Summer 2009 Newsletter - an ACLU of Rhode Island Newsletter


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Summer 2009 Newsletter Newsletter

Volume: XV, Issue Number: 3

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Newsletter Contents

Judge Strikes Down Restrictive Ballot Access Law;
Moderate Party Begins Signature Collection

Ruling in a RI ACLU lawsuit filed in February, U.S. District Judge William Smith has held unconstitutional a state law that barred any new political party from collecting in an off-election year the signatures necessary to gain state recognition as a party. The suit had been filed on behalf of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island (MPRI). Under the challenged law, the Party could not begin collecting signatures until January 1, 2010 in order to get on the ballot next year, even though Party members were ready and eager to begin the process of obtaining formal recognition as a political party.

The lawsuit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Mark W. Freel, argued that the law unconstitutionally impeded the ability of fledgling groups like MPRI from gaining formal recognition as a political party. In a 27-page opinion, Judge Smith agreed that forcing a new political party to wait until the beginning of an election year to begin gathering signatures was unconstitutional, saying that “the State has come forward with no legitimate regulatory interest whatsoever that would necessitate placing this enormous speed bump on the path to party recognition.”

In another part of the opinion, however, the judge upheld a companion law requiring the Moderate Party to collect signatures representing 5% of the voter turnout for the 2008 elections (roughly 23,500 certified signatures of registered voters) in order to gain recognition as a party. While acknowledging that that requirement was one of the most onerous in the nation, the judge ruled it was within the state’s authority to set that number.

Following the ruling, Ken Block, Chairman of MPRI, said: “I am so pleased that the court was able to evaluate Rhode Island’s ‘worst in the nation’ ballot access laws and come to a legal analysis that matches most logical analyses of the issue.”

RI ACLU volunteer attorney Mark Freel added: "The court has recognized that the artificial timing barriers imposed by the state on third-party access to the ballot are unfair and unjustifiable. This ruling will allow the Moderate Party and other aspiring political parties to compete much more fairly with the existing political parties, which already enjoy huge advantages. While the 5% threshold for signature collection remains onerous, as the court recognized, the Moderate Party enjoys a much more realistic chance of achieving it in the absence of these unconstitutional time constraints."

The state has indicated it will not appeal the ruling. However, disputes may be on the horizon in terms of the logistics of certifying signatures obtained by the Party and submitted to local Boards of Canvassers. The Party wants to make sure that signatures are certified on a rolling basis, and not held in abeyance for months, so that its formal status as a party can be approved as soon as possible. There are currently no regulations in effect that guide the Boards on handling these petitions, and it remains unclear what timeframe they will use in certifying signature documents submitted by the Party.

In the meantime, the General Assembly is considering a bill that would lower from 5% to 1% the number of signatures that a group would have to gather to qualify as a new party. The bill passed the Senate and is pending in the House.

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State Sued Over Food Stamp Delays

The Rhode Island ACLU and a national organization that promotes economic justice for low-income families have filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Human Services, alleging that the state’s failure to timely process food stamp applications is resulting in the denial of “desperately needed assistance to help [applicants] feed their families,” and forcing them to “suffer hunger as a result.” The class-action lawsuit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger and attorneys for the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, seeks an injunction requiring the state to process food stamp applications within the time frames established by federal law, and a temporary restraining order to provide immediate benefits to the suit’s named plaintiff.

Under federal law, states participating in the food stamp program are required to process food stamp applications within thirty days of the date of application, and to provide expedited food stamps to eligible households within seven days. In March 2009, more than 99,000 Rhode Islanders participated in the program, and in that month alone, 3,700 new individuals enrolled in the program. Yet the most recent statistics from the federal government’s Food and Nutrition Service indicate that almost one-fifth of Rhode Island’s food stamp applications are not processed in a timely manner.

