April 22, 2013

Together Again for the First Time

Justin Katz

The title of this post is a phrase that's struck me as peculiar ever since I first spotted it on a comic book that had found its way into my childhood collection, somehow. Does it indicate that it was the second time the two characters had been together? Or had they been together in some other setting or comic book series before?

Whatever the case, the phrase seems applicable to a joint venture that places Anchor Rising and the Ocean State Current at the same URL. As a matter of content, the two have had considerable overlap, but with respect to content emphasis, they differ somewhat, and organizationally, they are very distinct. The organization part is the critical one, with the Current having a back-office structure that we hobbyists at Anchor Rising have never had the capacity to build.

But the relevance of the comic book implied in my title goes beyond the bold-print declaration that appeared in a Kablow!-style call-out on its cover.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

April 21, 2013

Three Same Sex Marriage Bill to be Voted on this Week; Broad and Narrow Protections for Religious Freedom All Still Alive in Committee

Carroll Andrew Morse

Three same-sex marriage bills have been posted for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on this Tuesday, S0038 and H5015A which would authorize same sex marriage by statute, and S0708 which calls for a referendum on the issue. One or more of them could reach the Senate floor by Thursday (see item #7 from Ian Donnis).

The Providence Journal's Randal Edgar did an excellent job last Sunday describing the opposite poles of religious freedom embodied in the two bills receiving the bulk of recent attention, as well as the possible other positions in between…

One bill [S0038] — nearly identical to a bill that passed 51 to 19 in the House — would give Rhode Island the fewest religious protections among states where lawmakers have approved same-sex marriage. The only states with fewer protections would be Massachusetts and Iowa, where the courts legalized same-sex marriage, and Maine, one of three states to adopt it last year by popular vote.

The other bill [S0708] would give Rhode Island one of the longest lists of protections, extending them to areas other states have bypassed…

[S]ame-sex marriage laws in the six states that have legalized it through legislation, as well as the District of Columbia, tend to fall between the two Rhode Island bills, and they sometimes touch on different issues.

Vermont, New Hampshire and Maryland allow religiously affiliated fraternal organizations to limit insurance coverage to spouses in heterosexual marriage, as the Ciccone bill would do.

Maryland, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia protect religious organizations from promoting same-sex marriage through religious programs, counseling and retreats that violate the organization’s beliefs — an area not expressly covered in either Rhode Island bill.

In addition, laws in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Maryland are expressly wider in scope in defining organizations that cannot be required to participate in any ceremony related to the "solemnization or celebration" of a marriage. For example, Connecticut law specifically exempts "any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society" from having "to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage".

The wide range of organizational forms listed in other state laws has direct bearing on what has become a common but dubious claim of many SSM advocates, that already existing RI law makes adding anything beyond a thin exemption to a same-sex marriage law unnecessary. As Edgar writes...

Rhode Island also has a Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which allows governmental restriction “of a person’s free exercise of religion” only when the restriction comes from “a rule of general applicability, and does not intentionally discriminate against religion.” The restriction must also be “essential to further a compelling government interest.”

“The protections already exist,” said Bela August Walker, a law professor at Roger Williams University.

I did a quick search, to see whether the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act had ever been interpreted, and came across its consideration in New Life Worship Center vs. Town of Smithfield Zoning Board of Review (2010). In a decision where one aspect of several was the interaction between the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and local zoning decisions the Superior Court quoted this principle to be followed in religious freedom cases…
"Of course, every building owned by a religious organization does not fall within [the definition of religious exercise]. Buildings used by religious organizations for secular activities or to generate revenue to finance religious activities are not automatically protected."
Could this mean that a revenue-generating hall rental can remove use of a facility from the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and perhaps from other current laws, related to religious freedom? Case law suggests it's possible.

There is also the question of how the narrow constructs of "religious institution" and "religious organization" relate to the canonical religious freedom and same-sex marriage thought-example, the Knights of Columbus. Because of arcane Federal tax rules, individual Knights of Columbus chapters don't incorporate under the same section of tax-code usually used by other "religious" organizations. They incorporate as "fraternal lodges” or “fraternal benefit societies” (and a bit of RI case law [Levasseur vs. Knights of Columbus (1963)] does indeed refer to a K of C chapter as a “fraternal benefit society”). When it come times for a court to interpret religious exemptions in terms of Rhode Island law, could the fact that the Federal Government see an organization as a “fraternal benefit society” and not a “religious organization” make a difference?

States like New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York have made a clear, unmistakable choice on this. What is there to be gained by Rhode Island leaving any ambiguity in its statutes on this issue?

* * *

In any coherent analysis, the position taken by some SSM advocates that S0038 provides “strong” protections for religious freedom cannot be reconciled with an insistence that existing protections not be overlapped. If a SSM law has been constructed to avoid “protections [that] already exist”, then the ability of the government to require clergy to perform marriages must not be prohibited anywhere else in the structure of Rhode Island law -- which further implies that state government can order clergy to perform marriages, if the particular "protection of freedom of religion in marriage" section of S0038 is repealed at a future time.

The other possibility, of course, is that S0038's religious freedom protections merely reaffirm what is already enshrined elsewhere in law. But if it is OK to reaffirm a principle that we all hope is already very clear, i.e. government cannot order religious institutions to perform marriages, then it is more than OK to also clarify an area of the law where definite ambiguities exist, i.e. the meaning and scope of "religious institution" or “religious organization” under Rhode Island law. New York/Connecticut style language that makes clear that “religious organization” can mean more than just a house of worship would tell the public – including the judges who might have to interpret this law in the future – what exactly the law is intended to cover.

