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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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Whom the Wavemakers Wash Out with the Tide

How typical of the Rhode Island Way is Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Wavemaker program?

A total of 240 college graduates working in science, technology, engineering, math and design occupations have been awarded Wavemaker Fellowships to help pay their student loans, the R.I. Commerce Corporation announced Thursday.

The average award in this, the third year of the program, is about $3,600. The tax credits are intended to keep recent college graduates working in Rhode Island, rather than become part of a “brain drain” to other states.

Put aside chuckles at the notion that keeping 240 Rhode Islanders each year does much to help the brain drain problem and the question of whether that $3,600 is actually persuading most of them to stay here despite options elsewhere.  Who pays for this program?

The answer is that we all do.  The money is skimmed from all of the various taxes and fees that we all pay, and as small as the $864,000 price tag may be, it ultimately becomes concentrated on the most active participants in the state’s economy, who must find ways to pass the burden on.  One can’t trace such things, dollar for dollar, but it’s a relatively safe bet that the burden ultimately comes to rest on those with the least economic leverage.

Of course, we know it’s not only $864,000 per year.  For the Wavemaker program to seem so ordinary, there must be many other programs that follow a similar philosophy.  For such a seemingly inconsequential program to be proposed, enacted, and implemented, it must accord with Rhode Island’s political and economic strategy, which we can summarize as getting somebody else to pay for politically convenient favors… preferably somebody whose face we will never have to see.

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Government Involvement in the Internet Isn’t About Freedom

Here’s something I don’t get:  Not that long ago the word went out that retracting net neutrality rules would end the open Internet as we know it, bringing it all the way back to the distant, dark days of January 2015.  So one would expect new proposals reportedly leaked from Senate Democrats to rev up the outrage machine again.  The plan is extremely broad, but a major plank is requirements for verification of users’ identities (at least for non-hackers), as well as…

Other proposals include more disclosure requirements for online political speech, more spending to counter supposed cybersecurity threats, more funding for the Federal Trade Commission, a requirement that companies’ algorithms can be audited by the feds (and this data shared with universities and others), and a requirement of “interoperability between dominant platforms.”

The paper also suggests making it a rule that tech platforms above a certain size must turn over internal data and processes to “independent public interest researchers” so they can identify potential “public health/addiction effects, anticompetitive behavior, radicalization,” scams, “user propagated misinformation,” and harassment—data that could be used to “inform actions by regulators or Congress.”

Of course, this proposal and net neutrality are only at odds if the people pushing either attempt to use the rhetoric of freedom.  If the goal is government control of the Internet, then they’re both perfectly in line, in which case net neutrality supporters were either deceived or have an unjustifiable faith that government overlords will always favor the content they desire.

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Next/Last Round of Toll Gantries: Raimondo Administration Solicits Public Comment on an UNFINISHED Environmental Assessment

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Department of Transportation announced the locations of the balance of ten toll gantries and released an Environmental Assessment [PDF] of them. They also announced that hearings to take questions and comments on the E.A. would occur in three locations on July 27 – tonight, as a matter of fact.

Yes, that’s right, RIDOT is holding public hearings on a very significant project on a summer Friday evening. Quite similar in spirit, as a matter of fact, to the scheduling and location of the hearing for the first Environmental Assessment – in that case, two days before Thanksgiving hard by a cow pasture in South County so remote, the cows themselves need GPS to get there.

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Home Care: When Everybody Works for the Government and Government Works for the Unions

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is warning that the Rhode Island government’s dogged push to unionize home care workers despite recent Supreme Court precedent in the opposite direction could very well make the state a target for lawsuits:

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity warns SEIU and the state government that it could face legal peril if they do not fully comply with the new federal restrictions expected to be in place this fall, as it pertains to the attempted unionization of the home care industry.

“The landmark Janus decision by the US Supreme Court, combined with the expected implementation of the Medicaid Provider Reassignment Regulation Proposed Rule by the federal government, means public employees can no longer be forced to support the political agenda of their designated union. It also means the government can no longer aid unions in their attempt to skim dues from precious Medicaid dollars, intended for the care of our loved ones.” explained Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.

Voters can tell whose side their elected officials are on by how they respond to these changes in federal labor law.

There isn’t really any question, in Rhode Island.  The governing Democrats believe that unions represent a critical partner in their control of the electorate.  Taxpayer dollars flow to the unions and then to the politicians (through jobs, donations, “independent” campaigns, and other routes), and unions organize employees into a voting block for the high-tax, big-government policies that the state’s dominant party is selling.

