Pandemic on the Road to Tolls

The State of Rhode Island’s efforts to wriggle out of the discriminatory way in which it designed the RhodeWorks tolling scheme continue, as Tyson Fisher reports for the trucking publication, Land Line.  One aspect of the legal argument is worth teasing out separately:

The state again brought up the COVID-19 pandemic when justifying government privilege. Specifically, Rhode Island argued that complying with the subpoena would hinder the officials’ ability to address the pandemic.

“At bottom, plaintiffs have come forth with nothing to support their extraordinary request that this court invade the legislative and deliberative process privileges and require the (government officials) to search for documents that plaintiffs hope will suggest that some participant at some stage in the deliberative and legislative processes had some improper or discriminatory purpose in mind,” Rhode Island stated. “Such discovery would serve no purpose other than to invite speculation about the actual intentions of the General Assembly as a whole in enacting RhodeWorks. Nor have plaintiffs come forth with anything to support their request to depose the governor, the Speaker and Rep. Ucci in the middle of a global pandemic that requires their utmost attention to the public’s health, safety and welfare.”

In how many ways is the state government advantaged by the continuing claim that we’re in the middle of a crisis?  The mention of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Cranston) and his ally, Democrat Representative Stephen Ucci (Cranston, Johnston), reminds us that the General Assembly has been largely absent throughout the whole ordeal.  It is much safer to let the term-limited governor (who is plainly seeking some way to move her political career out of Rhode Island, to the federal level) than to make decisions and lead the state.

This obvious conclusion relates back to the toll lawsuit.  Legislation is always sold on its intentions; that’s what gets legislators reelected, and it’s pretty much the definition of being a “representative.”  They are supposed to enact the will of the people, and that only works if the people understand what they think they are doing.

Yet, when convenient, the state government produces a nearly epistemological argument that one can never know what our elected officials’ intent really is.  So what if key players in the executive and legislative branches plainly stated that RhodeWorks was designed to discriminate?  You can’t possibly know that a majority of legislators agreed with that intent.

So, we see our supposedly representative state government hiding behind two noxious clouds:  legal arguments designed to obscure reality and a COVID-19 shutdown that increasingly feels as if its intent is to limit our freedom along with government’s accountability.  Of course, since we can never know the latter to a court’s satisfaction, we have to judge for ourselves and vote accordingly.

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