At the end of the debate on the legislation related to this issue, not everyone will be in agreement about what should be covered by religious protections related to same-sex marriage -- but before the law is voted on, there should be a clear understanding about what will be covered.

April 20, 2013

March Employment in Rhode Island: How Worlds Diverge

Justin Katz

Watching the employment statistics, as presented by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from month to month, offers an interesting perspective on how people can develop different understandings of objective reality.

Tracing the unemployment rate, one might think Rhode Island is undergoing a strong recovery. In January 2010, it was 11.9%, and for years the state was among the worst three, periodically claiming the lead spot. This past March, though, the rate was 9.1%, which puts five other states in a worse position.

But viewing the statistics in terms of employment, not unemployment, changes the picture entirely.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

April 19, 2013

BREAKING: One Bombing Suspect Dead, Another Possibly Surrounded in Watertown MA

Carroll Andrew Morse

A press release from the Middlesex County (MA) District Attorney, via Reuters, has information on everything that's been confirmed as of 5AM, related to last night's murder of an MIT police officer and shootout in Watertown, very likely related to the Boston Marathon bombing...

Police are investigating a fatal shooting of MIT campus police officer by two men who then committed an armed carjacking in Cambridge, Middlesex Acting District Attorney Michael Pelgro, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas, and MIT Police Chief John DiFava announced this evening.

At approximately 10:20 p.m. April 18, police received reports of shots fired on the MIT campus. At 10:30 p.m., an MIT campus police officer was found shot in his vehicle in the area of Vassar and Main streets. According to authorities, the officer was found evidencing multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital and pronounced deceased.

Authorities launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the shooting. The investigation determined that two males were involved in this shooting.

A short time later, police received reports of an armed carjacking by two males in the area of Third Street in Cambridge. The victim was carjacked at gunpoint by two males and was kept in the car with the suspects for approximately a half hour. The victim was released at a gas station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. He was not injured.

Police immediately began a search for the vehicle and were in pursuit of the vehicle into Watertown. At that time, explosive devices were reportedly thrown from car by the suspects. The suspects and police also exchanged gunfire in the area of Dexter and Laurel streets. During this pursuit, an MBTA Police officer was seriously injured and transported to the hospital.

During the pursuit, one suspect was critically injured and transported to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased. An extensive manhunt is ongoing in the Watertown area for the second suspect, who is believed to be armed and dangerous.

The case is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities working in cooperation. The Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad is assessing and removing any potentially explosive devices that may have been thrown on the street in Watertown by the suspects.

The investigation remains active and ongoing.

There are multiple media reports that the dead carjacker is the "black hat" guy wanted by the FBI in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing, and the carjacker still at large is the "white hat" guy.

Overnight, there was lots of speculation in social media that White hat guy was Sunil Tripathi, who disappeared from Brown University in mid-March. There hasn't been any official confirmation of this, and Pete Williams et. al. from NBC News, who have been pretty small-c conservative and accurate with details this week, are reporting that this is not the case, as the suspected terrorists are "foreigners with military training", which wouldn't describe Tripathi.


The MIT police officer who was killed has been identified as Sean Collier. From the Associated Press...

Cambridge police and the Middlesex District Attorney's office says the officer was responding to a report of a disturbance when he was shot multiple times. He later died at a hospital.
The suspect still at large has been identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The suspect who was killed has been identifed as Tamerlan Tsarnaev. From USA Today...
The brothers had been living together on Norfolk Street in Cambridge. An uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md., told The Associated Press that the men lived together near Boston and have been in the United States for about a decade. They came from the Russian region near Chechnya, which has been plagued by an Islamic insurgency stemming from separatist wars....

In the photo essay, Tamerlan says: "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them."

April 18, 2013

Government Employees Get Paychecks, Not Handouts

Justin Katz

While I don’t expect to change his final assessment, I’d like to correct a misunderstanding in Thomas Kolodziejczak’s letter in today's Providence Journal, “Katz’s rightist ravings.” Responding to an op-ed of mine from the previous Saturday (“Apathy, fear as R.I. dusk turns to night”), Mr. Kolodziejczak paraphrases that I meant to suggest “that nearly 20 percent of the state population is employed by state or local government, is a retired employee or related to one.”

Actually, the “around twenty percent of the overall population [that] relies on government for direct handouts” is a different group from the “sixteen percent or more of the state’s working population” whom I cite as “employed by a state or local government.” I suppose I could have been clearer, but I don’t consider money earned through work to be a “handout,” so I thought the two categories would be sufficiently distinct. (Also, the “working population” is much smaller than the “overall population.”)

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

April 17, 2013

Union Rules and "Unique System" Drive Up Overtime for State Government Community Living Aides

Justin Katz

Suzanne bates has another state-payroll-related investigative report on the Ocean State Current, this one covering a job titled "community living assistant."

These are high-school-educated employees with average regular pay below $36,000, who've been able to triple their pay with overtime and other salary enhancements, topping out near $130,000. Their job entails helping the residents of group homes, with at least two CLAs watching over four to six patients on a 24-hour basis. Obviously, there's apt to be downtime.

Especially notable, in this case, is the role of union rules in driving up the overtime costs. A decade ago, the department attempted to introduce "floaters," who could cover shifts at more than one of the facilities. The union objected that the strategy wasn't fair. On the other hand, senior CLAs can effectively "float" around the state... as long as they're doing it for overtime.

As we continue to sort through the outrageous spending for which so of Rhode Islanders' income is confiscated through taxes, Suzanne's doing a great job of filling in the picture of how the game works.

Read here.

