milite told Crains New York Business in April. “But when you multiply it by 40 hours, by 130 people, it becomes a big number. It was going to increase our monthly payroll $46,000.”
Ocasio-Cortez mourned the loss of the Coffee Shop and stopped in before it closed its doors. “The restaurant I used to work at is closing its doors,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last August. “I swung by today to say hi one last time, and kid around with friends like old times.” The freshman congresswoman, however, never acknowledged the policies that led to its demise.
At the level of Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps her investment in a particular ideology is just too big a bus to turn around on the ideological street, but could those who are not so far along perhaps give the matter some thought?
Laws regulating corruption in government are the farthest thing from open and fair if they only apply to one side of an issue.
House Bill 5893 is the Electronic Data Privacy Act and is crucial for the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass into law. If passed, the bill, sponsored by Minority Leader Blake Filippi, would prohibit any government entity from accessing electronic devices without search warrants. If the state does not pass this bill, it will have violated spirit of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees our right as citizens from unlawful searches.
This is a technology filled era, and our Fourth Amendment protections should not be exempt when it comes to computers, phones, tablets and any other technological devices which have personal information within them.
If Rhode Island does not pass this common sense legislation, we will not only have a failed economy, we will be one step closer to failing and uphold the principles of the United States Constitution.
Absolutely no one should be searched, or have property seized without probable cause. The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights is arguably our most important. We all want privacy, and we all hope that any law enforcement treats us as we feel we should be treated.
The Fourth Amendment, I would argue, is a even more fundamental than the First or Second Amendment, because if we lose our right to be protected from unlawful searches, we will lose our privacy. Then it is only a matter of time before we lose our rights to speech and firearms.
This bill to protect electronic privacy is crucial to our children’s and their children’s future. We have watches that can make phone calls now; imagine the technology they will possess. Personal property is personal property even when it is in digital form.
If we are going to search, seize, arrest, and convict someone, we must always go through proper due process. If we lose the Fourth Amendment, therefore, we might as well abandon the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, too.
This bill must be passed and be signed.
The Providence Journal wants legislators to hurry up and pass legislation that constituents would not support so as to cut short debate and move on to other things.
Protecting the Second Amendment on a macro scale can start in a small New England town hall.
The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it. The healthcare community and lawmakers need to work in tandem to find policies that effectively lessen opioid abuse while still keeping our state’s economic health as well the health and safety of the patient in mind. It’s unfortunate, however, that Senate Bill S0798, the Opioid Stewardship Act, fails on both accounts.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the governor’s decisions about labor legislation, abortion, and the new education commissioner.
Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.
Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.
The evergreen-contracts-for-teachers bill seems to have been the last stone of realization for Erika Sanzi, raising the question about which of the three possible decisions she’ll make.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the likely future of legislation supporting organized labor and promoting abortion, as well as the governor’s chances of spinning her performance for state and national consumption.