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The Union Shoe Drops on Evergreens

Well, here’s perhaps the key political consequence for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo upon her veto of legislation that would ensure that teachers and municipal employees are exempt from the state law limiting all government employment contracts to three years:

“I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,”’ Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Thursday.

Much of my analysis of likely outcomes has been premised on Walsh’s previous statement that the 2014 election season had convinced his union that unity with Raimondo was important.  The truce has expired, apparently, an result that I expected Raimondo to seek to avoid.

It’s pretty rich, though, for Walsh to break faith with Raimondo and divulge that she mentioned her donors during a private meeting that the two had.  The NEA-RI’s PAC alone hands out $15,000 or more per year to state-level politicians, and that doesn’t count the combined total of every union local giving out money across the state, let alone individual members.

Hopefully Walsh was right a few months ago about the importance to progressives that they stick together.  That way he and Raimondo can both lose.

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“Converting” Our Form of Government

If we want to live under a government with the power to forbid children and their parents from seeing what therapeutic options might be available for unwanted feelings, I guess that’s a conversation that we can have, although I find myself on the side of the ACLU in worrying about giving legislators “wide latitude to ban unpopular medical treatments.”  But if we’re going to have this conversation, we should do so with accurate information about what the bans cover, and Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on Rhode Island’s new ban of “conversion therapy” fails on that count:

The bill makes it illegal in Rhode Island for licensed health care professionals to advertise or engage in conversion therapy for anyone under 18. It does not affect religious counselors or leaders — or adults who choose such a program.

That “does not affect” sentence is just not correct.  Read this section of the law:

23-94-4. Prohibition on state funding for conversion therapy. No state funds, nor any funds belonging to a municipality, agency, or political subdivision of this state, shall be expended for the purpose of conducting conversion therapy, referring a person for conversion therapy, health benefits coverage for conversation therapy, or a grant or contract with any entity that conducts conversion therapy or refers individuals for conversion therapy.

This is separate from the section that bans “licensed professionals” from offering such therapy to minors, and it goes much farther.  It covers “any entity that conducts… or refers individuals for conversion therapy.”  So, while a licensed professional would only lose his or her Rhode Island license if he or she provides the therapy to minors, that professional would lose access to any state or local funds that somebody might complain subsides the therapy for for adults, as well as any “grant or contract” whatsoever, whether related to conversion therapy or not.

This would apply, as well, to any person, group, or organization that refers an adult to such a therapist.  An aggressive judiciary could find within this language justification for removing tax exemption from any church that even suggests trying therapy to any church member.

This bill is your supposed representatives using your government to tell you what you must believe about the universe and your very self.

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Vetoes and Non Vetoes

I’ll admit that I’m surprised that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo vetoed the eternal contracts bill:

In a veto message that echoed the strenuous arguments raised by city and town leaders, Raimondo wrote: “Current Rhode Island law protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable.

“The proposed legislation before me extinguishes this existing protection, hurting the public’s position in contract negotiations, and placing taxpayers at risk of being forever locked into contractual provisions they can no longer afford.”

Raimondo has seemed to me to make decisions on political grounds, and she’s in a precarious enough position that she can’t really afford to push away the teachers’ unions, which have been explicit about not intending to target her next time around.  This action could change that.

It’ll be telling to watch the political play.  If, for example, the General Assembly overrides the veto and the teachers’ unions (especially the National Education Association – Rhode Island) do nothing more than issue a strongly worded press release against the governor (which is already done), then it would indicate that there’s a political dance going on, meant to give the governor cover with taxpayer advocates and municipal leaders while not harming the unions.

As part of this picture, note that Raimondo “allowed a disability-pension bill that was also championed by organized labor to become law without her signature,” according to Kathy Gregg.  Here the calculation is slightly different.  She didn’t sign it, thereby providing herself a little cover with taxpayer advocates (being able to say she didn’t “support” it), but she didn’t veto it, saying it was simply a legal codification of existing practice.  I think she’ll be proven wrong on that, inasmuch as the law now explicitly allows for work-related physical and mental illnesses to be grounds for a disability pension, but one could see how her calculation would be different.

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Raimondo Ushers in Her Own Nightmare

Alright, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the sun has made an appearance, and I spent the day moving furniture, and I have to spend the evening helping out with a Bingo night, so cut me a little slack, here.  I couldn’t help but chuckle (Chortle?  Guffaw?) at this Ted Nesi tweet:

@GinaRaimondo said after Musk talk she’s less concerned on AI as civilizational threat + more on how many more jobs will soon be automated.