The lawsuit was filed as a class action on behalf of all food stamp applicants affected by DHS’ failure to timely process the applications. The named plaintiff is Providence resident Shalonda Spruill, who lost her job in January and has been unable to find work since then.  According to the complaint, she has no income or savings, and does not have enough money to buy the food that she and her eight-year old daughter need. The suit alleges that although she first applied for food stamps in mid-May and is eligible for expedited food stamps, her application had not been acted upon almost two months later.

Referring to the many families affected by DHS’ failure to abide by the federal timelines, the brief filed in the case notes that “food stamps are an essential source of support that permits them to survive at the barest edge of poverty. Without food stamps, a meager subsistence benefit, they will be unable to purchase food for themselves and their families. None of them can suffer the loss of food stamps without experiencing serious harm.”

RI ACLU volunteer attorney Labinger said: “The time deadlines in federal law are there for a purpose, and the state’s inaction is causing an intolerable hardship on families. No child in Rhode Island should have to go to bed hungry due to paperwork delays.”

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ACLU Sues Pawtucket Company 
Over Illegal Drug Testing of Employees

The Rhode Island ACLU has filed a lawsuit in R.I. Superior Court to challenge a Pawtucket company’s illegal drug testing of all of its employees. The company, Cintas Corporation, sells fire prevention and suppression equipment, supplies and test and inspection services in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. One Sunday in April, employees were called at home and told to come in early the next morning for a mandatory office meeting. Once there, the 175 or so employees were asked to submit a sample of their saliva for drug testing purposes and, if deemed necessary, further required to provide a urine sample. The saliva samples were taken en masse and included testing for prescription drugs.

State law strictly prohibits blanket or random drug testing of employees. Instead, an employee can be tested only when the employer has reasonable grounds to believe that that particular employee’s use of controlled substances is impairing his or her ability to perform the job. The law also contains various procedural safeguards on how testing is done in order to promote both the employee’s privacy and the accuracy of the testing that is performed.

The RI ACLU suit, filed by volunteer attorneys Carolyn Mannis and Robert Senville, is on behalf of more than twenty Cintas employees who have varied jobs at the company, including dispatcher, fire alarm installer and service manager. Three of the plaintiffs who refused to take the saliva test were suspended with pay. Shortly after the suit was filed, a court order was entered by consent of the parties, temporarily barring Cintas from taking any adverse action against any of the plaintiffs, and further prohibiting the company from requiring them to submit to any further drug testing.

Pending is a request for a preliminary injunction against the company. The suit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages. ACLU attorney Mannis said: "Despite a court order with respect to the drug testing of two of its employees, Cintas continued to drug test other employees.  This is the precise behavior the legislature sought to eliminate by enacting the statute prohibiting random and blanket drug testing of employees. We are hopeful that the matter will be favorably resolved and the employees will not be further subjected to illegal drug testing by Cintas."

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Groups Announce Campaign Against Racial Profiling;
National Report Cites Problems in Rhode Island

More than a dozen local organizations announced a campaign beginning in May to bring attention to the critical problem of racial profiling in Rhode Island. Declaring May “Racial Profiling Awareness Month,” the groups have set up toll-free hotline numbers, in both English and Spanish, where people who have been victims of racial profiling can call to tell their stories throughout the summer. Victims can also fill out a survey form on the Internet.

Organizations participating in the campaign with the ACLU include, among others, the Urban League of Rhode Island, the RI State Council of Churches, Progreso Latino, American Friends Service Committee, DARE, the International Institute of RI, Ocean State Action, Olneyville Neighborhood Association, Providence Youth Student Movement and the RI Latino Civic Fund.

The groups have been lobbying for passage of comprehensive legislation that would restrict some of the police practices that the organizations believe encourage racial profiling. The legislation, which was held up in committee this year due to strong police opposition, was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Almeida and Sen. Rhoda Perry. More than three years of independent studies of police traffic stops in the state have shown that police are much more likely to stop and search black and Latino drivers, even though white drivers are more likely to be found with contraband.