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Amplifying Incumbent Protection Program of Campaign Finance

Maybe it’s a trap that has just organically formed due to human nature or maybe it’s a deliberate scheme, but ever-increasing campaign finance regulations are effectively an incumbent protection program.  Consider the next notch on the ratchet, as proposed by state representative Deborah Ruggiero and state senator Louis DiPalma:

The state’s campaign finance laws need to be tightened so officeholders and candidates cannot repeatedly amend their finance reports that list all expenses and contributions in a given period, according to Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown. …

“Mandating submission of a paper bank statement is a good first step, it allows the Board of Elections to easily identify discrepancies, but we should go further and require banks to send electronic statements directly to the [Board of Elections], as is done in Massachusetts,” Ruggiero said in the statement. “Most-needed though are stiffer penalties for repeated amendments to campaign finance reports and not filing on time.”

Having spent many hours working with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit, I can report that situations easily arise that aren’t absolutely clear in the law and can lead to very time-consuming revisions of reports going back months simply to adjust for a $1 discrepancy.  And having worked with local candidates for office, I can also report that even just the prospect of having to fill out these forms is a significant disincentive to run.  If the rules are made even more strict more people will simply decide that it isn’t worth the effort or risk.

The question that arises is whether it’s more important for our democracy to be able to trace every penny that is donated or spent by state and local campaigns or to avoid having more than one-third of incumbents in the General Assembly winning their campaigns simply by getting their names on the ballot, because they have no opposition.  From my point of view, that isn’t even a close competition.

We’re not going to end corruption by catching it in nickel-and-dime inspection of small-time politicians’ campaign accounts.  We need to ensure that all politicians are under constant threat of losing their seats.  The bigger-time the corruption, the more likely the politician will be to hire people to avoid accounting errors, even as the people who would like to challenge him or her out of a sense of public service are tripped up and fined for minor errors and lapses.

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Assumptions in the Elimination of Parental Rights

An advocacy-as-news article from Megan Mitchell, a reporter/anchor for WLWT in Ohio, inadvertently brings into stark relief a flawed assumption and deadly blind spot in the promotion of transgenderism among children.  Teresa Schrader supports the decision of her daughter, Riggins, to present as a boy:

“I know my transition was easier because of my family and friends, but I also know that other kids like me don’t have it as easy because they don’t have the support,” said Riggins.

The new bill, proposed by Ohio Rep. Thomas Brinkman (R), from Mt. Lookout, would require school and hospital staff to inform a parent if a child indicates they aren’t sure about their gender.

Transgender advocates say the bill can create an unsafe environment for transgender children who aren’t supported by their family.

“The suicide rate for transgender kids is around 40%. So who wants their kid to possibly commit suicide because they’re not feeling comfortable with who they are or their not feeling supported?” said Schrader.

In an argument over legislation that would require teachers and therapists to inform parents of their children’s gender dysphoria, the party asking what parent wants his or her child to commit suicide should be the one insisting that parents have a right to know what’s going on with their children.  Schrader is assuming not only that satisfying the transgender impulse can be the right answer, but that it should be assumed always to be the right answer if the child with the dysphoria thinks it is, and that some parents might actually be willing to risk his or her suicide to disagree.

The more dreadful point, though, is the one less remarked upon.  The implicit argument is that schools and therapists should help to push children — children in a group that is more prone to suicide — into a situation in which they’re deceiving their parents about something supposedly central to their identities, possibly changing their own biology behind their parents’ backs.

A reasonable argument might exist that the legislation should be amended to account for those extreme and rare circumstances in which a parent can be excluded from the notice, but even getting that far is apparently beyond consideration.  Parents are villains until proven woke.

Rhode Islanders should pay attention, because policies being promulgated at the state and local levels infringe on parents’ rights in exactly the way Representative Brinkman is striving to remedy in Ohio.

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In Rhode Island, Everything’s in a Name

The Rhode Island House Republicans’ Twitter account tweeted out a bit of deep insight from Mike O’Reilly of the Federal Communications Commission on C-SPAN:

“I was dealing with Rhode Island. They decided they were not going correct it, withstanding all the promises early in the year. They rename the program for the following year, thinking it’s going to fix the problem.” FCC Commissioner @mikeofcc

He’s talking about the 911 fee that the state government has come under scrutiny for misappropriating, but this is common in Rhode Island.  After 38 Studios, the General Assembly changed the name of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to the Commerce Corporation and, voila, all is right with Rhode Island policy.  In the season of education reform, Rhode Island shifted some names and org charts of state-level education boards around and all of a sudden children began a new educational voyage… I guess.

