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Like Plaque, Education Bureaucracies Are Cumulative

It was to be expected that even inadequate, sound-good education reforms from Rhode Island’s General Assembly would come at a cost, as reported by the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg:

The Senate Finance Committee last month asked Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green what she would need to take on the new responsibilities included in this package of legislation, which, among other things, calls for instituting high-quality civics instruction, expanding world languages statewide, improving instruction for students with dyslexia and giving principals more authority.

“To fully support the requirements of these legislative priorities and to transform the department to focus more on supporting educators, students, and the community, RIDE needs additional expertise and capacity across a wide range of areas, such as implementing high-quality curriculum and supporting school leaders,” said Rhode Island Department of Education spokesman Pete Janhunen. “The request contains a list of proposed positions that align with the priorities of both the commissioner and the General Assembly.”

The ask is for $1.9 million, mostly to hire new personnel.  One question remains unasked, however.  If this is a “shift” in the nature of the department, are there no roles that no longer need to be filled?

This is another $1.9 million for the state’s education bureaucracy, so it can edge in on the territory of local decision makers.  Actually, it’s fig-leaf spending and reorganizing in order to avoid addressing the actual problem:  Our public schools have insufficient accountability and are structured for the benefit of the adults who work in them, rather than the children who attend them.

Until Rhode Islanders have had enough and are willing to force elected officials to address that problem, every proposed solution will amount to merely more or less wasted money and time.

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Relentless Perpetuation of the “Equal Pay” Myth via Legislation

Helpful headlines notwithstanding, the Rhode Island Senate once again passed legislation to address the mythical “wage gap”:

A plan to close the gender wage gap in Rhode Island by adding new, sharper teeth to the state’s fair pay law and banning employers from asking job candidates their salary history sailed through the state Senate again Thursday.

“Rhode Island first passed an equal pay law in the 1950s, and I am sure it was revolutionary at the time, but we have not gone back and updated it unlike many other states,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, lead sponsor of the pay equity legislation. “Passing this bill is not going to resolve the wage gap on its own, rather, this bill in combination with so many things we have worked on… is the way we will address the gender wage gap.”

And so it goes.  As long as progressives want to foster division and grievance, this legislation will keep appearing.  Maybe some year the gears of political necessity will get it over the finish line.  As that process plays on from year to year, opponents will tire of saying the same thing over and over again.  That’s the advantage of the left-wing approach to public “debate”:  When you refuse to acknowledge the other side’s arguments and just keep repeating the talking points, the other side moves to other topics, and the public just becomes used to the deception.

By way of a preventative measure, here’s my op-ed on the topic, from the Providence Journal last year around this time, which I published in more casual, expansive form in this space the month before:

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differentials that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality.  That is, for any two employees who aren’t more or less demographically identical, the lower-paid one could initiate a complaint with the state with the same treatment as complaints that the employer withheld pay, and the burden is on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase it.

Think about how much of an encroachment on private activity and interactions that is, as well as the presumption that government is some sort of neutral judge that can accurately assess every business decision.

If this legislation ever passes, I expect it will have some degree of the same effect as the ill-advised paid leave legislation which progressives did manage to pass last yearl.

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How the Issues Blend in the General Assembly

Maybe I’m being a little too cynical, but a serendipitous press release from the Rhode Island Senate at least provides an opportunity to contemplate how things operate at the State House.

As readers probably have heard by now, the Democrat leadership of the Senate engaged in an unprecedented last minute political stunt by pulling an abortion bill that decriminalizes fetal homicide from the Judiciary Committee and sends it to the Health and Human Services Committee, which everybody expects to pass it.  The reason for this unusual move was that Senate Republicans looked like they were going to leverage their rights as a minority under the chamber’s rules to add two votes to the “nay” side and stop the radical, unnecessary, and deceptive legislation.

The odd thing about it is that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence, North Providence) could have done the same thing.  Instead, the Senate president managed to ensure that the bill passes committee without admitting that he voted for it.

Now the press release posted on the Web the same day as the committee maneuver:

The Senate today passed legislation (2019-S-803Aaa) sponsored by President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) that takes a new approach to economic development on large tracts of state land. Spurred by delays and impediments imposed upon the Hope Point Tower proposal for the I-195 Redevelopment District, the bill intends to create a more streamlined process for approvals on these state-owned parcels moving forward.