Socking It To the Insurance Co or To The Insured? Rhode Island Has the Highest Number of Health Insurance Mandates

Monique Chartier

To set the stage:

  • This Wall Street Journal summary map indicates that Rhode Island has the seventh highest per capita health-care spending.
  • In filings Monday, Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI requested an increase in health insurance premiums - an 18% increase for individuals (note that Blue Cross is the only company in the state that offers health insurance to individuals) and a 15% increase for small groups. It is not immediately clear how much of this is due to the implementation of ObamaCare.
  • Speaking of ObamaCare, the cost of state health insurance exchanges, the tool that was supposed to lower health insurance costs, has been rising, adding to indirect costs of health care.
  • A week ago, GoLocalProv reported that Rhode Island is
  • Among Worst States for Competitive Healthcare

Now we can perhaps identify a significant contributory factor for that last item and for the high (and rising) cost of health care in the state. Last week, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI) released a report and ranking of "Health Insurance Mandates in the States, 2012." Once again, Rhode Island finds itself on the top of a dubious list - in this case, most number of mandated health insurance benefits.

Compelling the nasty insurance companies (what few there are in Rhode Island) to cover the maximum number of benefits sounds like a good idea in theory. The reality is that such mandates translate directly into costs, which get passed on to the customer/rate payer. From the CAHI report:

One of the biggest cost drivers in our health care system is the steady proliferation of federal and state-based coverage mandates. When CAHI started tracking mandates in 1992, there were about 850 mandates across all 50 states,” explained CAHI Research and Policy Director, Victoria Craig Bunce. “Over the last twenty years the number of state mandated benefits has grown to 2,271. That’s an increase of 167 percent! Based on our annual analysis, mandated benefits currently increase the cost of basic health coverage from slightly less than 10 percent to more than 50 percent, depending on the state, specific legislative language, and type of health insurance policy.”

[Monique is Editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.]

April 16, 2013

And When I Ran

Justin Katz

Reflections the night of the Boston Marathon explosions.

And when I first learned my legs I ran to see how fast they could go
And when my friends called games I ran to laugh, to win, and (yes) to grow
And when my youth waned I ran to rule out paths that could not be mine
And when my children fell I ran to tell them (praying) they were fine
But now I look ahead for what might my arms slash and ankles bend
And when I run (I hope) it will be to save, to heal, to help, and

April 15, 2013

Spring into Summer Conference at Portsmouth Institute

Justin Katz

With spring more or less undeniably having arrived, we're coming up on one of my favorite weekends of the year. This year, the Portsmouth Institute's annual conference is June 7-9, and the topic is "Catholicism and the American Experience," which is certainly timely, given that American bishops are actually beginning to near the short-list for Pope, with Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley's having just been appointed to a Vatican advisory board.

Had he won, I could actually have claimed to have met the Pope. O'Malley was the bishop in Fall River when I converted to Catholicism in that city. As it happens, another bishop of my acquaintance is speaking at this year's conference: Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin is on the speaker's list.

Other speakers of whom readers of a conservative Web site should take note are George Weigel and Roger Kimball. Although I'm not as familiar with his work, I suspect Peter Steinfels will offer somewhat of a different perspective, as a former editor of Commonweal and religion correspondent for the New York Times. And of course, the musical performances and excellent meals propel the entire experience to otherworldliness.

Long-time readers of Anchor Rising will have seen my reports from previous years' conferences, but for a reminder or a sampling of what the conferences are like, take a look at our archives:

It's amazing to think that this will be the fifth of these conferences. It's even more amazing to think of all that's happened in the world since they began. I recommend attending for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most profound is the much-needed perspective that the intellectual content and spiritual experience lends to the seemingly rapid and perilous pace of modern life.

April 13, 2013

Redistributive Property Taxes: Who's in the Providence Crosshairs?

Justin Katz

The way property taxes work, in Rhode Island, revaluations are little more than a way of redistributing the tax burden, and in Providence, a shift from taxing buildings to taxing land has repercussions for a number of recent issues, from the Superman Building to legislation affecting the entire state.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

A Local Focus on Apathy and Fear

Justin Katz

My essay on apathy and fear in Rhode Island is in today's Providence Journal. From the version that Anchor Rising readers may have already read on the American Spectator's site, I've changed the focus a bit and added some key anecdotes with a much more local focus.

To expand even more on the anecdote about the woman's comment about my children: When she realized I was standing next to a local news reporter, she shouted across the street that her comment to me was "off the record." Those who know the rules for reporters know that wasn't a legally binding request, but I don't think the reporter had any interest in shining light on that aspect of Tiverton politics.

Then the woman decided that she liked her offensive comment so much that she walked back across the street, past me and the reporter, to say the same thing to a female friend of mine who had just exited the building (albeit more quietly, so the reporter couldn't hear).

As with government overtime for laundry workers, it's entirely possible that the only instances of outrageous and destructive governmental and political activities in Rhode Island are the ones that happen to be discovered. I'd wager, though, that what I've managed to observe or hear about is only the slightest indication of a much more integral culture of corruption and intimidation.

That junk doesn't end, and Rhode Island doesn't begin to heal and to recover, until it comes into the light and, more importantly, Rhode Islanders insist that it is wrong. Bad voting habits are important, but shamelessness may be even more insidious.

April 12, 2013

Property Tax Assessments

Patrick Laverty

Based on some Twitter chatter this morning, I learned that the property tax assessment letters are going out today in Providence. The citizens of our capital city are learning what value their homes and land will be taxed at. There is always some confusion as to what this means.

