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Political Monday with John DePetro: Fees, Fraud, Fetuses, and Finding a Field of Candidates

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the many new fees and taxes in the governor’s budget, a progressive’s alleged embezzlement, the significance of an abortion poll, and the multiple candidates for RIGOP chair.

Open post for full audio.

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Parks and Beaches: Another Investment We’re Already Making

Along with her budget’s request to increase fees for beaches and Rhode Island parks, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is rolling out the usual message about “investing” in our state:

“Our beaches and parks are such a special part of who we are as Rhode Islanders, and we need to preserve them for future generations,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “The study DEM commissioned recently makes clear that we’re not doing enough now. It’s critical that we commit to long-term investments in our parks and beaches. Let’s make sure our kids have the same opportunities that we did.”

The study noted that Rhode Island exhibits high park use and low investment compared with the rest of the nation – ranking 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit. The study calls on the State to make a strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential of the park system, protect infrastructure, enhance programs, and bolster operations and staffing.

The missing statistic in that summary is anything gauging Rhode Island’s tax burden.  Especially in the messaging of our current governor, everything is an “investment.”  The problem is that we’re already making those investments.  We’re just not getting much for them, whether in terms of infrastructure, economic development, or education.

Another budgetary favorite of Raimondo’s emphasizes the point:  budget scoops.  When the governor’s office makes a regular practice of “scooping up” money from restricted funds, which are often driven by fees of one sort of another, it sends the message that it’s all really about finding new sources of revenue.

In other words, she’s actually looking for investments in more of the same old insider deals that have drained money away from things Rhode Islanders actually value.

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Governor Moves Toward Even More Restrictions On 2nd Amendment; Please Sign Petition

As the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity wrote after the State of the State address, the assault on individual and Second Amendment constitutional rights under the Raimondo administration is worse than expected. Her new scheme is one more example of the Rhode Island political class giving into the far-left Progressive agenda. Rhode Island families deserve to be able to exercise their God given right to self-defense without excessive government interference.

Instead of protecting and preserving our individual freedoms, the Governor is expanding the attacks and infringements on those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves. Now is the time to demand better government, not more restrictions on honest citizens. Click Here to sign a petition demanding exactly that from our elected officials.

This “crystal ball” approach of justifying government infringement because something “might” happen must end!

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Early Indications of Legalized Prostitution?

Although I’m pretty sure state Democrat Representative Anastasia Williams, of Providence, has introduced this legislation in the past, with the possible legalization of marijuana this year, it’s worth mentioning.  As Ian Donnis reports for the Public’s Radio:

A Rhode Island lawmaker believes the state’s laws governing sex work are too punitive and she wants to create a 12-member commission to review possible changes. …

According to a bill introduced by Williams, H5354, “Criminalization of prostitution disproportionately impacts women, transgender individuals and people of color.” Her legislation points to findings showing that decriminalizing prostitution can improve public safety and public health.

If Williams’ envisioned legislative commission moves ahead, it would face a February 2020 deadline for reporting its findings.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, there’s a reason Pottersville — the alternate reality in It’s a Wonderful Life in which the movie’s hero had never been born — combines drugs, gambling, and prostitution.  As I’ve also suggested before, it would be one thing to arrive at this state of affairs because our culture and our respect for liberty had become stronger, because then it would have implicit safeguards for individuals and the community as a whole.

As it is, we’re seeing the government move into areas that used to be the province of organized crime, largely for the same reasons: money and power.

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Another Consideration with Binding Arbitration for Teachers

A Providence Journal editorial worries that the teachers unions may have finally bought themselves binding arbitration from the legislature and governor this year.

Such a change would mean that the unions could dig in their heels when a contract is due and try their luck with a three-person arbitration panel that ultimately doesn’t have to worry about where the money will come from or what other priorities might be sacrificed, as elected boards must do.  The editors note the political imbalance:

Labor interests have immense financial resources, politicians in their pockets and batteries of relentless lobbyists to help secure their gains at the State House. Citizens have little more than their own vote and their voice in trying to restrain property taxes and move Rhode Island in a healthier direction. But voices and votes, if used, can frighten enough politicians into doing the right thing.

The leverage of citizens and their elected officials in negotiations is something I’ve learned a bit about since I was elected to the Tiverton Town Council in November.  When it comes to police and fire, the dynamic is very different.  Not only are they dealing with emergencies and public safety, but their 24/7 schedules create challenges that fall squarely within management rights.  That means arbitrators cannot touch them.