“We have a rare opportunity for development at the former I-195 land and some other areas across the state,” said Senator Ruggerio. “In the I-195 District, a developer is hoping to invest more than a quarter of a billion dollars to create an iconic structure that redefines the skyline. We should have welcomed this investment with open arms. Instead, we did everything we could to chase the developer away. Thankfully, he’s still here. This process has sent a terrible message to anyone looking to invest in Rhode Island.”

This is a big-money deal of particular interest to labor unions, for which Ruggerio worked until he retired after becoming Senate president.  The only reason I hesitate to link this with the abortion bill is that the vote wasn’t really that close: 28 to 8.  On the other hand, eight “nay” votes is pretty substantial in our one-sided legislature.  Had 10 votes flipped, the bill would have failed.  When the bill was in Senate Judiciary, four flipped votes would have stopped it.

So, the lesson:  When considering the up-and-down votes on any particular bill, you can’t assume legislators are judging the merits alone.  The lives of unborn children, in this case, can perhaps be sacrificed for the sake of a crony development deal.  Or perhaps some other backroom deal has been struck so that the House will stop the legislation in exchange for a return favor from the Senate.

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?

Archambault’s Flip-Flop on Fetal Homicide


It seems that Senator Steven Archambault, who had been the swing vote on the RI Senate Judiciary committee on the abortion bill, agreed to support decriminalization of fetal homicide in return for nothing of substance.

The revised abortion bill that was introduced yesterday removes the killing of a preborn child during an attack on the mother from the definition of manslaughter, while explicitly adding “the termination of a pregnancy” to the definition of a serious bodily injury under Rhode Island’s felony assault law. But if you listen to Dan Yorke’s interview with RI Attorney General Peter Neronha from earlier this year, starting at about 6:50, you will hear AG Neronha say that harm to a preborn child that occurs during an assault on the mother already meets the definition of serious bodily injury, under the legal theory — acceptable to abortion supporters — that a child is an organ or member of his or her mother. (“Organ or member” is Attorney General Neronha’s description, not mine).

Based on his statements from the Dan Yorke interview and the language in the current abortion bill, the Attorney General should be asked if he believes the new section defining serious bodily injury changes anything about its definition, because it certainly seems that the amended bill makes no meaningful change to the law except for making a point of stripping preborn children of their right to life. With the transfer last night of the abortion bill from the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to the Health and Human Services committee, there are two additional days to seek this expert opinion.

As for Senator Archambault: it looks like he’s the kind of “moderate” Democrat who becomes a progressive, whenever it counts.

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Analogizing Over Constitutional Rights

Elsewhere in the Boston Globe, Ed Fitzpatrick takes up the topic of requiring a license to purchase ammunition.  This part is especially telling about the gun-control lobby’s point of view:

The study noted a gun without ammunition is no more dangerous than any other blunt object. But “unlike the public health view on drug policy, which recognizes the importance of limiting access to both the agent of harm (the narcotic) and the instrument of delivery (for example, syringe), gun policy has focused primarily on limiting access to the instrument of delivery, firearms,” it noted.

The study said guns and ammunition are more likely to be used in violent crimes when they’re in the hands of felons (such as Charlie Vick) and others prohibited from owning weapons

Frankly, I take this to be evidence of an intention to infringe, when it comes to gun regulation.  Drugs are not explicitly protected on the Constitution, guns are.  To equate the two plows right through the Bill of Rights and steals the base of asserting that both drugs and weapons are inherently harmful.

As for the likelihood of crimes, that’s pretty much a tautology.  It would be a pretty useless regulation that didn’t forbid ownership of an item to people who were more likely to abuse that right.  Even so, the fact that people who tend toward crime will be more likely to use an item for illicit purposes doesn’t justify making it a crime for other people to buy it without a license.

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Public-Sector Labor Legislation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

While we must be wary of giving credit-rating agencies the power to dictate the legislation of our elected representatives, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the significance of this development, which Katherine Gregg reports in the Providence Journal:

A warning from one of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service, has revived the debate over the union-backed continuing-contract legislation that Gov. Gina Raimondo signed last month over the objections of city and town leaders.

The new continuing-contract law indefinitely locks in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The teacher union lobbyists who took the lead in pushing the bill said it was aimed at preventing cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay or making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.

“The law has the potential to provide collective bargaining units with advantages in negotiations,’’ Moody’s public-finance division wrote in a special report out Thursday that echoed one of the biggest concerns raised by Rhode Island mayors and town administrators.

Moody’s worries that the law may be “a significant impediment to local governments’ ability to negotiate labor contracts,” and as a local elected official participating in negotiations, I can confirm that to be the case.  It isn’t just a matter of unions’ refusing to make concessions that help government agencies balance their budgets.