The toll free numbers that victims can call are: 
English: 1-877-231-7171; Spanish: 1-877-527-3330

The groups have also set up a web site where people can fill out a form to document their experience. The survey can be accessed from the RI ACLU’s web site, and can be found at Also available on the web site are a racial profiling fact sheet and a summary of provisions in the racial profiling legislation, which will be reintroduced next year.

In the meantime, the National ACLU issued a report in June documenting widespread racial profiling by law enforcement agents throughout the United States, including Rhode Island. The 88-page report, “The Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling in the United States,” was submitted to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The report includes information about racial profiling in Rhode Island. It cites the most recent analysis of traffic stops data from the RI State Police, which found a pattern of “racial and/or ethnic differences” among motor vehicle stops and searches. The report also cites the documented problems associated with Governor Carcieri’s 2008 executive order encouraging local police departments to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The report notes that members of a state panel appointed by the Governor to monitor the order concluded that it created widespread fear among immigrants in the state.

The ACLU document responds to a last-minute Bush administration submission to CERD in January 2009, which relied on the Justice Department’s 2003 “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agents” to support claims the government was taking steps to eliminate racial profiling. However, the DOJ guidance doesn’t apply to state or local law enforcement agencies, doesn’t include any mechanisms for enforcement or punishment for violating the recommendations, and contains a blanket exception to the recommendations in cases of “national security” or “border integrity.” As a result, people of color have been disproportionately victimized through various government initiatives including FBI surveillance and questioning, special registration programs, border stops, immigration enforcement programs and the creation of “no fly” lists.

CERD is an independent group of experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1994. All levels of U.S. government are required to comply with the treaty’s provisions, which require countries to review national, state and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination. The ACLU report is available online at the RI ACLU’s web site.

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ACLU Criticizes Providence “Protest Registration Forms”

Saying that the documents could “chill some individuals from engaging in peaceful protest activities,” the RI ACLU criticized Providence Mayor David Cicilline after placement on the City’s website of a “protester registration form” and “public viewing guidelines” in anticipation of expected protests during the U.S. Conference of Mayors held downtown. Although no serious problems arose with the protesting that took place, the ACLU is planning to work with City Councillor Seth Yurdin on an ordinance he has introduced that is designed to protect the free speech rights of demonstrators from government interference.

Some excerpts from the letter the RI ACLU sent the Mayor about the forms appear below:

“The city has no right to demand that individuals ‘register’ in order to exercise their fundamental right to protest in public. Indeed, the very notion of a city-produced ‘protester registration form’ is itself extremely troubling. It is for that reason that we assume your director of Emergency Management has been quoted as acknowledging that completion of the form is totally voluntary. Although that may be so, many people might not realize it. Thus, individuals viewing the form and not wishing to share their name or other personal information with the City as a condition of petitioning their government could easily be deterred from exercising their First Amendment rights this weekend.
“If the form’s purpose is to obtain an idea of crowd size, why seek registration information from individuals as opposed to the organizations expected to be planning protests? The potential chilling effect is obvious.

“[Regarding the public viewing guidelines], we find especially troubling a provision stating that bags and backpacks of individual protesters will be subject to search. We can think of no authority for such an intrusion on the privacy of individuals who are present in an open public area. Like the registration form, this pronouncement could chill some individuals from engaging in peaceful protest activities. While the City obviously has the authority to take appropriate security measures, deciding to search someone based on whether he or she is viewed as a protester or a mere passer-by is not one of them.” The Affiliate has received no response thus far to the letter.

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Court Rules In Irons Ethics Commission Case

By a 3-1 vote, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the state Ethics Commission may not prosecute former Sen. Williams Irons for ethics violations based on votes he cast as a state Senator. The Court ruled that such action violated the state Constitution’s so-called “speech in debate clause,” which provides immunity to state legislators for certain legislative actions.

The RI ACLU had filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Irons, but on a more narrow basis. Specifically, the brief challenged the Ethics Commission’s position that adoption of the constitutional amendment establishing the Commission effectively repealed the “speech in debate” clause. The ACLU brief called the Commission’s argument “a launch down a slippery slope of eroding the civil liberties of all Rhode Islanders who come before the Ethics Commission, not just Mr. Irons.”

