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A Tip for the Restaurant Industry When It Gets into Politics

I’ve also got an op-ed in today’s Newport Daily News:

So here is what the Trump administration is suggesting: Employees who work for particular restaurants will be able to negotiate a tipping system that works for them. If a state finds that the balance of power favors one side or the other in those negotiations, it can regulate the matter at the state level. The only difference is that distant politicians in Washington, D.C., won’t be telling the whole country what to do.

If you find that “kind of disgusting,” I can only ask: Why do you feel so threatened by others’ freedom? Nothing in the rule change would require any change to the way restaurants handle tips. As the article illustrates with quotes from restaurant managers who support servers’ keeping their tips, the status quo – which was the status quo even before Obama’s power grab – would remain in place. Regulations could be imposed at the state level, if that’s what Rhode Island wants, and individual businesses could figure out what works for them.

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Regarding Non-Competes for the On-Air Talent

I’m not sure why Patrick Anderson weaves together the hoopla about Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent promotional script with the idea of banning non-compete agreements in journalists’ contracts.  That he strives to do so gives the impression of an ulterior motive to construct a narrative, as does the monolithic presentation of non-competes:

Used in a number of industries, non-compete clauses prevent employees from taking a job with a competing company for a set period of time, often one year, after they end their employment, even if it was the station that decided to part ways. …

Former WJAR investigative reporter Jim Taricani called non-competes unfair in written testimony supporting the bill.

“Prohibiting an employee from finding work to support themselves and their families is an outrageous condition of employment,” Taricani wrote. “Unlike non-compete clauses used for employees who work for companies where they may have knowledge of company ‘secrets’ or ‘confidential product research,’ ‘on-air’ talent in broadcasting have no such knowledge of any confidential information.”

The reasons for non-competes vary from industry to industry.  In some cases, knowledge of sensitive information is the thing being protected.  When I worked for a carpentry temp agency, non-competes were a way of preventing contractors from using the company as a trial service.  In the case of journalism, building up contacts and expertise is a critical part of the job, and people who appear on camera are intrinsically part of a station’s brand.

I’m not, therefore, endorsing non-competes, but these aren’t crazy points to make.  WPRI and WJAR have invested in Tim White and Parker Gavigan, respectively, to develop contacts and credibility for investigative reports; if WJAR were to hire White away, WPRI would lose one of its key faces and would have to scramble to rebuild its brand on a very important line of products.

Of course, that should encourage the company to make sure that its star employees are happy, but that balance should be subject to negotiation.  For newcomers, a non-compete agreement could be something of a box, but further along in a career, an employee may offer a non-compete as a way to get more money out of the employer.  If new employees don’t like the box, they don’t have to take the job.

The speed with which people turn to government to enforce whatever they think is in their best interest at any given time is disturbing to behold.

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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.

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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.

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A State-Run Bank in RI: The Ocean State Shavings and Cronies

Progressives in Rhode Island, with potential gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown the latest among them, have been floating the idea of a state-run bank for a few years.  Cato Institute Fellow Walter Olson expressed some thoughts on the question in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The concerns are manifold.  For one thing, government-run banks “succeed, if they do, because of unfair advantages.”  (And if they fail, look for them to receive more advantages at others’ expense.)  Because they’re fundamentally political in nature, they also tend to allocate their resources with less concern for sound investments than private banks must.

Referring specifically to his state of concern, Olson writes:

A State Bank of New Jersey would be unlikely to content itself with the predictable and repetitive lending that goes on in an agriculture-and-extraction economy like North Dakota’s. It would inevitably turn into a Favor Bank for politicos hoping to lure subsidized jobs from the more vibrant cities of New York and Philadelphia. Once the initial buzz of idealism passed, it would become a tempting honey pot for the corrupt politicians for which New Jersey is famous.