Well, gee, governor, you’d better get right on ushering in minimum wage increases and progressives’ mandatory paid time off legislation!  That’ll hold back the tide of automation for sure!

N.B.: If you didn’t catch the sarcasm in the previous paragraph, watch this:

And that’s before we get to the fact that one of Governor Raimondo’s corporate-crony taxpayer giveaways was to GE Digital, which forces Rhode Islanders to subsidize efforts to automate their jobs.

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Maine Waitstaff Reject Minimum Wage Increase

Caitlin Dewey recently reported in the Washington Post on an interesting turn of events in Maine.  A referendum increased the minimum wage for waitstaff, but then waiters and waitresses rallied to undo it:

James Dill, a college professor and the Democratic state senator from Maine’s 5th District, received hundreds of emails and phone calls from unhappy servers, he said. He initially voted for the ballot referendum because he supports a higher minimum wage. After the outcry, he signed onto a Republican measure to lower the tipped wage down again.

That measure passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 12 on June 7, and the House on June 13. Governor LePage signed the bill into law last week, a spokesman for his office said, though the signing was not publicly announced for several days. It’s expected to go into effect in January 2018.

“I realize not everyone is in the same boat,” said Dill. “But the ones who called me were saying, ‘I make $20 to $25 per hour, I’ve bought a house with that income, I support my kids — it’s really important that you don’t mess with my tips.’”

Even with a subject as apparently narrow as the minimum wage for tipped restaurant worker, legislators can’t possibly know all of the consequences of changing policy.  Maybe the law works well for some and not for others; who ultimately has the right to decide between them?

The problem, I think, is that people too often rely on general impressions and anecdotes or, at best, broad statistical averages that don’t give a real sense of the lives people lead.  This is one area in which the market sets prices better than the government can, and in which legislators should accept reality and seek other ways to resolve circumstances they see as problems.

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At Least the Laborers Union Has Representation in the General Assembly

Don’t let the drama of a political fight over legislation distract you from this nugget in Kathryn Gregg’s Providence Journal article suggesting that differences over a new paid-leave mandate may have helped bring about the General Assembly’s surprise session ending:

In response to a Journal inquiry, House spokesman Larry Berman said this is what happened:

“The [paid leave] bill that was passed by the House did not include the Laborers’ because we believed they wanted to be exempt. Mike Sabitoni did not talk to the Speaker or anyone in the House until the bill was recommended for passage by the House Labor Committee on Thursday and the House was getting ready to vote on the bill.”

“When we were notified that the Laborers’ wanted to be included in the bill, the appropriate amendment was drafted on Friday morning and given to the Senate to amend the House bill.″

So, basically, the Laborers Union gets whatever it wants in the General Assembly.  They want exemption?  Why, it’s simply obvious that the legislation should be amended.  If they don’t, hey that’s no problem either.

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Hey, Who Needs a Legislature?

As far as I can tell, the one interesting thing that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo said of interest at her press conference yesterday was that she intends to find the money to fund her “free tuition” policy at CCRI:

Raimondo told a press conference she is not exactly sure where she will find the $2.75 million-plus needed, at minimum, to launch the free-tuition pilot program, but she voiced confidence that she would be able to do so within the $8.9-billion year-old budget cap in which the state is currently operating.

One hopes some lawyer or other on the governor’s staff is aware that money is only part of the question.   Our state’s constitution still vests the General Assembly with the authority to make law, not her, and if nothing else, her campaigning has made clear that this is a new policy.

Governors are not without authority, of course; readers may recall that Lincoln Chafee signed us on to ObamaCare and health benefits exchanges via executive order.  So, Raimondo may be able to get away with this, if only because the politics of actively stopping her would be much stickier than the politics of not creating a new program in the first place.

That said, the rule of law is already a problem in Rhode Island, so causing further damage to it should do the governor political harm, if she goes in that direction.

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Budgeting Woes in the Northeast

A State House News Service story by Katie Lannan appearing in The Herald News of Fall River answers a question that I’d been wondering:

After Maine and New Jersey reached deals to end their government shutdowns, just six states remain in budgetary limbo: Massachusetts, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Interesting, isn’t it, that half of the states are from New England — specifically Southern New England.  Five of the laggard eight are Northeastern states.

Looking at the list, one’s tempted to muse about general similarities of the policies that these states have pursued over the past half-century.  Maybe the can has met the end of the road.