What are management rights when it comes to teachers unions?  Maybe I’ve been missing something, but I’ve never gotten the sense that school departments could simply force teachers to stay in their classrooms longer without negotiating that into their contracts, for example.  And any such moves may also impose requirements on students and families, making them less likely.

In other words, binding arbitration not only has less justification for teacher unions than public safety unions, but it also comes with less leverage for management.  That is, it’s simply a flex of political muscle that will create huge imbalance in local budgeting.

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Unnecessary “Fair Housing” Bill is Unfair to Landlords!

House bill 5137, deceptively named the Fair Housing Practices bill, which mirrors leftist-inspired legislation introduced in other states, is completely unfair to landlords.

The legislation claims it seeks to end discriminatory housing practices because in the progressives’ land of social-equity, making a legitimate business decision should be a crime. Under the proposed law, any Section-8 lessee applicant (those whose rents are subsidized by the federal government) who are not accepted as a tenant, must have been discriminated against, and the landlord must be punished.

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The Center’s Perspective on So-Called “Fair Housing” Legislation

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse offers the Center’s view on legislation that would limit landlords’ right to decide whether the way potential tenants’ will pay their rent should be a factor in deciding whether to rent to them, including a mandate to accept Section 8 vouchers:

Based on conversations with landlords I know, there is a major, legitimate, and non-racial reason why some business prefer not to accept clients subsidized by public money and all the red-tape they would have to go through. In this case, once a landlord accepts a federally subsidized Section-8 tenant, that business is now subject to a whole new array of mandates, red tape, and risks that otherwise, it would not have to worry about.

Under this legislative mandate, landlords would be subject to unfair rules by HUD, which we know from the RhodeMap RI debate years ago, does not care about private property rights. HUD has corrupted its mission of putting low-income people into appropriate housing to the point where it routinely tramples on the rights of other private property owners.

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Race-Obsessed Policy Generates Race-Based Differences

So, here’s a must-read research paper for legislators as they try to conform our world to the vision in their heads:

Mounting empirical research shows that race-preferential admissions policies are doing more harm than good. Instead of increasing the numbers of African Americans entering high-status careers, these policies reduce those numbers relative to what we would have had if colleges and universities had followed race-neutral policies. We have fewer African-American scientists, physicians, and engineers and likely fewer lawyers and college professors. If, as the evidence indicates, the effects of race-preferential admissions policies are exactly the opposite of what was originally intended, it is difficult to understand why anyone would wish to support them.

Basically, the mechanism that brings about this outcome, according to the paper’s author, Gail Heriot, is that giving preference to underrepresented applicants based on their non-academic qualities places students in environments for which they are not adequately prepared and matches them with students with whom they might not be able to compete.

These sort of unintended consequences arise with all sorts of politically correct policies.  One that comes to mind is the “ban the box” push to forbid employers from asking applicants whether they’ve ever been convicted of crimes.  Studies are finding that preventing employers from asking a straightforward question for information they feel they need leads them to use less-direct methods that wind up hurting racial minorities, rather than helping them.

How long until our society decides that the best route to equality is to stop writing racial distinctions into the law and to stop trying to drive racism out of our minds by banning questions that may (or may not) be correlated with it?

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RI House May Expand Abortion, but Criminalize Cat Declawing

As the Rhode Island House of Representatives gives hints that some sort of legislation will pass to lock in or even expand the ability of women to kill their children in the womb, this legislation (H5073) enters the docket:

It is unlawful for any person… to perform or cause to be performed, an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure by any means on a cat or other animal, unless the procedure is deemed necessary for a therapeutic purpose by a licensed veterinarian.

In addition to being able to impose a fine of up to $1,000, the court would gain the totalitarianesque power not only to forbid the person to possess any animals, but also to live “on the same property with someone who owns or possesses animals, perhaps for life.  Naturally, forced “humane education” would be a requirement.

But wait!  There’s more.

If H5113 also were to become law, the person who has his or her cat declawed would also be forced to participate in a new publicly accessible online animal abuser registry.  That way his or her neighbors could readily dig up details of the dastardly deed.

As long as we have our priorities in order.

Somewhere around Twitter, I saw somebody complain that people are spreading "lies" about Virginia Democrats.  The on-point response from somebody else (paraphrasing):  "People are spreading direct quotes."