Rhode Island has a similar fame, along with a newly minted reputation for institutional incompetence — along with a not-so-newly-minted history involving organized crime and a banking crisis.  Frankly, Rhode Islanders should find it unsettling that anybody of influence could look at the socio-political landscape of the Ocean State — with Crimetown, 38 Studios, the UHIP debacle, Deepwater Wind, unfunded pensions, one-party rule, regular investigative reports showing public-sector malfeasance, and all the rest — and conclude that what we really need is another way to shuffle money around.

With the prospect of a state-run savings and loan operation, one suspects insiders are waiting in the wings to do business at the Ocean State Shavings and Cronies, but if the rest of us fall for it, the smart investment would be in local U-Haul operations.

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The Flawed Thinking of a #10kPaysTheWay Policy

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has found its Bad Bill of the Week in Pawtucket Democrat Representative Carlos Tobon’s legislation proposing to pay wealthy people $10,000 each to move to Rhode Island:

“If we have to pay families, students, and businesses to move to or remain in Rhode Island, to survive our state’s oppressive tax and regulatory climate, then something is very wrong,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Worse than the obvious face-value inanity of the bill, the ignorant belief of how an economy and family dynamics actually work is what is most troubling. The legislation openly acknowledges the negative economy in our state, yet, as with other progressive policies, it tries to band-aid the symptom rather than cure the core illness. ”

The bill is so incandescently wrong-headed that it’s difficult to know where to begin criticizing it, but among the more objectionable aspects of Tobon’s proposal is the explicit concern of losing a seat in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.   That is what motivates politician’s to take action.  Decades of watching productive Rhode Islanders flow elsewhere for opportunity weren’t enough.  Political clout is the real concern.

As of the July Census projections of states’ populations, Rhode Island was just 157 people away from losing one of its congressmen.  That’s a 0.015% decrease in population, and we lose out.  The next state in line is New York, which is currently on track to lose a congressional seat.  But if the Empire State manages to add 0.015% to its population, then it will keep what it has at Rhode Island’s expense.

Numbers aside, suffice it to say that a state that has to bribe people in order to maintain its level of congressional representation — through either government welfare programs or direct hand-outs — is a state that has proven that it doesn’t deserve much clout in determining the course of the nation.

Rhode Islanders must get our own House in order.  If we could just  put into office people who don’t prioritize central planning and insider control, we could make our state a place that people aren’t as quick to leave and to which they want to move.

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The Incentives of School Bonds

Regular readers know I put a lot of emphasis on incentives as a way to understand events and a key consideration when crafting policies.  The $250 million school bond proposed for the November ballot is a good example.

On the front end, the incentive is very strong for school districts and municipalities to let facilities deteriorate.  First, the law is structured to give advantages to labor unions organized at the state and even federal level, creating incentive for them to manipulate the political structure.  Then, elected officials have incentive to tilt budgets toward organized labor, drawing money to compensation.  Next, having learned from that experience over time, taxpayers have incentive to squeeze money out of budgets so that even higher taxes aren’t paying again for things like maintenance that they thought were already included and that might be diverted again if available.

On top of it all, the near certitude of passing bonds for dire repairs creates disincentive for regular maintenance from the start.  This mechanism creates incentives for financial interests and investors, and the bias toward big projects brings in the incentive that got me thinking of these things.  As Dan McGowan reports for WPRI:

Fix Our Schools R.I., a 501(c)4 nonprofit formed last week, will spend the coming months “educating communities across the state about what this plan is and how it would affect them,” Haslehurst told Eyewitness News. …

The organization lists its address as 410 South Main St., the same building as the Laborer’s International Union of North America. Haslehurst said it will share space with the Occupational and Environmental Health Center of Rhode Island, a nonprofit that has an office inside the building.

A quick look at the health center’s IRS filing shows that it’s a labor union organization, with AFL-CIO poobah George Nee as the treasurer.

‘Round and ’round the incentives go, to the point that running things efficiently — in the way people run their households, planning ahead and all that — seems almost to be an impossible task.  Be skeptical of anybody who tells you that this is a “once in a generation” investment that fixes a problem.  After all, when the debt payments subside, the incentive will be to find more projects in need of debt or to build the payment amount into regular budgets.

