2019 Legislative Session
2019’s legislative session is shaping up to be eventful and jam-packed, and the ACLU has been busy making sure that civil liberties are on the General Assembly’s agenda. Since the session began on January 1, we have already testified at the Statehouse and introduced a handful of proactive bills. On our list of priorities this year is ensuring the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act, supporting open-government and transparency, and continuing to champion key criminal justice reform legislation. We also look forward to discussion around the legalization of recreational marijuana and the most effective way to balance school improvement and success with the preservation of students’ rights.
The session began with a small victory for governmental transparency when an addition to the House Rules established that the public would, generally, have 24-hour advance notice before a committee hears a substitute amended bill. Also contained within this bill is a very weak system of investigation for sexual harassment complaints in the House. We will be proposing legislation to establish an independent process for looking into such complaints to ensure that the process is safe and equitable for all involved.
This page will be updated as the session progresses, so keep checking in!
Reproductive Health Care Act (H 5127, S 0125)
As the attitude of the US Supreme Court towards abortion rights becomes murkier, pro-choice organizations, including the ACLU, continue to push for the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade to be codified into Rhode Island law. The Reproductive Health Care Act, introduced by Representative Edith Ajello and Senator Gayle Goldin and (H 5127 and S 0152), serves to preserve the status quo of abortion healthcare in Rhode Island, and to ensure that the shifting ideology of the Supreme Court does not impede a person’s right to choose. The RHCA also repeals several state laws on the books which have been found to be unconstitutional, such as a spousal notification requirement. The ACLU testified (read our testimonies here and here) in support of the RHCA to the House Judiciary committee in late January, and in opposition to an “alternative” bill (H 5125) that retains some of the state’s unconstitutional restrictions on abortion. Signs indicate that some version of the legislation is likely to be voted on soon by the House.
Criminal Justice Bills
Non-Monetary Bail (H 5088)
H 5088 would establish procedures for non-monetary bail for eligible detainees. The legislation is designed to address the critical problem faced by lower-income residents who find themselves in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay a cash bail. The ACLU offered suggestions for strengthening the bill in order to ensure it accomplishes its goal.
Indigency Court Costs (H 5196)
H 5196 is designed to strengthen a law that requires courts to consider a criminal defendant’s ability to pay before assessing exorbitant costs, fines or fees. Bill proponents argue that the current statute is too often honored in the breach. A video of our testimony in support of the legislation can be found here.
Medical Privacy Bills
Opioid Overdose Notification (S 139 Sub A)
The ACLU has been vigilant in opposing “solutions” to the opioid epidemic that compromise patient rights, including their right to confidentiality. It is for that reason we opposed S 139, which would allow hospital emergency physicians in unspecified circumstances to notify the emergency contacts of a patient, without his or her consent, who has experienced a drug overdose. Among other things, the ACLU noted that some patients may go to dangerous lengths, such as avoiding medical help altogether, in order to avoid having medical personnel disclose their condition against their wishes.
Open Government Bills
House Rules (H 5037 Sub A)Passed
In a remarkably quick beginning to the legislative session, a resolution to adopt rules for the House of Representatives for the years 2019-2020 (H 5037 Sub A) made its way out of committee and to a floor vote within the first two weeks of the session. On the bright side, and in a small win for governmental transparency, the new rules established that the public would, generally, have 24-hour advance notice before a committee hears a substitute amended bill. However, the rules also contained an extremely weak system of investigation for sexual harassment complaints arising from within the Statehouse. Some other minor changes to the rules were made in response to ACLU suggestions.
Rights of Ex-Offenders Bills
School Psychologist Licensing (H 5228)
Along with a number of other advocacy groups, the ACLU continues to be concerned about the barriers that broad criminal-record background checks can place on a person’s ability to obtain an occupational license. H 5228 is an example of that, as it would require evidence that the candidate is of “good moral character” when applying for a school psychologist license. With no standards in place, this requirement could potentially disqualify a competent applicant based on past convictions which are irrelevant to the job.
Students Rights Bills
Military Recruiter School Access (H 5250)
H 5250 would grant access to student names, addresses, and phone numbers to military recruiters unless the student or parent of the student opts out of having this information made available. An ACLU of RI study from a number of years ago found that most school districts do not provide clear and consistent methods for informing students of their right to opt out, and so we encouraged the adoption of amendments that would better protect students’ rights in these circumstances.
Workplace Rights Bills
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (H 5186)
During last year’s legislative session, the ACLU was highly supportive of Representative Teresa Tanzi’s special legislative commission to study sexual harassment in the workplace and the package of legislation that arose from it. Unfortunately, the bills never got a vote on the floor. The ACLU testified in favor of a resolution (H 5186) to reinstate the commission, and to re-propose the legislation that wasn’t given its full, merited deliberation in 2018.