Pretense Has Fallen Away on Abortion: It’s Infanticide

Somewhere around Twitter, I saw somebody complain that people are spreading “lies” about Virginia Democrats.  The on-point response from somebody else (paraphrasing):  “People are spreading direct quotes.”

Sometimes these things are better seen.  Watch Virginia Democrat Delegate Kathy Tran explain her pro-abortion legislation.  As the Republican chairman of the committee to which she’s presenting digs into what the bill would allow, Tran’s face actually winces, because she knows what she’s about to say:

Gilman: Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth — she has physical signs that she is about to give birth.  Would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was [certified as having a mental health reason]?

[Pause]

Gilman: She’s dilating.

Tran: [Winces.] Mr. Chairman, that would be a decision that the doctor, the physician, and the woman would make at that point.

Gilman: I understand that. I’m asking if your bill allows that.

Tran: My bill would allow that, yeah.

All pretense is now off the table.  This is infanticide, as Democrat Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam subsequently went on the radio to confirm.  The interviewer asked about the exchange quoted above, and Northam answered thus:

If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen.  The infant would be delivered.  The infant would be kept comfortable.  The infant would be resuscitated, if that’s what the mother and the family desired.  And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Notice that we’re no longer talking about a fetus, here.  This is an infant.  Apparently, many Democrats have become so intrinsically radical that they are now willing to admit that.  It’s their religion, and human sacrifice is allowed.

By the way, infanticide is evil… just in case that isn’t clear anymore.

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More Regulations During a Housing Shortage Is a Bad Idea

One always has to wonder something after reading an article like the one Madeleine List wrote about legislation to force landlords to take government housing vouchers and to block their ability to find out if potential tenants have appeared in housing court before.  Was the reporter absolutely unable to find anybody to offer a contrary view?

The first argument one hears as an opposing view is that tenants who aren’t paying their own rent might not feel as inclined to keep it up or stay on good terms with their landlords.  Although this might be a reasonable concern, in some cases, it may be more of a strawman, because it isn’t the best of the three most-obvious answers.

The most practical of the other two answers is that Section 8 isn’t simply a source of income.  Accepting Section 8 vouchers requires the landlord to accept regular government inspections and other impositions.  Even if we take as a given that the government will never make inspections more burdensome than the most basic health and safety concerns that all landlords should cover voluntarily, many may simply not want to deal with that extra layer of bureaucracy.

The third obvious answer is that accepting low-income tenants comes with some risk, whether the risk is that they won’t treat the property well, that they’re on the bordeline of being able to afford the rent at all, or that the government might decide that its vouchers give it more authority over your property than was initially the case.  And risk comes with a cost.

This gets to a point about unintended consequences that legislators really should keep in mind at all times.  Imposing risk effectively raises the cost of being a landlord, either by imposing an cost in stress or by forcing them to raise rates or lower profits in order to compensate when the risk goes bad.

Raise the cost of rentals, and we’ll have fewer.  Have fewer rentals, and the natural price of the market will go up.  Raise that price, and we’ll have fewer rentals.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Housing crisis.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

The Strange Assertions of Abortion Advocates

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women’s ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about “reproductive health care.”  Reproductive of what?

So much of the pro-abortion argument requires distortion of the language and concepts that are involved.  Why that is should be obvious.  The other day, a progressive state senator from Providence, Gayle Goldin, and Providence Journal reporter Katnerine Gregg responded to news that a judge had struck down an Iowa law restricting abortion when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, implying that it’s a concern because it may give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to address the question of abortion.

Think of the underlying issue.

This law that is, at the moment, arguably unconstitutional essentially states that if an unborn child is so provably unique from the mother as to have his or her own heartbeat, a doctor can’t suck out his or her brain, tear him or her limb from limb, or otherwise kill the child (presumably except to save the life of the mother).  When that’s the fact of the act, the only way to maintain support has got to be to misdirect attention some other way.

Activists at the Rhode Island State House, the other day, emphasized minorities’ access to abortion, but starting from a different perspective paints a very different picture.  Something around 8% of Rhode Island’s population is black, but they account for some 16% of abortions.  Abortion kills black babies at about twice the rate that it kills white babies in the Ocean State.