A major argument of the Ethics Commission was that the constitutional power it was given in 1986 to address ethics issues over all elected officials in the state conflicts with the “speech in debate clause” and therefore limits by implication any protections provided to legislators by that clause. The ACLU brief, filed by attorneys Mark Freel and Jon Anderson from the law firm of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, focused on the ramifications of the Ethics Commission’s position for civil liberties generally: “Each of the historical arguments advanced by the Ethics Commission in support of its claim that the Ethics Amendment is paramount and ‘impliedly limits’ the Speech in Debate Clause could be recycled in the future to support the proposition that the Ethics Amendment trumps some other provision in the Rhode Island Constitution,” including state constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and due process and a constitutional ban on the imposition of “excessive fines” by state agencies. 

After arguing that the Supreme Court has “held that repeals by implication of rights embodied in the Rhode Island Constitution are disfavored,” the brief concluded by claiming that “there are no limits to the Ethics Commission’s ‘implied limitation’ argument. This Court, therefore, cannot, should not, and must not allow the Ethics Commission to drag this State into such uncharted territory.” 

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50th Anniversary Highlights

The Affiliate has had a busy couple of months hosting several successful 50th Anniversary Events.  Read highlights  below from our most recent events.

The Early History of the Rhode Island ACLU

In May, the Affiliate hosted this informative event at Three Sisters on Providence’s East Side.  Those in attendance were able to hear stories from longtime ACLU activist Richard Zacks and the Affiliate’s first executive secretary, Natalie Robinson.  Both Richard and Natalie shared great stories from their long relationship with the RI ACLU.  There were also other members in the audience, including the Affiliate’s second executive secretary, Betsy Carpenter, who shared their memories of the Affiliate. The RI ACLU would like to thank Richard and Natalie for sharing their wonderful stories, as well as Three Sisters for opening their establishment for this event.


The Affiliate’s table at this year’s Pride Fest event in Station Park in downtown Providence was a popular spot. Aside from the great take-away gifts we had to offer, our handouts were also extremely popular among passers-by, who showed a great interest in the work of the ACLU.  The affiliate would like to thank John Blakeslee, Marc Cohen, Jenn Steinfeld & Maggi Rogers, along with staff members Sharon Mulligan and Amy Vitale, for volunteering their time to promote and educate event-goers on the ACLU’s mission.

“An Evening of Dangerous Songs”

Well-known New England singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler and Grammy-winner Bill Harley performed a benefit folk concert for the RI ACLU before a full crowd on June 25th. The concert brought Harley and Wheeler together for the first time ever on the same stage. Their “dangerous songs” touched on such topics as gay marriage, global warming, the religious right and freedom of speech.  Special thanks go to the following people and establishments for their assistance: Rick Brooks, Emily Marotti, John Blakeslee, Richard Walton, Kate Katzberg, Richard Wahlberg and Stone Soup Coffeehouse, and the First Unitarian Church of Providence.  We would also like to thank the numerous volunteers on the day of the event who helped make this such a success.

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50th Anniversary Upcoming Events

Worried that you haven’t joined in our 50th Anniversary Celebration yet? Don’t panic — there are still a few more events left for our year-long celebration. Two of them are described below.

The Roger Williams Project

Thursday, September 24th
First Baptist Church in America
75 North Main Street, Providence

The Rhode Island ACLU will convene a meeting of historical figures and modern day champions of freedom of conscience and civil liberties. The setting of the First Baptist Church of America is symbolic of Roger Williams' revolutionary concept, "liberty of conscience," and of how the RI ACLU mirrors Williams' desire for a "lively experiment" that promotes a flourishing civil state with full liberty in religious concerns.

Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson,  (reenacted by Dr. William Hutchinson, Professor Emeritus of Theater Arts at Rhode Island College, and storyteller/actress Marilyn Meardon) will introduce themselves to modern day practitioners of law and religion to discuss what is the proper balance between religious liberty and government control.