First, the city should be using a value that they think is the current fair market value for the land and the building on it. This should be approximately what the property would sell for on the open market. I've seen many times when these aren't even close, especially in my own town and my own property. I tried selling mine for nearly $30,000 less than the assessed value and I couldn't even get an offer. My solution to this would be to require the town or the company doing the assessing to purchase the property at this assessed price, if the owner is willing to sell, within 30 days. I'm guessing the property values would be set much more closely to what is realistic at that point.

But what do these values mean? If your assessed value goes down, does that mean your property taxes will go down too? Not likely and in most cases, they'll actually go up. They go up because the town still needs (or thinks it needs) additional revenues every year. Employees get raises, services and goods like electricity, heating oil, natural gas, are all things that cost more.

The way a city derives your tax bill is actually in two pieces. Neither piece means anything by itself. It's a combination of the assessed value and the tax rate. According to RILiving.com, the last property tax rate for non-commercial property was $31.89 per $1,000 of assessment. If your property is assessed at $300,000, simply mutiply that $31.89 by 300 and you get your property tax bill of $9,567 per year. However, Providence does offer a homestead exemption. This means if the property is your primary residence, Providence cuts that bill in half. Well, unless you're the Governor, then you can live anywhere you want and still get the homestead exemption.

Seems pretty straightforward. The town has their rate, does their assessments and that's their revenue. This would seem to be a problem if the property values drop at all. That would mean less revenue for the city, right? Nope. The cities actually do these calculations in reverse. In a way that might not really make sense. First they figure out how much money they need for everything they want to do and everything they want to support. Next, they take the total assessed value, divide one by the other and the result becomes the tax rate.

In a nutshell, your assessed value going down really doesn't mean anything at all. You need to take both values, assessment and the tax rate into effect. Because the city doesn't want to have a decrease in revenues along with the decrease in assessed value, they will in turn either increase the tax rate, lower or eliminate the homestead exemption or some combination of both.

April 11, 2013

Open Thread: Crisis in Central Coventry

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senators Lou Raptakis and Nick Kettle submitted a pair of bills to the General Assembly today concerning the Central Coventry Fire District. The first bill describes new outlines for the Coventry, Western Coventry, and Hopkins Hill Road fire districts, which I assume would cover all of the town of Coventry between them; the last two sections of the bill read...

SECTION 4. This act should not be construed to mean, under any circumstances, that the Coventry fire district, Western Coventry Fire District, Hopkins Hill Road Fire District shall assume any of the Central Coventry Fire District's debts and liabilities.

SECTION 5. This act shall take effect upon the approval by a majority 1 of each district's members voting on the district expansion question at all three (3) of the fire districts: Coventry, Western Coventry, and Hopkins Hill Road.

The other bill would retroactively set a budget for the CCFD this year...
Effective September 1, 2012, if the Central Coventry fire district fails to approve an annual appropriation authorization, the same amounts appropriated in the prior fiscal year shall be available; provided, that such appropriation shall be increased by such amount as is necessary for the payment of existing bonded indebtedness of the Central Coventry fire district and 1 interest thereon.
...and includes this interesting kicker at the end...
This act shall take effect upon passage and shall apply retroactively to September 1, 2012 and shall be repealed on September 1, 2013.
Is the object here to have the CCFD make one more payment towards their debts this year, before being dissolved?

This is just one of many possible methods for dealing with the bankruptcy of the Central Coventry Fire District. Consider this as an open-thread for discussing other possible solutions, be they obvious, creative or both.

April 10, 2013

A Brief Primer on Gun-Permitting Laws in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Commenter "Mike" noted that there is more to the Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s proposed firearms permitting bill (h/t Providence Journal) than which office handles an application. Here is a basic outline of the set of overlapping provisions that form the basics of Rhode Island’s firearms law, and how the Attorney General’s bill might change them.

1. A permit is required under section 11-47-8 of Rhode Island law (with some exceptions) for an individual to carry a pistol or revolver off of their own property ...

(a) No person shall, without a license or permit issued as provided in §§ 11-47-11, 11-47-12 and 11-47-18, carry a pistol or revolver in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about his or her person whether visible or concealed, except in his or her dwelling house or place of business or on land possessed by him or her or as provided in §§ 11-47-9 and 11-47-10.
11-47-11 establishes rules for local government permit issuance, while 11-47-18 sets the rules for the Attorney General; we'll come back to these two sections of the law in a moment. (These permits are frequently referred to as “concealed carry” permits, though the letter of the law is explicit about its application to non-concealed firearms too). 11-47-12 sets the fees for the permitting process.

2. 11-47-8 also contains provisions against the possession of machines guns and sawed-off shotguns regardless of location, but nothing regarding permitting of rifles or regular shotguns...

2A. ...though section 11-47-51 makes it illegal for non-law enforcement non-military members to carry a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle, while on a public road.

3. For a Rhode Island resident to legally purchase any pistol or revolver, section 11-47-35 of Rhode Island law requires a background check and completion of a safety course administered by the Department of Environmental Management, with exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel. To purchase a rifle or shotgun, the relevant section of the law is 11-47-35.2 which requires clearance of a background check conducted by the local police, unless the purchaser already has a locally-issued permit under 11-47-11 (11-47-18 isn't mentioned), or is a member of law-enforcement or the military.