A chart from the Guttmacher Institute shows that minorities, especially black non-Hispanics, have much higher abortion rates than white non-Hispanics, yet the claim of the chart is that “lack of access to health insurance and health care plays a role, as do racism and discrimination,” in abortion rates that vary by race.   Is Guttmacher, which is associated with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that racism leads to the higher rates, or is it suggesting that, but for racism and discrimination, the United States would have even higher rates for killing black babies.

That’s what the Providence activists would seem to be suggesting when they talk about “access.”  Pursuing policies that would keep a significant portion of a minority population alive is a strange kind of bigotry.

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Another Lesson to Learn, Rhode Island: Minimum Wage

Sometimes state government makes bad policy decisions because it is improvising without any example to follow for its actions, and sometimes state government makes bad policy decisions because it ignores the evidence that other states have generated.  Passing progressive Democrat Gina Raimondo’s proposed new Medicaid tax on employers and her proposed minimum wage increase would be in the second category.

Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore notes one New York City restauranteur who is cutting hours, cutting staff, and increasing prices, all to address a massive increase in the city’s minimum wage:

Bloostein is just one restaurant owner, you might say. But he is not alone. A New York City Hospitality Alliance survey shows that 75 percent of restaurants said they planned to cut employees hours in response to the wage hike. Nearly half (47 percent) said they’d cut jobs.

The outcome is hardly a surprise. These are the signature responses to steep wage hikes forced onto businesses (those that manage to bear the costs and stay open, anyway).

However pure the intentions of New York politicians might be, the minimum wage will have a dire impact on those who can least afford it: young, poor workers who will not be afforded important job experience. It’s a terrible way to fight poverty …

Of course, as Miltimore goes on to suggest, New York politicians’ intentions cannot be assumed to be pure.  Their incentives are different from the people’s needs, and that most definitely applies to Governor Raimondo.

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Governor’s Regressive Budget – The Wrong Direction?

Is the Governor’s budget pointing our state in the right direction? On Monday, I attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast hosted by the RI Ministers’ Alliance. At the breakfast, the Governor said that the country is moving backward, and that she is committed to moving RI ‘forward’ and in the opposite direction. What planet is the Governor living on?

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Governor’s Budget: The “Rhode To Serfdom”

Instead of seeking to shape Rhode Island’s future with the proven ideals of a free-society, Governor Raimondo’s proposed 2019-2020 budget is a stunning departure from America’s core values and, instead, would put our state on a “Rhode to Serfdom.”

The Governor’s regressive budget points us 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where we need to head, and would stifle any opportunity for growth.

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Pot in Pottersville for the Profit of Political Insiders

On a Facebook page that he controls, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan has generated a good amount of discussion about Ted Nesi’s article concerning Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to put the legalization of marijuana in the state budget.

We should pause a moment on the propriety of making major social changes as part of the budget process, which inevitably covers a wide range of contentious issues.  This sort of history-changing decision should be considered in its own right, not in a giant omnibus bill that buys votes from legislators for this or that other provision.

Much of the conversation on McGowan’s page, however, has had to do with concern about the use of drug legalization explicitly to raise money for government in a failing state.  That suggestion brings to mind the rationale that the General Assembly put into law for creating the state sales tax in the middle of the last century:

The recognition of the state of its obligation to grant pay increases for teachers in the manner provided in chapter 7 of title 16, to assure the maintenance of proper educational standards in the public schools, coupled with the compelling necessity for additional state aid to the several cities and towns now confronted with financial crisis, have created an increased burden on the finances of the state. To the end that adequate funds are available to the state government to enable it to meet these newly adopted obligations, without impairing the ability of the state to fulfill its existing obligations, a revision of the tax structure is unavoidable.

The money is always desperately needed, and there’s always an emotional hook, but government insiders never pay for the supposed priorities. Next will be prostitution or harder drugs, even as nanny state progressives create black markets for cigarettes, soft drinks, and firearms.

Clearly we’re in the world in which George Bailey was never born.  Let’s just change the name of the state to Rhode Island and the Pottersville Strip.

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A Modest Rules Change and the Legislative Firewall

Busy with other things, I was excited to look into details about the new rules that appear likely to apply to the House this legislative session.  And this is definitely a good thing:

The rule changes, endorsed 14-3, would require House leaders to post new legislative language — with some exceptions — for public consumption at least 24 hours before it is voted on by lawmakers.

The exceptions: The annual House budget bill customarily printed and immediately approved by the House Finance Committee late at night will not be subject to the 24-hour posting rule.