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Hair Braiders Should Have the #RIghtToEarn a Living

Oppressive Regulations Harm Low Income Families. Hair braiding is a generational and practical African-style art-form for Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hail from Senegal and Cape Verde. Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, are not able to operate a business that would provide them hope to achieve financial independence.

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Perpetual Contracts and Managing the State’s Decline

I’ve been slow to share it, here, but the recent Providence Journal editorial on the return of perpetual-contract legislation to the General Assembly is important to read and take to heart:

Like a painful rash that keeps returning, the idea of “evergreen contracts” is back before the Rhode Island General Assembly. Year after year, union leaders who want even more taxpayer money revive this campaign.

Under this special-interest measure, police, fire and teacher contracts would remain in effect indefinitely after they have expired. The idea is to weaken the bargaining position of local cities and towns and pry more money out of the taxpayers, already burdened with some of America’s most crushing property taxes.

A fair accounting of this policy suggests that Rhode Island’s insiders understand that they’re really just managing the decline of the state.  Theoretically, perpetual contracts could benefit either side, given the circumstances.  We all understand that when the economic pressure would be on lower compensation for unionized employees, they’ll just sit on their contracts until things improve.  When the economic pressure goes the other way, promoting higher pay, local governments could be the ones to sit on the contracts.

However, everybody from the unions to municipal and school district leaders to the Providence Journal understands two things:

  • Economic flourishing isn’t in Rhode Island’s future unless the state can break insiders’ strangle hold on the state, and that doesn’t look likely, absent a terrible crash.
  • Interacting with that point, the deals that unionized government employees get in Rhode Island are so generous that it’s even less plausible to imagine circumstances in which Rhode Island’s economic growth would be so strong that the government would struggle to find people willing to work for that amount of remuneration.

Add in the fact that union employees can disrupt government services much more readily than government agencies and school districts can get out from under their unions, and it’s clear why this is such a one-sided issue.  At least the insecurity of a lapsing contract instills some discomfort among Rhode Island’s privileged class, which gives elected representatives a little leverage.  Whether or not they take advantage of that leverage — which hinges, in large part, on whether they were elected with the unions’ help — is another question.

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The Prioritization of Free Birth Control

This story is utterly unremarkable, in this case reported by Jacqueline Tempera of the Providence Journal:

Two female lawmakers stressed the importance of protecting women’s access to birth control on a state level in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Katherine Kazarian, D-East Providence, and Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Jamestown, introduced matching bills this session that would protect a woman’s access to birth control in Rhode Island, regardless of any changes at the federal level….

A key provision in the ACA allows women to access birth control pills, as well as long-term options such as intrauterine devices, known as IUDs, or other implants, for a $0 co-pay.

In the past, I’ve mainly let this sort of rhetoric go with a simple question about why lawmakers want to forbid people from buying less-expensive insurance that only includes coverage for things that they need.  That’s really what’s going on, here.  Kazarian and Euer want men to pay for women’s birth control.  (Note: The legislation explicitly leaves out coverage of male condoms and sterilization for men.)  They want older women to pay for younger women’s birth control.  They want people who aren’t having sex to pay for the birth control of people who are.  They want Catholics and others who don’t use birth control because of their religious beliefs to have to pay for the very same products being used by other people.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of what the elevation of this particular type of health care fundamentally means.  Every now and then, I’ll come across a request from some Rhode Island family asking people to donate to help them stay afloat while dealing with the sudden onset of a child’s life-threatening disease.  Throughout Rhode Island, parents with children who have genetic diseases have no choice but to find some way to afford the copays for life-preserving treatments that will never become unnecessary, unless some miraculous cure is found.  And of course, neither of these challenges goes away when the children become adults.

Perhaps Kazarian and Euer would insist that they’d support socialized health care that claims to make all medicine “free.”  Put the wisdom of that proposal aside.  What they’re pursuing right now is to make sure that women don’t have to pay for products that let them have sex while minimizing the chance of pregnancy.  That’s their priority, and it tells us a whole lot about what they believe.