The legislation — and even just the fact of its passage, along with the firefighter overtime bill — is already shutting off areas of discussion.  A municipality and union trying to balance current expenses with employees’ long-term interests can’t trust that the state won’t change the rules out from under them.  Even in a situation when the current members of a particular union have long demonstrated a desire to work cooperatively with management, decision-makers can’t consider only that relationship, but must worry about the unknowns of what future union members might do and how union-friendly legislators might change the rules on their behalf.

As with so much in Rhode Island government, the legislature and governor have demonstrated that they don’t take the broad, long-term effects of their actions into consideration.  One imagines that if they were ever to acknowledge the law of unintended consequences, they’d move swiftly to pass legislation repealing it.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Minimum Wage Cuts Close to Home for Far-Left Congresswoman

Is it too much to hope that a direct negative effect of progressive laws that hits very close to home for one particular progressive superstar would change some minds?

… the very [minimum wage] policies Ocasio-Cortez is set to draw attention to ultimately led to one of her former employers shuttering its own operations.

Charles Milite, co-founder of the Coffee Shop, where Ocasio-Cortez previously worked, said that the increased minimum wage to $15 per hour for businesses with more than 11 employees led him and his partners to reevaluate their business and shut it down.

“I know it doesn’t sound like much—$2 an hour,” Milite told Crains New York Business in April. “But when you multiply it by 40 hours, by 130 people, it becomes a big number. It was going to increase our monthly payroll $46,000.”

Ocasio-Cortez mourned the loss of the Coffee Shop and stopped in before it closed its doors. “The restaurant I used to work at is closing its doors,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last August. “I swung by today to say hi one last time, and kid around with friends like old times.” The freshman congresswoman, however, never acknowledged the policies that led to its demise.

At the level of Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps her investment in a particular ideology is just too big a bus to turn around on the ideological street, but could those who are not so far along perhaps give the matter some thought?

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Stefan Cox: In Favor of Electronic Data Privacy Act

House Bill 5893 is the Electronic Data Privacy Act and is crucial for the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass into law. If passed, the bill, sponsored by Minority Leader Blake Filippi, would prohibit any government entity from accessing electronic devices without search warrants. If the state does not pass this bill, it will have violated spirit of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees our right as citizens from unlawful searches.

This is a technology filled era, and our Fourth Amendment protections should not be exempt when it comes to computers, phones, tablets and any other technological devices which have personal information within them.

If Rhode Island does not pass this common sense legislation, we will not only have a failed economy, we will be one step closer to failing and uphold the principles of the United States Constitution.

Absolutely no one should be searched, or have property seized without probable cause. The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights is arguably our most important. We all want privacy, and we all hope that any law enforcement treats us as we feel we should be treated.

The Fourth Amendment, I would argue, is a even more fundamental than the First or Second Amendment, because if we lose our right to be protected from unlawful searches, we will lose our privacy. Then it is only a matter of time before we lose our rights to speech and firearms.

This bill to protect electronic privacy is crucial to our children’s and their children’s future. We have watches that can make phone calls now; imagine the technology they will possess. Personal property is personal property even when it is in digital form.

If we are going to search, seize, arrest, and convict someone, we must always go through proper due process. If we lose the Fourth Amendment, therefore, we might as well abandon the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, too.

This bill must be passed and be signed.

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Dr. Stephen Skoly: Opioid Tax Bill Would Harm Families and Businesses and Do Nothing to Address the Problem

The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it. The healthcare community and lawmakers need to work in tandem to find policies that effectively lessen opioid abuse while still keeping our state’s economic health as well the health and safety of the patient in mind. It’s unfortunate, however, that Senate Bill S0798, the Opioid Stewardship Act, fails on both accounts.

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Help Spread the Word About the Cost of Government Unions

Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.

Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Labor and Abortion in Rhode Island

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the likely future of legislation supporting organized labor and promoting abortion, as well as the governor’s chances of spinning her performance for state and national consumption.

Open post for full audio.

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Unfairness in RI Government’s Priorities

Mike Stenhouse’s recent op-ed in the Providence Journal puts the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Public Union Excesses report in a broader context:

Beyond these extreme financial costs, an even more corrosive impact from this political cronyism is at play. People have lost trust in their government and are fed up with betrayals from lawmakers who have forgotten them, who cater only to special-interest concerns. Lawmakers make it ever-harder for people to take care of their families and reside in Rhode Island.