And neither will bills the chairman of a committee deems “either technical, grammatical, or not substantive or substantial in nature” need a day’s exposure to public scrutiny.

But I can’t help but wonder… is that it?  I thought we were going to shift power away from the speaker and toward our elected representatives.  More time to review legislative language will help, but not much, and only if legislators are sincerely reviewing it.  If (as one needn’t be too cynical to suspect) their votes depend more on politics than policy, more time won’t matter a bit.

I’ll also acknowledge mixed feelings about this reaction from the speaker:

Speaker Mattiello has pooh-poohed the debate over the House rules as being of little interest to voters. “I might have gotten no more than two emails on it,” Mattiello told Dan Yorke on Thursday. “Nobody is asking me about it. Nobody cares about it.” Referring to the Reform Caucus of dissident Democrats, the speaker added, “This is an internal game with this ‘high-tax caucus’ wanting to gain ground so they can pass their bad bills.”

He’s undoubtedly right.  Progressive activists may have impressed the local media by getting a few people to testify, but anybody on the inside knows what that amounts to.  These are folks who’ll turn out anyway and won’t be persuaded to vote for people who don’t align with them.  (Raising my hand with some Tea Party been-there-done-that experience.)

Moreover, Mattiello goes right to the key point.  At this time, the rules (which remain terrible, from a perspective of political theory) are what will enable him to be a firewall against a destructive ideology that would actually be worse than the insider system under which we’ve been suffering.  That he is maintaining his promise of being a firewall is at least a bit of a silver lining.

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CORRECTED: Question of Progressive Legislation

CORRECTION (1:10 p.m., 1/12/19): Contrary to my original reading of this legislation, it does contain language making some provision for the transport of rifles and shotguns.  A paragraph running longer than a page exempts various people (mostly law enforcement and military personnel) from its provisions.  About three-quarters of the way through this paragraph, it exempts the “regular and/or ordinary transportation” of the weapons “as merchandise.  The exemption also allows transportation of the weapons unloaded and either in a trunk or a locked container.

This language does make the following post overly aggressive.  However, the bill is still deeply problematic.  Not only does it further infringe on the rights of gun owners, but its exceptions have giant gaps.  The allowable transport of firearms are very specific:  from the place of purchase to home, back and forth to their place of business, or to sell it or have it repaired.

Notably, the exemption still doesn’t include transportation to any sort of shooting range, let alone simply carrying the weapon for the purpose of having it available.  In short, the legislation would completely undermine a key purpose for enforcing the Second Amendment.  It would limit the use of rifles and shotguns to sport (presumably) and protection of the home or place of business.  Any use for the protection of one’s self or others in any other location would essentially be banned.

ORIGINAL POST (6:31 p.m. 1/8/19):

I see only three possibilities when it comes to legislation like H5022, which Democrat Representative Grace Diaz has already submitted for consideration. Either I’m missing something, the radicals are trying to sneak truly outrageous civil rights violations into law, or they just don’t read or think through the legislation they submit.

Here’s the new language the sponsors wish to insert into Rhode Island law:

No person shall carry a rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about the person whether visible or concealed, except in the persons dwelling house or place of business or on land possessed by the person. Every person violating the provisions of this subsection shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten (10) years, or by a fine up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both, except on a first conviction under this section, the person shall not be eligible for a suspended or deferred sentence or probation. This subsection shall not apply to those persons engaged in lawful hunting activity as provided in chapter 13 of title 20, lawful target shooting within this state or otherwise exempt …

So here’s a question: How is a person who has purchased a rifle or shotgun supposed to get it on to his or her own land?  There are no exceptions for transporting these firearms.

Again, either I’m missing something, some of our legislators are unable to foresee even the most obvious side effects of their proposals, or they aren’t side effects at all, and the legislators are hoping to slip unconstitutional language into law thanks to other people’s failure to pay attention or their belief that the sponsors couldn’t possibly mean what they’re saying.

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When Public Policy Squeezes Out Providers

The aptly named Stanley Bleecker foresees a problem for Rhode Islanders needing health care in the future:

Can you imagine a time when sick people will not have access to a doctor when they are in need of treatment and medical advice? I can. Recently, because of my primary doctor’s retirement, I had to find an internist and also a specialist. It was not easy. After some effort, I did secure an appointment for an annual physical with a new internist, but the earliest appointment I could get was scheduled for 12 months down the road. Subsequently, I learned my new doctor (whom I still have not yet met) has closed his practice to new patients.