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Encouraging Bad Behavior by Curing a Consequence

Sometimes the legislation flowing through the Rhode Island General Assembly each year takes the form of series, with tweaks and additions to particular areas of law building on each other.  One such series involves opioid abuse and overdose, with a subset for increasing (even mandating) the availability of emergency drugs to save people from overdoses.  Unfortunately, Robert VerBruggen reports for National Review that this trend may have an undesired outcome:

Are Anti-Overdose Drugs Backfiring?

Yes, says an incredibly depressing new study. It suggests that opioid abuse rises when overdose-reversing drugs are easily accessible.

This could happen through two different mechanisms: “(1) saving the lives of active drug users, who survive to continue abusing opioids, and (2) reducing the risk of death per use, thereby making riskier opioid use more appealing.” (1) isn’t a bad thing, even though we would obviously prefer that addicts quit after nearly dying. But (2) is a serious problem, as it could mean that overdose-reversing drugs don’t actually save lives on balance.

Obviously, this finding (if further study validates it) doesn’t prove that we shouldn’t strive to save lives, but it should lead us to be humble as we attempt to use government to fix society’s problems.  I mean, think of the choices that pile on each other:  We decide that we’re going to use government to make anti-overdose drugs more readily available, and that increases drug abuse.  This can get very expensive for other people very quickly, whether through taxes or health insurance premiums.  Those resources necessarily have to come from elsewhere.

Perhaps to mitigate the financial and human cost, somebody will propose that anybody whose life is thus saved must be committed to a facility for recovery.  Now, suddenly, we’re saving lives only to institutionalize people who may relapse once they’re let out, and when they do, they’ll have incentive to take their drugs in a more concealed environment.  What then?  Further erode their privacy?  Or create safe places in which they can do their drugs, thus increasing the ease of drug usage?

Frankly, I’m not sure where I land on this series of questions, but it wouldn’t be irrational or inhumane to go back to the start of it and suggest keeping government out altogether.  At least that would focus our attention on the social arena in which the solution to the problem ultimately lies.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Will RI Push the ACLU into Conservatives’ Ditch?

I’ve been finding the news cycles discouraging lately, even frightening.  We’re fallen creatures, so even a casual familiarity with history will show that the madness isn’t anything new or different.  What’s discouraging at this moment is the acceleration of the movement to undermine the principles of freedom and (at least) aspiration to consider things logically and with mutual respect.

Even things that ought to be encouraging have the feel of futility.  It feels, for example, like a sign of how far things have gone that I’m agreeing so much with the Rhode Island ACLU more often, and not because I’m changing my worldview.  The latest area of agreement comes with the organization’s statement of concern about proposed “red flag” legislation proposing to empower law enforcement personnel and a single judge to predict that a person is likely enough to do harm that he or she loses his Second Amendment rights (emphasis added):

The heart of the legislation’s ERPO process requires speculation – on the part of both the petitioner and judges – about an individual’s risk of possible violence. But, the ACLU analysis notes: “Psychiatry and the medical sciences have not succeeded in this realm, and there is no basis for believing courts will do any better. The result will likely be a significant impact on the rights of many innocent individuals in the hope of preventing a tragedy.”The ACLU’s analysis concludes:“People who are not alleged to have committed a crime should not be subject to severe deprivations of liberty interests, and deprivations for lengthy periods of time, in the absence of a clear, compelling and immediate showing of need. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern.

We’ll see how this plays out.  The RI ACLU was correct, as well, to express concern with the lurching of the Rhode Island Senate to expel an elected member and leave his district without representation on the strength of allegations.  Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle’s resignation saved Senate leaders from having to follow through on their threats — and saved the ACLU from having to judge the process one way or another — but there’s no similar out in this case.

The question for legislators and for the rest of us is whether Rhode Island is now a state in which the ACLU can fall outside of the boundaries of acceptable opinion on the conservative side of the spectrum.

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