For these reasons, Rhode Island is not keeping pace with the rest of the nation when it comes to jobs and population growth. After 10 years of perhaps the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are failing on their promises to help the average family.

Instead, by heaping more privileges upon those who help get them elected, politicians continue to lose the trust of the people, who are also losing hope for their state. These tragic circumstances have conspired to make it a virtual certainty that the Ocean State will lose a prized U.S. congressional seat after the 2020 national census because of its stagnant population growth.

Rhode Island strangles its families and businesses with taxes and regulations, but often, the sheer unfairness of the system can be the real poison.  As a member of the Tiverton Town Council, yesterday I participated in a “business walk” hosted by the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, which involved stopping in to talk with some business owners around town.

Of course, we heard about the problem of taxes, but the subjects that really animated business owners would better be classified as injustice.  The cost of government labor was seen not only as a cause of high taxes, but also as a budget imbalance preventing infrastructure improvement.  Similarly, the capriciousness of enforcement, with the rules not seeming to apply fairly to every business and changing depending on which government inspector paid a visit, is irksome beyond the cost.

Even after figuring out how to overcome all the regulatory obstacles that the state throws in their way and even after building high taxes, regulation-driven energy costs, and government bungled healthcare expenses into their business models, they still never know when an inspector will find some new rule to enforce or the legislature will come up with some new fee or obstacle to impose.

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Union Excess Talk on Changing Gears

Dr. Dennis Sheehan and I had the pleasure of appearing in-studio with Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell this past Saturday for their WPRO show, Changing Gears, to talk about the report that we co-authored for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity about the excess costs of state and local government attributable to collective bargaining with labor unions.

Listen to “Changing Gears” on Spreaker.

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Holding the Thread on Pension Stipends

This idea of giving government retirees a stipend in years that they don’t receive cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to their pensions seems to me a much more dangerous one than it might appear on the surface:

In legislation debated in a House Finance Committee hearing Tuesday night, Reps. Robert Craven, Michael Morin (a retired firefighter), Carol McEntee and Justine Caldwell propose that “an increasing stipend″ be paid retired state employees, municipal employees and teachers or their beneficiaries in years when there is no scheduled cost-of-living adjustment. …

Starting in the year that begins Jan. 1, 2020, the legislation would have the state pay a 3% “stipend″ on the first $15,000 in pension benefits, a boost of up to $450 initially, in each year in which there is no scheduled COLA payment.

In 2022, the stipend would increase to 3% of the first $20,000 in pension benefits, up to a maximum of $600 a year, and in 2026 it would increase again to 3% of the first $25,000 in benefits, up to a maximum of $750 per year.

Starting in 2030, the proposed increases would be tied to an annual index.

The pension system is a fund into which the employee and the employer pay throughout his or her career.  The supposition is that those contributions will be enough by the time the person retires to cover his or her retirement with no further additions.  If the system is not working, adjustments should be made within the system or funding increased to the system to shore it up.

To take the approach of adding some additional direct payment to the pension plan’s members is, in principle, no different than having the state pick any group of people and start giving it money.  As a practical reality, that happens all the time — far too much — but this legislation would cross another line and destroy the principle that government shouldn’t do such things.  A lingering sense of propriety may be all that’s holding our government together at the moment, and it’s a thread that shouldn’t be cut.

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Low Revenue and Locking in the Union Advantage

A week ago, Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg tweeted out that the state’s revenue was under performing by about 7%:

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Note two things.  First, if not for the application of sales taxes to new items, especially online, and an increase in the various fees and such that make up “departmental receipts,” the picture would be significantly worse.  Second, about half of the shortfall is attributable to unexpectedly low income taxes.

This is fully in keeping with the latest Jobs & Opportunity Index report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which found that Rhode Island is uniquely lagging the country in residents’ personal income growth.  In fact, we were the only state to lose personal income between the latest report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the originally reported numbers for the prior quarter.

Combine that fact with a downturn in employment in the Ocean State, and we’ve got a clear warning sign that we need to change direction.  Unfortunately, our governor is busy pushing progressive social-welfare policy while the General Assembly is hurrying to grab the unions everything they can before the next downturn.

That last note kind of makes one wonder what the legislators know that the rest of us don’t.  If they are expecting another recession in Rhode Island, that would be the time to lock in as much as they can for their friends in the labor unions.