The shortage is a result of many Rhode Island doctors taking early retirement or leaving to practice in other states where insurance payments are higher. Practicing doctors tell me that young doctors are not interested in practicing in Rhode Island because of low insurance payments.

Mr. Bleecker might be somewhat encouraged to learn that Rhode Island has legalized the provision of telemedicine, whereby patients don’t have to be physically present in the office to receive care.  Of course, this being Rhode Island, there’s a catch:

Rhode Island providers, however, may not use telemedicine to deliver health care services across state borders. This limitation is subject to change if Rhode Island lawmakers choose to enter the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (“IMLC”).

In some respects, Rhode Island is moving in the wrong direction:

Similarly, Rhode Island nurses may not deliver health care services via telemedicine to patients across state borders. This was not always the case. For nearly a decade, Rhode Island was a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact (“NLC”), which permitted Rhode Island registered nurses and licensed/practical vocational nurses to use telemedicine to provide health care in 24 other states across the country.

Attentive readers might recall that Donna Cook pointed this out back in September, as a problem for professional nurses.

This shouldn’t be such a hard lesson.  When government makes it more difficult to pursue a profession or creates artificial markets with near monopolies for insurers, people will stop finding it worthwhile to go into that line of work, here.  Too often, those who craft our laws imagine that the targets of their impositions will not react.

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Looking for Common Ground in Booker’s New Handout Plan

Of course, the idea of making the federal government something like everybody’s rich uncle, endowing every baby with a $1,000 savings account with annual deposits at taxpayer expense, strikes all the wrong chords for a conservative like me.  The details of legislation that U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D, New Jersey) has submitted don’t really help:

The accounts would be federally insured, and the funds could only be used for homeownership and “human and financial capital investments that [change] life trajectories,” according to the summary. …

The program would cost roughly $60 billion if implemented in 2019, a Booker aide told The Hill, and would be funded by increasing the capital gains tax rate by 4.2 points, increasing the estate tax to its 2009 level and raising taxes on multimillion-dollar inheritances.

So, the federal government would create and help fund individual investment accounts and then pay for it by increasing the cost of investing as well as taxing those who are able to change their “life trajectories” enough to ensure that their own children don’t need rich Uncle Sam.  That doesn’t sound like the most efficient policy design.

All of that said, Booker’s concept does have some similar features to my long-standing proposal for health care:  Set everybody up with a health savings account, which government could use as its Medicaid/Medicare mechanism, which employers could use to provide their health care benefits, which charities could use to offer assistance to the poor, and which would bring market mechanisms into health care.

That would be a better use of money than buying houses.  Moreover, some significant part of the funding could be found in government health care savings (as all of the funding for any new program should be found in the existing budget).

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A Little Sleight of Hand from Gorbea

It can be interesting what politicians believe to be valid explanations.  I’m thinking of this, from a press release put out by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea:

The argument that the omission of birth day and month information could encumber a third-party analysis of the voter registration database is unfounded. In fact, less than 0.5% of the roughly 790,000 voter records share the same full name and year of birth.

One almost has to admire how slyly this misses the point. That’s 0.5% of voters in RI alone.  How many Rhode Island voters share a name and birth year with other voters across the country.  That’s a key question.

Even putting that aside, though, the Providence Journal points out that this percentage means there are around 4,000 Rhode Islanders who have the same name and birth year.  Anybody from Rhode Island or out of state who would like to check on those 4,000 folks would have to travel to the Secretary of State’s office and sit at a special terminal with who-knows-what actual functionality.  (Will it be able to print or save files to thumb drives?)  Surely Gorbea understands that every step that people are required to take means significantly fewer will do them.  This applies to an extra click on the Internet, let alone traveling to a special computer somewhere.

If her goal were really to protect voters from identity theft, Gorbea had much better ways of using the “extra effort” standard.  Right now, people have to request this information.  That alone will scare off many potential scammers.  Legislation could have further made people liable if it could be shown that their use of the information facilitated identity theft, although that might face constitutional challenge.

Most of all — it’s worth repeating — if Gorbea took this action in the public interest, she wouldn’t have done it quietly, but would have proclaimed it widely and visibly as a way in which she was protecting Rhode Islanders.