Join Dr. Stephen Marini, Professor of Religion at Wellesley College; Brown University Chaplain Janet Cooper-Nelson; Executive Director of RI State Council of Churches, Reverend Don Anderson; attorneys from landmark church/state court cases, and others for this interesting discussion and debate.

This event is free and open to the public.

Annual Dinner & Meeting

Friday, November 6 
Westin Hotel, downtown Providence

This year’s Annual Dinner promises to be a night to remember.  Our keynote speaker will be Susan Herman, President of the National ACLU. A video about the RI ACLU’s history will have its premiere that evening, and there will be a few surprises throughout the evening. 

Despite being the smallest state in the union, our Affiliate has one of the most active legal dockets in the country. So, for our 50th Anniversary, in celebration of five decades of legal victories, we will be honoring our entire corps of cooperating attorneys. They have handled more than 600 lawsuits in that time period, with great success and often against great odds. Ten ACLU volunteer attorneys – two from each decade who have previously received ACLU awards – have been asked to represent all of our cooperating lawyers in accepting our Civil Libertarian of the Year Award. Milton Stanzler and Richard Zacks will represent 1959-1969, Stephen Fortunato, Jr. and Amato DeLuca will represent 1969-1979, Lynette Labinger and Amy Tabor will represent 1979-1989, John Dineen and Sandra Lanni will represent 1989-1999, and Howard Merten and Thomas Lyons will represent 1999-2009.

Stay tuned for more details on the evening as the date gets closer, but mark the date on your calendar now!

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The Law In Limbo: July 2009 General Assembly Update

Normally at this time, the newsletter would be reviewing the conclusion of the General Assembly session. This year, however, as the end of July approaches, just about everything at the State House remains in limbo, only heightening the potential for end-of-session mischief. Both the House and Senate recessed at the end of June, having sent very few bills to the Governor, but vowing to come back late in July and in September to finish business. Thus, the fate of most legislation affecting civil liberties remains unknown. With that caveat, below is a brief status report on some of the major pieces of legislation the Affiliate has lobbied on this session and that have progressed through the Assembly.

Criminal Justice

Prostitution (S 596/H 5044) and Human Trafficking (S 605/H 5661). A strong push is underway to pass legislation to close the so-called “loophole” in state law that makes indoor prostitution legal. Though touted by many supporters as being necessary to counter sex trafficking, the House bill, over objections from the ACLU and women’s rights groups, would impose six month prison penalties on prostitutes. By contrast, the Senate has proposed making first offenses punishable by a fine, and at the June recess the issue was at a stalemate. The same was true for differing versions of legislation strengthening the state’s human trafficking law. A major area of contention: the House bill seeks to impose on johns the same harsh penalties – 40 years in prison – that would be applicable to traffickers themselves. The Senate version rejects that effort.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences (S 39/H 5007). A twice-vetoed bill that would eliminate Rhode Island’s draconian mandatory minimum drug sentences appears headed back to the Governor. Presently, Rhode Island’s drug sentencing laws are the harshest in New England and have a severe and discriminatory impact on the state’s African-American and Latino population. With this sensible legislation likely to be vetoed again, the RI ACLU will urge an override vote.

Sex Offenders. Following last year’s literally-midnight passage of an ill-conceived bill imposing residency restrictions on sex offenders, the General Assembly is on the verge of passing even more legislation in the same vein. They include bills that would: (1) require all sex offenders who are challenging their risk assessment to temporarily be placed on GPS monitoring, even though most would never be subject to such monitoring once their assessment had been completed (H 5749); (2) make it a felony for a convicted child molester to ever enter a park, playground or school (S 930/H 6242); and (3) require a landlord who has any sex offense conviction to disclose this information to his/her tenants (H 5743).  Such “tough on crime” legislation does little to protect people from sex crimes, and only makes it more difficult for a past offender to successfully reenter society. Unfortunately, it is virtually certain that one or more of these bills will become law, as some have already made it through one chamber and others placed on the calendar.