Once again the reminder:  Elected officials will keep doing this stuff until it stops working for them.

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Law Will Cure Lack of Paid Time Off by Undermining Businesses That Have Difficulty

Paul Edward Parker’s Providence Journal article profiling businesses that are and aren’t concerned or confused about Rhode Island’s recently passed law to force employers to provide paid time off for employees implies the reason the legislation was a product of hubris:

“I can’t even imagine how that would work out, being a seasonal business,” Bitto said in a telephone interview last week. At Evelyn’s, the season runs from mid-April to Oct. 1. …

With the Evelyn’s season running about 170 days, any employees who work the whole season will be able to use their accrued sick time during the last two or three weeks of their employment. …

“Honestly, I have no focus on it at all,” she said. “I’m just busy running the business, worrying about my freezer breaking down.”

Meanwhile:

Dan Dwight, president and chief executive of the Pawtucket-based Cooley Group, which makes fabric and polymer roof membranes, isn’t sweating the new law. His company, which has about 130 employees in Rhode Island, already provides paid sick days.

For the most part, employers who can offer this benefit already do, and those that don’t have a good reason and (given market pressures) have probably accounted for the omission somewhere else in their compensation packages or business practices.  That could mean higher pay, to attract employees willing to forgo paid time off, or a work environment that is attractive for some intangible reason or hiring people who might not otherwise be able to find work (like young adults looking for seasonal jobs).

Forcing this regulation on every business reduces employees’ negotiation leverage, makes it more difficult for new businesses to get going and to expand, and gives some businesses an advantage over others simply because of their size or because the nature of their work better lends itself to this particular benefit. In the long run, the result won’t be that every Rhode Island employee has paid time off so much as that those whose potential employers who can’t offer it simply won’t exist.

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Wasted Opportunity – 2019 Budget Graded “D-” by the Center

When will Rhode Island’s political leaders remember of the real needs of families? Despite a large and unexpected revenue windfall and clear policy lesson, resulting from the recent federal tax and regulatory cuts, Rhode Island’s General Assembly has wasted an opportunity for reform and, instead, are seeking to maintain the status quo in the FY2019 Budget.

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Equal Pay Is Dead, Long Live Equal Pay

The news is everywhere in Rhode Island media that the Rhode Island Senate will not consider the House version of the “equal pay” legislation:

The day began with a pronouncement by the Senate that the “pay equity” bill — which tied the House in knots before a 64-to-9 vote of approval the previous night — was dead on arrival in the Senate, which had passed a much further-reaching bill earlier in the year.

“The Senate prioritized pay equity this session,″ said Senate spokesman Greg Pare. “On April 10, national ‘Equal Pay Day,’ the Senate passed strong legislation to address wage gaps in the workplace. The legislation the House passed last night does not reflect the Senate’s commitment to ensuring equal pay for comparable work and meaningful change for women’s economic security.

“The Senate will not be considering the House bill.”

So, even though the two versions of the bill have substantial overlap, if one chamber doesn’t pass the other chamber’s version, that’s that.  A cynic (which can, with only mild cynicism, be defined as “somebody who has observed the Rhode Island General Assembly for a while”) might wonder how choreographed this performance was.

Prioritizing the issue was an early and somewhat surprising point of emphasis for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.  This outcome gives him progressive cover, while giving House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pro-business creds for his first election after nearly being unseated by a conservative challenger, all in the muddy mix of a legislative process that makes it difficult to blame anybody in particular.

Rhode Islanders should welcome the results, though.  The Senate legislation was a radical nightmare that was arguably only in part about reducing a wage gap between men and women, and the notion that discrimination is creating an unfair differential in pay is a myth.  In other words, forcing its mandates on the economy would create a regulatory environment that would be unfair to businesses and to employees whose work would be devalued in order to adjust pay rates that are not based on discrimination as it is.

The inability of the General Assembly’s two chambers to come up with common legislation will now move the issue past the November election, which may very well take some of the hot air out of the narrative’s sails, one way or another.

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The Conditions Under Which Progressives Will Lease Us to Businesses

One last minute bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly, H8324, may or may not be going anywhere, but it’s worth a look as an educational exercise.

Very simply, it would require any “hosting platform” (e.g., AirBnB) that allows people to “offer any property for tourist or transient use” to be responsible for making sure that the rentals are in compliance with state and local laws and regulations.  It would also require the platform operators to take a more active role in the collection and transfer of all relevant taxes.