4. The firearms permitting changes proposed by the Attorney General as part of the “gun safety package” would repeal 11-47-11, stripping municipal authorities of the power to issue pistol or revolver “concealed carry” permits. This would change more than where paperwork needs to be sent. 11-47-11 says local authorities "shall issue" a concealed carry permit, once need has been demonstrated (though making determinations of criteria like "need" and “suitability” are left entirely to the municipal authority)…

(a) The licensing authorities of any city or town shall, upon application of any person twenty-one (21) years of age or over having a bona fide residence or place of business within the city or town...issue a license or permit to the person to carry concealed upon his or her person a pistol or revolver everywhere within this state for four (4) years from date of issue, if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear an injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol or revolver, and that he or she is a suitable person to be so licensed.
11-47-18, the process that would remain if the AG's bill became law, says the Attorney General "may issue" a permit, leaving room for discretion even after need is sufficiently demonstrated...
The attorney general may issue a license or permit to any person twenty one (21) years of age or over to carry a pistol or revolver, whether concealed or not, upon his or her person upon a proper showing of need, subject to the provisions of sections 11-47-12 and 11-47-15
4. Both the “may issue” in the Attorney General’s permitting process, and the additional requirements of need and suitability needed to reach the “shall issue” stage in the local process may need reevaluation in light of the United States Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller which affirmed that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees an individual right., e.g. can something that is recognized as a right be made subject to a “may issue” decision of a government official?

5. And there may be even a higher hurdle for a “may issue” law to clear -- section 22 of Article I of the Rhode Island Constitution, which makes no reference to the well-regulated militia mentioned in the U.S Constitution. Article I section 22 of the RI Constitution states simply...

Right to bear arms. -- The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
…and is followed by a pointed declaration in section 24, that…
The rights guaranteed by this Constitution are not dependent on those guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
I’ll take up a few of the “rights”-related aspects of this issue in subsequent posts.

Ken Block: Data shows Master Lever Likely Helped Speaker Fox Avoid Defeat Last November

Monique Chartier

This afternoon, Ken Block released the following interesting analysis of the 2012 election results for District 4.

Reform advocate urges Fox and Senate President Paiva-Weed to respect the voice of Rhode Islanders and let bills eliminating Master Lever come to vote

(PROVIDENCE, RI 4/10/13) Businessman Ken Block, who has been a leading advocate for the effort to reform elections in Rhode Island by eliminating the Master Lever, released data from the Board of Elections today which shows the outdated voting mechanism may have been the only thing that saved House Speaker Gordon Fox from defeat at the polls last November.

At the same time, Block called on Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed to allow the bill to eliminate the Master Lever to come to a vote, suggesting that if the Senate President was serious about "moving the needle" and fixing the state's economy, a crucial step is getting rid of this archaic voting option that undermines democracy in our state. "Killing the Master Lever legislation in an unaccountable way by denying the bill the opportunity for an up or down vote doesn't move the needle - it mangles the needle", said Block.

Block said the final results of the District 4 State Representative race between Fox and independent challenger Mark Binder last November show that Master Lever votes quite possibly made the difference in keeping the Speaker from being unseated. Fox won with a final tally of 3,590 votes compared to 2,595 votes for Binder. The margin of victory was 995 votes, much less than the 1,469 Democratic master lever/straight party votes which inflated Fox's vote count.

"A level playing field may have resulted in a different outcome in that race," said Block. "It is a powerful reminder that we need to demand that our elected officials put the rights of the voters first rather than promoting an outdated voting tool that helps them cling to power."

Continue reading " Ken Block: Data shows Master Lever Likely Helped Speaker Fox Avoid Defeat Last November"

The House Finance Committee’s 38 Studios Dilemma

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island House of Representatives Finance Committee has a bigger-than-usual open-government dilemma on its hands. Yesterday, the Finance Committee heard three separate bills for dealing with bond payments to 38 Studios (see bills 1A, 1B, and 1C here). There is also a fourth option available -- take no further legislative action and pay off the deal in full. All three bills were “held for further study”, i.e. sent to the Phantom Zone where, under unwritten but long-established rules of the House, only the Speaker can retrieve them.

So which bill, if any, will the Speaker retrieve? And who will he consult with, in deciding which bill to retrieve?

The Speaker could choose not to bring any of the 38 Studios bills back to committee. In that case, he will have decided, on his own, that the position of the House is to pay the 38 Studios bonds in full, without allowing any other members to have a say.

The Speaker could also choose to bring only one of the three bills back. In this case, he will be giving the committee the choice of either paying the bonds in full or picking his preferred option, with the the other two options off the table. This would imply one of two things about the Finance Committee’s role in the decision. Either members of the committee against paying off the bonds under their original terms don't care which option is picked and are willing to pass to the floor whichever option the Speaker tells them he wants, or a deal will be worked out ahead of time between the Speaker and committee members, with one bill that has majority committee support being brought back -- and highlighting how RI General Assembly committee meetings are mostly theater used to dress-up decisions made elsewhere.

In the end -- unless Finance committee members really do favor passing this decision off to the speaker and rubber-stamping whatever decision he makes about sending (or not sending) a 38 Studios bill to the floor -- the only way to assure the public that this decision will be made outside of the confines of a backroom deal is to bring all three of the bills back to the committee for consideration, where committee members can explain in an open session which option or options they favor sending to the floor.

April 9, 2013

So What Shall We Call The Proposed State Bank?

Monique Chartier

That is correct; Kim Kalunian at WPRO reports that a bill

... submitted by Rep. Charlene Lima (D-Cranston) would create a Rhode Island state bank.

The bill would establish a Rhode Island state bank to “protect the financial welfare and economic vitality of the citizens” and create jobs.

The state bank would have the same banking powers as a commercial bank, and could accept deposits, pay interest and make loans. The lending and guaranteeing powers of all state departments and agencies, like the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, would be transferred to the state bank.

Lima submitted the bill at the request of Keven McKenna, a lawyer and former candidate for Attorney General.

You're going to point to the state's long, dubious record in matters of finance, aren't you? Well, that should not enter into your calculations - at least, according to Mr. McKenna.

Following the 38 Studios debacle, McKenna said people cannot be afraid of government and the state’s money management skills.