Self-Incrimination (S 416/H 5039).  For almost a decade, the ACLU and the Public Defender successfully fought off a proposal to allow police officers to forcibly obtain blood samples from individuals involved in serious car accidents where there was a suspicion of DUI. The Affiliate has opposed the legislation as a violation of a person’s right against self-incrimination. The bill perennially passed the Senate, only to die in the House. This year, however, with the addition of only minor amendments, the House has approved passage of the bill. It will likely soon be heading to the Governor for his signature.

Open Government

Open Records (S 374/H 5136). The fate of a bill to strengthen the state’s open records law, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Michael Lenihan, remains up in the air. The bill, vetoed in 2008 by the Governor, was amended in numerous ways this year to address concerns raised by police chiefs and the Attorney General. Unfortunately, on the House floor, two important provisions in the bill were voted down, prompting the ACLU and other groups promoting the legislation to withdraw support for it. Efforts are underway to try to reinstate those provisions through another vote before the session ends.

Police Secrecy (H 6165). After gutting the open records bill, the House added insult to injury by passing a bill that would keep secret, until the conclusion of grand jury proceedings, names of police officers involved in fatal shootings of civilians. The Affiliate is hopeful the bill, designed to overturn a 2007 ACLU court victory, will die in the Senate.

Elections.  Two separate pieces of voting rights legislation have been approved by the Senate. One would repeal the Board of Elections’ current exemption from the Administrative Procedures Act’s rule-making process requirements, making it easier for the public to provide input on the agency’s regulations (S 143). The other bill favorably addresses a variety of voting issues that have come up in previous elections, including standards for recounts and examining voter intent in disputed ballots (H 584/H 5326). The RI ACLU is working with sponsors Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Joshua Miller to get the bills through the House.

Voter ID (H 5097). The House has passed legislation to require photo identification of voters at the polls. The ACLU lobbied against its passage, noting its discriminatory impact on minorities, the elderly and the poor, who are more likely to lack the required identification.  The Affiliate is working in the Senate to keep this bill from passing.

Ballot Access (S 203). In response to the ACLU’s successful court case on behalf of the Moderate Party of RI, a bill was introduced to reduce from 5% to 1% the percentage of signatures required for a group to qualify for political party status. In late June, the bill passed the Senate, but no action has yet been taken on the House side.


Civil Rights Act (S 162/H 5135). For the second year in a row, the Governor has vetoed pro-civil rights legislation that clarifies that plaintiffs have three years, rather than one year, to sue under the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, a major state law prohibiting discrimination in employment and other settings.  The RI ACLU will be working with the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Donna Walsh and Sen. Daniel Connors, to urge an override vote when the General Assembly reconvenes.

E-Verify (S 210/H 5143). For the third year running, the House passed legislation that would require all non-governmental businesses to use the controversial and flawed E-Verify program to verify the work eligibility status of new hires. Business, labor and community groups have testified against the legislation, but the Senate is facing significant pressure to approve it this year.

Interpreters (S 306/H 5357). The Senate has passed ACLU-proposed legislation that would codify into state law a consent agreement between the Rhode Island Department of Human Services and the federal government requiring appropriate language interpreter services for DHS clients. As happened last year, the bill is currently stalled in the House Finance Committee despite not having any fiscal impact.

LGBT Rights. The Affiliate has testified in favor of three bills that would expand the rights allotted to same-sex couples in the state – in divorce (S 271/H 5926), marriage (S 147/H 5744) and funeral arrangements (S 195/H 5294).  Regrettably, when the session ends, Rhode Island will remain the only New England state to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. Worse, it presently appears that no action will even be taken on legislation to allow couples living in Rhode Island who were validly-married in other states to get divorces here. The only positive action is on a bill, passed in slightly different form in both Houses, allowing domestic partners to plan the funeral arrangements for their deceased partner.