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Lucky Independence from the General Assembly

Even if I didn’t work there, I’d endorse the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s call for the General Assembly to stay out of the State House:

As America prepares to celebrate its independence, and in order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and incomes of Ocean State families and businesses, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends Rhode Island remain independent from further legislative tyranny. The Center today urges the state’s ruling class to officially close the General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session, keeping Representatives and Senators away from the State House so that they cannot inflict more damage this year.

Recent history clearly shows that the people of RI lose when the General Assembly is in session. Once again this year, the preliminary General Assembly Freedom Index shows that the vast majority of bills rated by the Center serve to decrease freedoms and limit the opportunity for prosperity for the majority, non-special-interest faction, of our state’s population.

I think the General Assembly should take a whole year off so legislators can work out their differences without having to worry about any actual legislation.

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Whether Seattle or Denmark… or Rhode Island… Minimum Wage Kills Jobs

Noah DaPonte-Smith highlights another minimum wage study, this out of Europe, in Denmark:

The country ties the minimum wage to age: When individuals turn 18, their hourly wage increases by a dramatic 40 percent. Researchers can use this structure as a natural experiment, exploring how a dramatic and rapid increase in the minimum wage affects employment on both sides of the increase.

In this case, the results are predictable, at least for those approaching the issue from a conservative perspective. Employers cut jobs to save on wage payments.

By almost one-third.

Folks need to understand that employers don’t do this out of spite.  More workers means more production for them, which should mean more profit.  If the production costs too much, there’s no profit, so there’s no reason to keep operating.

Everybody in the entire employment/business chain is making decisions out of self interest (which can also include intangible considerations, like self-fulfillment).  The boss has determined that a certain income makes it worthwhile to operate a particular organization as opposed to doing something else.  Investors have determined that a particular business is worthy of their investment as opposed to some other investment (or other use of money).

Because employers want people working, if the cost of employment jumps up, other interests in the business will adjust upward as much as their willing, meaning that investors may tolerate a smaller return, owners may tolerate a smaller profit, and customers/clients may tolerate a higher price.  But viewed across an entire economy, a competitive, free market is pretty efficient at squeezing out what excesses are already there, so higher cost of production will mean somebody in the chain will move on, which could mean employees, against their will.

A key piece to this puzzle is that the employees had generally already determined that a particular job was the best use of their time, and they were willing to work for what it paid.  Pricing them out of a job may make activists feel good, and it may benefit the people who keep their jobs, but the laid-off employees obviously suffer, as do we all, from the inefficiency.

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Updated: A More-Relevant Budget Question

If you follow Rhode Island government news, you probably know that a last-minute Senate amendment to the House budget blew up the last days of the legislative session.  Everybody has quickly found out that state law continues the prior year budget to the new year if a new budget doesn’t pass.  Things will go on.

The bigger practical question is this year.  The revised 2017 budget that was part of this year’s budget that’s $265 million of spending that the state apparently has already done that is no longer authorized.  What happens now?  It seems to me that the government of Rhode Island will have deficit spent by that quarter billion dollars as of tomorrow.

Of course, we all know.  The state just ignores whatever laws or rules are necessary to keep its gravy train going, but what’s the cover story going to be?

ADDENDUM (6/30/17 10:06 p.m.):

This is weird.  A tweet from Ted Nesi says the RI Senate passed a bill giving additional money to RIPTA to keep up subsidized bus passes.  But that was in the House budget, which has not passed both chambers.

A little research shows that yesterday the House took a bill with related intent and amended it to match the language in the budget.  So, a bill that the House Finance committee had “held for further study” on May 9 suddenly reappeared in an amended form to match language that was supposedly expected to pass as part of the budget, and was rushed through the whole committee and floor-vote process the day before a surprise turn of events killing the budget.

I’m also hearing that some of the labor union gimmes that we’ve all assumed were quid pro quos to pass the speaker’s car tax phaseout managed to slip through despite the budget’s demise.  Although it is a bit more conspiracy-theoretical than I’m comfortable with, that does make me wonder how much of a surprise today’s events really were.

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Sales Tax and Another Threatened Lawsuit Against Money-Grabbing Government

Is it me or are the policies the Rhode Island General Assembly is implementing sparking more lawsuits, lately, indicating a desperation to find new ways to squeeze money out of a strangling economy? Here’s the latest:

The new rules order online retailers with no physical presence in the state to collect the state’s 7-percent sales tax on purchases by Rhode Island buyers or mail those buyers a letter notifying them that they owe the equivalent use tax on the items. Buyers already owe use tax on purchases made from out-of-state sellers, including websites, but very few actually pay it at the end of the year.