“You cannot deal with paranoia,” he said. “If you are fearful of government then have the government do nothing at all: no roads, no education, no support for the elderly, nothing.”

Huh. Some of us might view the natural skepticism at such a proposal as more along the lines of open-eyed caution rather than paranoia. But we're glad to be corrected and no one wants to be a party-pooper. So, once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Possible names for our new bank. I'm thinking "RISDIC Savings & Loan". What would you suggest?

The "Gun Safety Package"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is a link the General Assembly press release on the 9 bills to be introduced, labeled as the "gun safety package". The two items likely to be most controversial are...

Gun Control and Safe Firearms Act: This bill bans the manufacture, sale, purchase or possession of semi-automatic assault weapons after July 1, 2013. It also bans high capacity magazines, belts, drums, feed strips or similar devices manufactured on or after July 1. It does not apply if the weapon is an antique, is inoperable, or was manufactured prior to July 1, 1963, and does not apply to an attached tubular device capable of operating only with .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.

Background Checks and Attorney General Permits (AG Kilmartin bill): These bills would require a person requesting a license or permit to carry a pistol or revolver to undergo national criminal background checks and will make the Attorney General’s office the license and/or permitting authority, as requested by local law enforcement officials.

Direct links to legislation to follow, when they become available.


Amanda Milkovits of the Projo has posted links to preliminary versions of the "gun safety package" bills. Here's the definition of "semi-automatic assault rifles" that would be banned...

The term semiautomatic assault weapon means:
(1) A semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two (2) of the following characteristics:
  (i) A folding or telescoping stock;
  (ii) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
  (iii) A thumbhole stock;
  (iv) A bayonet mount;
  (v) A threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor, muzzle break, or muzzle compensator;
  (vi) A grenade launcher...

(5) Provided, however, that such term does not include:
  (i) Any rifle...that:
    (A) Is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action;
    (B) Has been rendered permanently inoperable; or
    (C) Is an antique firearm as defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(16);
  (ii)A semiautomatic rifle that cannot accept a detachable magazine that holds more than ten (10) rounds of ammunition;
  (iv) Any firearm, rifle, or shotgun that was manufactured prior to July 1, 1963;

April 8, 2013

Coming up in Committee: All of the Economic Development Corporation Bills Being Heard on Tuesday, April 9

Carroll Andrew Morse

1G. H5746: Limits the Economic Development Corporation's total liability for loans, bonds, guarantees and other financing instruments to $1B, unless a larger amount is authorized by a General Assembly joint resolution. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1F. H5268: Caps EDC loan guarantees to any one entity at $10M. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1E. H5745: Caps the amount of loans, bonds, guarantees or other financing instruments involving any single entity at $5M, unless a larger amount is authorized by a General Assembly joint-resolution. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1D. H5463: Caps EDC loan guarantees to any one entity at $0, i.e. "Rhode Island economic development corporation shall not guarantee any loan or obligation, nor shall it pledge the faith and credit of the state or any of its subdivisions". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1C. H5639: "Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, neither the corporation nor the general assembly shall use and/or appropriate any moneys relating to the redemption and/or payment of the principal of and/or the interest on any bonds, notes or other obligations of the corporation pertaining to the 38 Studios loan unless and untilthe identity of all entities and/or purchases of same shall be made public by the filing of a complete list with the finance committee of the house of representatives". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1B. H5643: "The state shall be prohibited from paying any interest on the 38 Studios bonds. Only the amount of the initial investment shall be paid". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

1A. H5888: "The [Economic Development Corporation], the state and any subdivisions of the state shall not make payment on the moral obligation bonds related to 38 Studios". (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

Health Benefits Exchange: What They Mean by Self-Sustaining

Justin Katz

Amidst the political noise of news on marriage, immigration, and guns, Phil Marcelo has an informative article in today's Providence Journal highlighting the fact that the State of Rhode Island is going to have to pay to maintain its ObamaCare health benefits exchange when federal dollars run out.

That's an issue that I raised last July, in a policy brief for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 4

Carroll Andrew Morse

9. H5748/H5371/H5303: Mandates state use of "data verification and provider screening technology solutions" and "state-of-the-art predictive modeling and analytics technologies in a pre-payment position within the healthcare claim workflow" to reduce Medicaid, RIte Care and RIte Share fraud and waste. H5734 is a variation on the same theme, repeating some of the same descriptions of fraud prevention, and focusing on Medicaid and CHIP (children's health insurance program). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

8B. H5753: Converts the "health care planning and accountability advisory council", an in-government advisory panel, into the "health analytics, policy and planning commission", a quasi-public body (with an executive director who "shall set his or her compensation and terms of employment"(?)), responsible for performing analyses on financial and quality reports for licensed health care providers, health outcomes and health expenditures". Submitted at the request of the Lieutenant Governor. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 10) Why should this be a quasi-public agency outside of the main government be performing this function? Possibly so it can eventually become a state level version of the Federal IPAB.

