When the sun rose and the gavel came down at 6am on Saturday morning, June 18th, the ACLU of Rhode Island was still at the State House, monitoring important civil liberties legislation until the very last moments of the session. We will provide a more detailed review of the legislative session, along with a 2015-2016 voting scorecard, in our next newsletter (look for it in August), and you can check out an expanded list of some of the legislation we monitored last year here. For now, here are some of the highlights - and the lows - of the 2016 General Assembly session.
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The year started off on a high note when the General Assembly restored and expanded the state's life-saving Good Samaritan law, which had expired when the General Assembly ended its session in 2015 without reauthorizing it.
The General Assembly also protected students' rights by passing ACLU-backed legislation limiting the use of out-of-school suspensions, and enacting a bill establishing procedures for the use of Internet filters in Rhode Island's schools.
Joining with the Rhode Island Medical Society and other groups representing medical professionals, the ACLU defeated an Attorney General bill seeking to give law enforcement access to the prescription records of virtually every Rhode Islander, without a warrant.
In another great win for privacy, the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved legislation generally requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing a person's cell phone location information.
The General Assembly rejected a number of problematic expansions of the state's computer crimes law promoted by the Attorney General, including one prohibiting unauthorized computer access that treated whistleblowers and spouses the same as those hacking into computers for financial gain.
As it began, the session ended on a high note when, following requests by the ACLU and other free speech and media groups, Governor Raimondo vetoed an Attorney General bill purportedly aimed at criminalizing "revenge porn," that instead made criminal the sharing of newsworthy images, like those of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and photos shared with no intent to harass or harm another person.
As part of the RhodeWorks program, the General Assembly approved a tolling system that will use automated license plate readers to record the information of every driver on the road. Despite assurances that privacy concerns would be dealt with, no protective measures were adopted.
The General Assembly partially undermined the state's marijuana decriminalization law by approving an Attorney General bill putting jurisdiction of minors arrested for marijuana possession back into the Family Court. This change allows judges to place extra restrictions on juveniles, increasing the chances they could find themselves in the Training School.
The General Assembly approved a resolution calling for a national constitutional convention, purportedly to overturn Citizens United. However, there is no limit as to what issues a convention can take on, leaving the entire U.S. Constitution - and the rights of women, minorities, and the LGBT community - at risk if one were ever to convene.
The legislature failed to move on a number of pro-civil liberties initiatives, including a measure to expand the scope of a current law that protects pregnant inmates from being shackled, a bill to protect student press freedom, legislation addressing civil asset forfeiture reform, and a bill to grant parole eligibility to juveniles given very long or life prison sentences.
Perhaps most dismaying of all, the House refused to move on any of six "justice reinvestment" bills aimed at revamping Rhode Island's criminal justice system in a number of positive ways. The bill swere the result of months of consensus-building work from the courts, corrections officials, community groups and law enforcement, but died in the waning hours of the session.