Racial Profiling. Though it got a hearing in the House, neither chamber took action on comprehensive legislation, supported by the ACLU and a few dozen other organizations, designed to strengthen the state’s anti-racial profiling law (S 155/H 5108). On the positive side, the House removed from the Governor’s proposed budget a provision that would have allowed police to pull cars over for seat belt violations, something the ACLU argued would only exacerbate racial profiling in the state. Also, though largely symbolic, the Senate passed a resolution declaring the month of May “Racial Profiling Awareness Month” to coincide with an effort by the bill’s supporters, including the Affiliate, to gather real-life stories from victims of racial profiling (S 909/H 6192).


Administrative Subpoenas (H 6210). The House has passed a troubling State Police proposal that would give law enforcement agencies broad authority to secretly obtain, without a warrant, subscriber information from Internet service providers. The Affiliate is working to prevent the bill from gaining favorable consideration in the Senate.

RFID (S 211/H 6059). The General Assembly has again passed legislation that would restrict governmental use of radio frequency identification devices on students, and also keep confidential any RFID information obtained through use of E-ZPass technology on the Pell Bridge. Though the legislation has been vetoed – and reworked – three times over the years, the Affiliate is hopeful that, given the extended length of the 2009 session, any potential veto can be overridden this time.

HIV (S 245/H 5415). At the end of the 2008 session, the legislature passed a bill forming a study commission to look into best practices for HIV testing. That commission met four times earlier this year. Despite pressure from some in the medical community to significantly weaken the current state law’s informed consent and counseling requirements, the final version of the bill proposed by the commission – while not perfect – kept most of those key provisions intact. The bill is awaiting transmittal to the Governor.

Medical Marijuana (S 185/H 5359). The House and Senate quickly and overwhelmingly overrode a Gubernatorial veto of legislation authorizing state-regulated dispensaries to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients. The ACLU testified in support of the bill.

Rights of Youth

Underage Drinking (S 822/H 6106, S 823/ H 6107).  The General Assembly continues to push for harsher penalties around drunk driving in general, but the ACLU was particularly troubled by the punitive nature of bills, part of a package from the City of Providence, addressing underage drinking. The ACLU’s concern is that the bills crack down more on the teenagers and less on those who actually sell the alcohol to them. At the time of publication, the Senate passed its versions, while the House bills had been voted to the floor, but then sent back for reworking by committee. 

School Dress Code (S 20). Despite ACLU opposition, both the House and Senate have passed a bill authorizing Woonsocket schools to require students to wear school uniforms. Although school officials have touted the idea as a way to reduce school disciplinary problems, the ACLU noted that empirical evidence contradicts that notion. 

For more information about these or other bills, feel free to contact the RI ACLU office.

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Organizational Notes

RI ACLU Website Gets a Facelift

The Affiliate’s website, at, has undergone a major transformation. Not only have we completely re-designed the look of the site, we’ve also added a lot more content — from pictures of past events, to court documents to State House testimony.  We are proud of the new site and hope that you’ll take a minute to check it out and make it one of your “favorites.”

RI ACLU Joins Facebook

We have joined the networking revolution! You may now become a fan of the RI ACLU on Facebook.  Please look us up as “Rhode Island ACLU” and become a fan and help our presence on the web grow.

Tune in to the ACLU's Monthly Cable Access Show

For the month of July, our cable access show, Rights of a Free People, is highlighting the much-debated General Assembly examination of prostitution and human trafficking legislation. The show features Mimi Budnick from Direct Action for Rights & Equality and Tara Hurley, filmmaker and director of “Happy Endings?”, a documentary on the Asian massage parlor industry in Providence.

In August, the show will examine some of the major civil liberties decisions from the recently-concluded U.S. Supreme Court term. The featured guests are ACLU volunteer attorney Richard Sinapi and Michael DiLauro from the Public Defender’s Office.


  • Channel 13 (Channel 32 on Verizon FIOS) 
      Tuesdays 10:00 pm and Fridays 3:30 pm

  • Channel 18 (Channel 38 on Verizon FIOS), Providence and N. Providence
      Wednesdays 9:00 pm

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