8A. S0656: As a condition of eligibility for certain state-funded medical assistance programs, "every applicant or recipient who owns a life estate in property with retained rights to revoke, amend or redesignate the remainderman must exercise those rights as directed by the executive office of health and human services". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

7. S0268: Ties the amount of the car-tax reimbursed to a municipality to the percentage of statewide vehicle value located in that municipality (rather than to tax rates that have been frozen arbitrarily by state law). (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

6B. H5646: Requires a photo ID to be presented when a purchase is made with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

6A. H5411: "No person shall knowingly use or accept direct cash assistance funds held on electronic benefit transfer cards or access devices for the purchase or sale of...alcoholic beverages...lottery tickets...tobacco products...[pornography]...firearms and ammunition...vacation services; tattoos or body piercings; jewelry; [or] for gambling or for the payment...of any [government] fees, fines, bail, or bail bonds". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

5. S0352: Repeals the June 30, 2013 sunset on the law that makes driving without wearing a seat belt a primary motor vehicle offense. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

4. H5946: Unionizes Rhode Island child-care workers, and provides them with the same arbitration and mediation options as state employees. (H Labor; Wed, Apr 10)

3B. FY2014 will be year 3 of a 7-year phase-in for the new education "funding formula", for the communities scheduled to receive more aid under the new system relative to the old. (a 10-year period is used, for communities undergoing an aid reduction). S0188 would give those communities their entire new "formula" aid total beginning immediately in FY2014 -- and, if a community is spending more per-pupil on education than the state average, all of the money from the acceleration could be used to reduce its maintenance of effort obligation by an equivalent amount, converting a portion of "education funding formula" into a property tax subsidy. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9) The bill says that if a community is spending $1 more than the state average, but is due to receive more money under the "funding formula", it can start making the rest of the state pay for its education costs, without changing anything about its education programs. It's a bill that, more honestly than usual, shows how many Rhode Island legislators think of the education "funding formula" as a function-agnostic property tax subsidy.

3A. H5055/S0013: Schools districts would only pay a "local share" of education costs for the students who reside in their districts and attend charter schools "when the school classification, as determined by the formula specified in the Rhode Island accountability system, of the charter public school and the Met Center is higher than that of the student's comparable district school of enrollment". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10 & S Education; Wed, Apr 10)

2. H5747: An attempt to appropriate $2M "for local mental health centers for outreach programs" by "joint resolution", which usually means without gubernatorial approval. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10) I hope the attitude of we-get-to-make-up-whatever-rules-we-want isn't spreading from the House Committee level to the overall appropriations process.

Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

19. H5285: "The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2013", including such provisions as requiring police officers to document the grounds of their "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" searches and to contact a dispatcher or supervising officer where practicable before such searches, and requiring traffic stops to be recorded when a police vehicle is equipped to do so. (H Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

18. S0312: Requires the school committee and town/city council of every community that would send students to a proposed mayoral academy to approve the mayoral academy's charter school application. (S Education; Wed, Apr 10)

17. S0393: Creates a tax-credit of 10% of a student loan balance (with caps based on type of degree) for the first 10 years after a student's graduation "so long as the person remains a legal resident of and employed in Rhode Island". (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

16. S0360: "Notwithstanding any other general or special law to the contrary, any person serving as a member of the pension board of the city of Pawtucket shall be immune from any civil liability in that capacity so long as that person acts in good faith, without malice, and not for improper personal enrichment in the performance of any duty or prerogative in connection with the administration of the pension system". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11) What'd they do in Pawtucket that's worse than in the average "distressed" Rhode Island community?

15. S0154: "Each chamber of the legislature shall keep, for a period of three (3) years, an audio or video recording of debate and testimony occurring in committee and shall place the recording on the general assembly's website within twenty-four (24) hours of the debate and hearing". (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 10)

14. S0414: Introduces four criteria that must be present to establish criminal intent in cases where the law does not specify "the criminal intent required to establish an element of the offense". The four elements are 1) a conscious object to engage in conduct of the nature constituting the element; 2) a conscious object to cause such a result required by the element; 3) an awareness of the existence of any attendant circumstances required by the element or with the belief or hope that such circumstances exist; and 4) specific intent to violate the law or with knowledge that the person’s conduct is unlawful. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 9). Doesn't criteria #4 introduce a potentially major loophole into the law, and run counter to centuries of common law holding that ignorance of the law is not a defense?

13. S0682: Creates a six-person "joint committee of the repealer" within the legislature that would "compile suggestions for repeal of statutes, regulations, and executive orders received from citizens, businesses, and government agencies". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

12. H5743/S0605: Adds to the section of law on educational finance that "any municipality or local educational agency (LEA) that is rated A or better with any of the primary rating agencies, said municipality or LEA shall be able to elect to pursue issuing and selling their bonds on the open market, without approval from the general assembly and without having said bonds issued by the Rhode Island health and educational building corporation". (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10 & S Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

11. S0522: Empowers the General Treasurer to withhold non-education state aid from "any municipality that does not fully fund their annual required contribution (ARC)" to a locally administered pension plan. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

10D. H5270: One line added to the law, giving "deputy sheriffs within the department of public safety, capitol police, and DEM police" the same retirement benefits as corrections officers. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

10C. H5468:/S0371: Requires teachers at mayoral academies to participate in the state teachers' retirement system. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10 & S Education; Wed, Apr 10)

10B. H5221: Restores cost-of-living adjustments for state pensioners whose annual benefit is less than 150% of the federal poverty level. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

10A. H5199: Repeals the minimum retirement age of 55 for police officers and firefighters with 10 years of service. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

29. H5132: Families qualified to receive child-care subsidies because their incomes were less than 180% of the Federal poverty level would continue to receive the subsidy if their incomes rose to 225% of the poverty level "provided that the family requires child care in order to work at paid employment". H5409 and H5473 would allow various education and/or training programs to be counted towards subsidized child-care qualifications. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

28. H5554: Appropriates $3,250,000 "out of a dedicated funding stream of money in the treasury appropriated for the fiscal year 2013-2014" for homeless rental assisstance and winter shelter operations programs (even though the FY2014 budget is yet to be approved). (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

27. S0459: Mandates that "a health care provider providing treatment to a patient in a hospital" inform "appropriate law enforcement personnel" if "such disclosure appears necessary to alert law enforcement to the commission and nature of a crime, the location of such crime or the victim(s) of such crime; or the identity, description, location of the perpetrator of such crime". (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

26. S0756: Reduces the health-insurance utilization review period of time from 72 hours to 24 hours in the case of urgeny/emergency services, and from 15 days to 48 hours in the case of non-urgent/non-emergency services. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Apr 11)

25C. S0552: "There shall be established within the department of attorney general a public corruption and white collar crime unit". Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

25B. S0556: Creates a new section of criminal law that defines crimes against the public trust. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

25A. H5465: Repeals the section of the law creating a workers' compensation investigations unit within the state police. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 11) Does one of the items in set 25 seem out of place with the others?