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Who Is Working For You? New Major Report Coming Soon From The Center

Who does the Rhode Island General Assembly really work for? Too often, the people of our state are left voiceless as special interest dominate the conversation. Recently, the Ocean State Current broke a major story that ignited media coverage across the state. In H5662 and Whom Rhode Island Representatives Represent, Research Director Justin Katz, uncovers a key admission from the political class.

During the March 11th Tiverton Town Council meeting, a member of the General Assembly admitted that he put forward the bill at the request of Speaker of the House, without regard to the cost to the town he represents for the state firefighters union.

Don’t wait, you can catch the video on the Current by clicking the link here. You can also find the followup here.

In the coming weeks, the Center will be releasing a major report on the cost of collective bargaining in the Ocean State. This will be the longest and most in-depth research project the Center has ever undertaken on any topic. We invite you to be on the lookout for this critical report.

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The Pressure the General Assembly Is Trying to Control

The Providence Journal today has published an op-ed in which I address the admission of Representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) that he put in legislation for the state firefighters union, by way of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, without much consideration of its effect on the people he’s supposed to represent:

Watch Rhode Island politics for even a short time, and you’ll catch on to certain truths. Everybody seems to know them, and sometimes an op-ed or talk radio show will blurt them out. By now, in 2019, these truths have been sufficiently longstanding and have produced so many of their inevitable consequences that Rhode Islanders feel them in their bones. They are why few run for office and why many leave the state, year after year.

Still, a person who’s watched Rhode Island politics can’t help but be surprised when an insider, who ought to have the good taste to pretend these truths aren’t true, admits one of them. I had this experience at the March 11 meeting of the Tiverton Town Council, of which I am the vice president. We were engaged in a ritual conversation with our town’s representatives and senators, and I asked state Rep. John “Jay” Edwards about one of his bills.

One important lesson shouldn’t be lost as this matter predictably falls along lines of unions versus taxpayers.  With legislation like the bills Mattiello asked Edwards to submit, legislators aren’t only elevating the interests of the unions over those of the broader public.  They’re also advancing the statewide unions’ interests over those of the union locals and their workers.

That’s ultimately the upshot of having the General Assembly put limits on what the sides can negotiate in any particular city or town.  Inherently, both sides of the negotiating table are restricted in what they’re able to negotiate.

The pressure on budgets doesn’t go away.  Elected officials and municipal employees simply have to find other ways to release it.  Perhaps Mattiello and Edwards expect or hope that the “release” will come in the form of big tax increases in an already over-taxed state.  More likely, the result will be exacerbated under-funding of pensions, infrastructure, and other areas of the budget that aren’t as straightforward.

If the budget pressure can’t be released in those ways, the bubble will only grow, to the point that we’re talking about privatization and regionalization.  Maybe those are good ideas and maybe they’re not, but the only way to truly know is to let the people closest to negotiations talk about and try everything.

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Negotiating with the Speaker in the Room

Thanks to the reporting of Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg we have some explanation of the motivation behind Democrat state Representative John “Jay” Edwards legislation to change overtime rules in favor of fire fighters.  Unfortunately, the explanation comes not from the Tiverton/Portsmouth representative who put the bill in, but the Speaker of the House who told him to do it:

During an interview with The Journal on Tuesday, Democrat Mattiello, of Cranston, acknowledged he is an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation that Cranston Deputy Fire Chief Paul Valletta has been pushing at the State House in his role as the $3,035.58-a-month lobbyist for the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters. …

“We had the opportunity to pass this bill several years ago. We elected not to at that point and I remember knocking on one of my constituent’s doors. He was a Providence firefighter and he was a little frustrated and he said, ‘I am still going to vote for you speaker but I’m angry with you. … I have not seen my wife and my 8-year-old daughter in a year.’ That is inappropriate,″ Mattiello said. “The schedules that three platoons create are horrific on families … and if communities are going to do that, they should at least be required to pay the overtime.”

Mattiello acknowledges that he did no research concerning this issue or how other states have addressed it.  Despite the distance from Cranston to the East Bay, he might at least have made some inquiries about things in Tiverton.  We’ve worked hard on a solution — through a contract negotiated in good faith that is on track to be signed within mere weeks — precisely because employees were unhappy with the arrangement and it has affected morale, retention, and hiring.  In fact, his interference at the state level has complicated the situation locally.

Readers of this site know that I’m (let’s just say) skeptical of unionization, especially of government employees, but even by labor’s own standards the whole idea is that two sides come to the table and work out an agreement.  If the Speaker of the House is in the room, too, then the arrangement deserves much more than skepticism.

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