NetChoice, an e-commerce trade group that’s challenged online sales tax policies in states across the country — including a current lawsuit against Massachusetts — is urging senators to reject the sales tax provisions in the Rhode Island budget, which they call “privacy invading,” costly and unfair.

“Don’t pass this law,” said Carl Szabo, senior policy counsel at Washington, D.C.-based NetChoice. “It is hard to understand what the purpose of it is except for the perception that the Internet is hurting Main Street. Now Amazon, Walmart and most of the top 20 online retailers collect and remit sales tax for Rhode Island.”

NetChoice is coming off a victory on Wednesday when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, responding to the lawsuit, abruptly canceled plans to begin collecting sales tax on Internet purchases from out-of-state retailers.

The next question is who is going to sue over the fact that Rhode Island will effectively be double-taxing the thousands and thousands of Rhode Islanders who pay the minimum use tax on their income tax returns even though they’ve already paid sales tax on all of their online purchases?

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Naturally, the Politicians Use “Good Government” to Lock In Their Own Positions

This legislative session in Rhode Island is turning into a real assault on Rhode Islanders.  Here comes legislation making it more difficult to challenge political incumbents… now amended to avoid any further difficulty for those incumbents:

In the version of the bill passed out of committee, the [ballot] block on candidates with overdue fines remains, but random campaign account audits were replaced by audits on candidates who have failed to file at least two finance reports with the Board of Elections, or those who owe more than $1,000 in fines.

So, they’re still going after the grassroots little guy or gal who gets tripped up in the election regulations, but they’re letting themselves off the hook completely.  They have no right.  As has become increasingly clear, Rhode Island isn’t really a representative democracy.  It’s a kleptocracy.

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Gee… Government Agencies Want to Expand Access to Government-Mandated Data?

Even good people with healthy political philosophies fall into the “we have to do something” trap.  So, when an opiate “epidemic” emerges, even people who would normally shy from creating government databases relent and allow the centralized, mandatory collection of prescription information because… “we have to do something.”

Well, this was inevitable:

The amended bill (S-656 Sub A) would remove the requirement that all law enforcement officials obtain a search warrant to access the database.The database contains information about highly addictive prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin, along with stimulants such as Adderall and sedatives, such as Xanax, and cough suppressants with codeine. The database allows health officials to track prescribing patterns as a way to identify possible over-prescribing and abuse.

The bill has passed the Senate on its way into law.  If it comes up short this year, it’ll be back next year… and the next.  Eventually, the advocates will find some story, some crime that could have been prevented if only law enforcement had been able to dip into the data without a search warrant, and that will push it over the top.  “We have to do something.”  (Or maybe the Speaker of the House will need a vote to pass something else, and that’ll be the lever.)

This pattern is becoming clear enough that there’s no excuse not to predict it.  Let’s get back to a healthy skepticism that stops government from getting on these paths in the first place.

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Disability Pensions and RI’s Rate of Pilferage

Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin has been making a lot of sense, lately.  Most recently, on “R.I.’s disability-pension gravy train”:

One of the bills, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Robert Craven, a North Kingstown attorney, wants firefighter disability to include not just on-the-job injury, but illness, too — specifically, cardiovascular.

If a firefighter can no longer serve because of hypertension, stroke or heart disease, it would be considered work-related. Automatically.

Bingo — tax-free disability for life.

A second bill, introduced by four reps who are former cops, also makes “illness sustained while in the performance of duty” grounds for disability for police officers.

Companion bills have passed each chamber, meaning that the state House and Senate each has passed an identical version of the bill (H5601 and S0896). If either chamber passes the other chamber’s version, the legislation will go to the governor to be signed.

It’s tempting to say that Rhode Island has crossed some sort of line this year (probably as the jackals put in their conditions for negotiation with Democrat Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, so that he could get the car tax elimination he locked himself into providing), but the reality is that we were already over the line.

As this legislative session has proven, the “reasonable” position in state government isn’t to improve conditions in Rhode Island or to loosen the ropes on residents, but simply to insist on a slower pace for the pilfering of people’s wealth.  That may delay the Puerto Rico or Venezuela endgame, but perhaps not by much.

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