This little change in law, affecting a narrow portion of a single industry in the state, carries some important questions of the sort that we don’t consider thoroughly enough.  What is the nature of commerce?  Who works for whom?  Who has responsibility for whom?

From a free-market perspective that starts with the individual as the origin of all economic activity, the property owners are responsible for the product that they are offering, and the hosting platforms work for them.  Because they are the constituents of state and local government, they have a say in that government and can arguably be said to have consented to granting it some authority to regulate their activities.

The progressive perspective that has long been insinuating itself into Rhode Island government and encroaching on Rhode Islanders’ rights is very different.  That view doesn’t begin with individuals as autonomous sources of responsibility and power.  The Rhode Islanders seeking to rent their property don’t truly have ownership of themselves.  Rather state and local government has claims on their activities, and the hosting platforms own their rental businesses.  It is therefore reasonable for the government to require platforms to make sure that their workers comply with its requirements.

From a free-market perspective, a government that imposes requirements on people might create incentive for them to hire a contractor to do tasks for them — for AirBnB to provide inspections for regulatory compliance, for example, with an extra fee.  But from a progressive perspective, the government has a right to tell companies that intend to draw profits from its people what conditions they must impose, or else they cannot do business here.

In other words, progressives implicitly believe that the government is renting us out to the companies.

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We’ll Get Internet Sales Taxes; Will We Get Our Rate Reduction?

With its more-conservative members taking the lead, the Supreme Court today opened the way for states to begin imposing their sales taxes on Internet commerce, even for sellers that don’t have a presence in their states, through South Dakota v. Wayfair.  The judges’ reasoning was that previous Supreme Courts had incorrectly applied the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution on this topic.

From an originalist point of view, then, the states have always had the authority to collect sales taxes, but as various technologies have eased the ability to conduct commerce across state lines, Supreme Court decisions have incorrectly restrained that authority.  This point is especially relevant in Rhode Island, because our state law (RIGL 44-18-15.2) instructs the executive branch to begin collecting sales taxes from online retailers “upon passage of any federal law authorizing states to require remote sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes.”

State law also (RIGL 44-18-18) requires the executive branch to lower the rate for all sales taxes from 7% to 6.5% “upon passage of any federal law that authorizes states to require remote sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes.”  So, “on the date that the state requires remote sellers to collect and remit sale and use taxes,” every retailer in the Ocean State (and those outside of Rhode Island, like Amazon, that already collect our sales tax) should begin to collect 50-cents less for every $100 of a sale.

Here’s the possible catch:  Does a Supreme Court ruling count as “passage of any federal law”?  Rhode Islanders should watch closely for signs of the following possibilities:

  • The executive branch asserts that it is already authorized to collect the online sales tax based on 44-18-15.2, in which case taxpayers would have a very strong claim that it must also collect tax at the 6.5% rate.
  • The General Assembly rushes to change state law in a way that allows the collection of Internet sales taxes without dropping the rate.
  • The General Assembly attempts to sneak in the same result in some way, perhaps by inserting a phrase like “or upon a Supreme Court ruling to the same effect” into 44-18-15.2 but not into 44-18-18.

Frankly, it’s disappointing that no state-level politicians (particularly legislative leaders) have yet proclaimed their happiness that the state can now lower its sales tax rate.  Presumably the scheming remains offline for now.

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“Equal Pay”: From the Radical to the Uselessly Disruptive

Fortuitously, the Providence Journal ran an op-ed by me explaining how insanely radical proposed equal pay legislation actually is:

This legislation must, therefore, be about something other than simple fairness in the workplace. Sure enough, the biggest piece making this legislation so radical is its broad scope — going well beyond the battle of the sexes. Indeed, the “equal pay” umbrella extends to the categories of “race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin,” covering all “comparable work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differences that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality. 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 weight as complaints that the employer withheld pay. The law explicitly puts the burden on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase the difference, even if it’s innocent.

Today, the Rhode Island House will consider an amended version of the bill that gives reason to think that some legislators are not quite as crazy as the original bill would require them to be.  House 7427A limits the scope of the bill to race and gender, exempts companies under 18 employees, and reduces employers’ liability in a variety of ways.

The question now is why the legislature is passing anything at all.  Existing law already covers such things, so all this bill will do is create some new regulatory burdens with unproven legal language that may have unintended consequences.

The only explanation is political: that politicians want to be able to say they did something, even if they did nothing good in practical reality.  This gives momentum to the people who are manipulating the cultural narrative while tangling up Rhode Islanders who are doing their best just to support their families and move our society forward.

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