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A Possible Misunderstanding of the Status of Representatives

We’re only hearing murmurs, but already one #MeToo-era bill potentially on track for introduction into the Rhode Island General Assembly for the upcoming legislative session suggests that lawmakers don’t quite understand their unique roles in our system:

A top Democrat in the state House of Representatives has written legislation that would create an “Equal Opportunity Employment Officer” in state government with the power to investigate claims of sexual harassment within the General Assembly.

Rep. Christopher Blazejewski, the deputy majority whip in House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s leadership team, plans to pre-file a bill creating the office and a special committee on professional conduct with “broad investigatory and disciplinary powers,” he said in a news release.

A new office with “broad” powers to discipline elected legislators?  That’s not how this stuff is supposed to work.  Legislators aren’t employees; they’re representatives.  The state government didn’t hire them.  They aren’t there by contract or the assent of the other legislators.  They’re supposed to answer to their constituents.  Period.

That doesn’t give them a get-out-of-jail-free card if they break the law, but it should suggest wariness about appointing independent government officials with the power to “discipline” them.  The potential for mischief is huge.  From a narrowly political standpoint, such an officer could selectively enforce the rules and abuse the investigatory power to tar disfavored politicians.  From a wider philosophical standpoint, one can easily imagine circumstances in which a district elects a legislator explicitly because of his or her beliefs about men and women only to find expression of those beliefs to be subject to discipline.

Representative Katherine Kazarian reinforces the impression that some legislators are losing sight of their unique role when she says, “All legislators deserve to represent their communities and engage in the political process free from harassment and retaliation.”  Again, they are not employees, nor are they constituents.  They are adults whom we sent to the State House to battle for policy on our behalf.

They should be able to utilize the political system to hold their fellow legislators accountable and turn to voters for accountability.  This sort of legislation makes profound changes to the roles of the people in our political system.

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Overtime Rules and Progressives’ Vision of a Fallow Field of Money

Here’s a reminder, from the site Uprise RI, that progressives really do think this way.  The topic is the federal rule that allows companies not to pay overtime rates to managers who make over a certain limit.  The Obama Administration wanted to increase the limit from $23,660 to $47,476 annually, but the courts put a hold on the move, so the Department of Labor is spending some time doing research and listening to advocates.  This is from Steve Ahlquist’s coverage of the Rhode Island leg of the tour:

Each month, since the abandonment of the Obama-era threshold, Rhode Islanders have lost about $400,000 in wages, estimated the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute.

“This is money that could be helping those families,” said [Economic Progress Institute economic and fiscal policy director Douglas] Hall. “They would spend that money locally in our economy, helping the Rhode Island economy to thrive and helping global businesses to prosper.”

Progressives really do imagine that businesses have some field of uncultivated money laying fallow in the economy from which they can pluck more pay.  To the contrary, if this threshold is increased, businesses will have to reduce either productivity or investment.  Fewer new hires will happen and the demands on workers will increase, losing them benefits and flexibility.

Just let the market be.  The government shouldn’t be an uber labor union imposing blanket rules on our economy.  Money always has to come from somewhere, and as a general proposition, the burden will fall most firmly on those who have the least leverage.

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The Most Critical Consideration for an Inspector General

This came up in my discussion last week with John DePetro (for which I have no audio), but the point is significant enough to merit a quick post.  As most people who follow Rhode Island politics, Republican candidate for governor, Patricia Morgan, earned some attention for making the notion of an inspector general part of the campaign and naming her first choice:

At her Warwick campaign headquarters, Morgan, the House minority leader, announced that if elected governor, she would create an office of the inspector general, and she named Arlene Violet, a former state attorney general, as her first choice to run that office.

An inspector general would root out waste, fraud and corruption and make the government more accountable to the taxpayers of Rhode Island — goals that reflect Morgan’s vision of government.

Having helped to craft legislation to create an inspector general a few years ago, I find this approach worrying.  State government already has multiple offices for people auditing and reviewing government’s activities.  The whole reason to create a new office of the inspector general is his or her independence.  The most important components of any plan for such an office, therefore, are the way in which he or she acquires the position, who can take that position away, and how it is funded.

One could reasonably argue that such a job ought to be defined in the state’s constitution, but at least creating the job through the General Laws would impose political pressures on the legislature and the executive not to be seen meddling too much.  The notion that a governor could come in, create the office, and then appoint a person of his or her choosing is contrary to the fundamental spirit of the policy.

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