24. S0501: Joins Rhode Island to something called the "International emergency management assistance compact". Two interestion sections of this compact are Article IV, which reads "Any party jurisdiction requested to render mutual aid or conduct exercises and training for mutual aid shall undertake to respond as soon as possible, except that it is understood that the jurisdiction rendering aid may withhold or recall resources to the extent necessary to provide reasonable protection for that jurisdiction" and Article III section (a)(7) of which requires member jurisdictions to "provide, to the extent authorized by law, for temporary suspension of any statutes or ordinances, over which the province or state has jurisdiction, that impede the implementation of the responsibilities described in this subsection". (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 10)

23. H5410: The official description says this bill "eliminates the two-tiered time limit", i.e. creates a single time-limit, for direct welfare cash-assistance. Among other changes, a time limit of 24 months for certain programs is replaced with a time limit of 48 months. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

22. H5689: Assesses a 15% penalty on unemployment payments received because of fraud. Submitted at the request of the Governor (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 10)

21. S0026: Bryant University gets until July 1, 2014 to agree to a payment-in-lieu of taxes deal with Smithfield, or else it has to begin paying full property taxes on its campus. (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

20. H5413: Reduces the gasoline tax from 32 cents per gallon to 27 cents per gallon. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

Coming up in Committee: Forty-Five Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 9 - April 11, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Burrilliville 2, Glocester, Pawtucket 2, Portsmouth 2, Providence/Pawtucket.

Inobvious Priorities: S0648 >> Creates a new board to oversee licensing of massage therapists; H5445 >> Licensing of music therapists; H5853 >> Regulations on the treatment of circus elephants; S0676 >> Procedures for resolving "ownership of unclaimed property on loan to a museum" (primary sponsor is the Senate President); S0055 >> Adds the Senate Majority Leader to the Joint Committee on Legislative Services.

45. S0467: Requires parents/guardians of driver's license applicants under 18 years of age to take a course on "on the content of the driver education curriculum and the requirements for the graduated licensing for persons under the age of eighteen" developed by CCRI. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 9)

44. S0555: Tightening of regulations on precious metal dealers, including a requirement that a licensed dealer have an address in an area zoned for business, and that a $50 fee per branch be paid on an annual basis. (S Judiciary; Thu, Apr 11)

43. S0368/S0572: Rules for distinguishing independent contractors from regular employees. (S Labor; Wed, Apr 10)

42. S0293: All bidders on state, municipal or quasi-governmental contracts worth $1M or more "shall have an indentured Class A apprenticeship program" with "no less than fifteen percent of the labor hours worked on the project...performed by apprentices in these programs". (S Labor; Wed, Apr 10)

41. H5768: Retirement board disability decisions concerning police or fire injuries sustained on the job have to be appealed within 20 days of the decision. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 9)

40. S0599: Prohibits banks from charging overdraft fees for certain kinds of small transactions. (S Commerce; Thu, Apr 11) Listed because of it's relation to the payday lending issue.

39. H5901: Completes the process of moving the East Greenwich fire district into the Town of East Greenwich. (H Municipal Government; Wed, Apr 10)

38. H5889: "Establish[es], within the state temporary disability insurance program, a temporary caregiver insurance program to provide up to eight (8) weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, domestic partner, or to bond with a new child". (H Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

37. S0391/H5479: Directs the state's executive office of health and human services to apply for a Federal waiver, to able to provide publicly financed contraceptives to "individuals (who lack health insurance coverage of family planning services and supplies or have high-deductible coverage and) whose income is no greater than two-hundred fifty percent (250%) of the federal poverty level". (S Finance; Tue, Apr 9 & H Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

36. H5130: Adds Federal military installations to the list of properties eligible for payments-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) paid to their hosting communities. Note that PILOT amounts are computed as a percentage of taxable value, so this would impose an additional cost on state taxpayers, not simply redistribute existing payments. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 9)

35. H5022: Gives the governor the power to appoint judicial system magistrates, from lists of candidates created by the judicial nominating commission (Currently, magistrates are appointed by various top-level judges). (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 9)

34. H5759: Allows multi-stage lotteries for charter school admissions, and requires "geographic attendance zone plans" for charter schools that plan to operate as neighborhood schools. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 10)

33. S0674: Establishes regulations for privatizing municipal services. (S Finance; Thu, Apr 11)

32. H5167: Requires cities and towns to provide transportation to students attending charter or vocational school students outside of their city or town, if the transportation is necessary for them to be able to enroll. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 10)

31. H5428: Allows the director of the department of labor and training to pursue employment-law complaints on behalf of employees/applicants who become unavailable to pursue them on their own. (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 10)

30. S0128: Creates tax-credits for fuel vendors for installing facilities that dispense compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen, any liquid at least eighty-five percent of the volume of which consists of ethanol or electricity. (S Finance; Wed, Apr 10)

April 7, 2013

Ted Nesi Puts In Perspective Mike Riley's Remarks

Monique Chartier

With reference to the (regrettable) comments that Mike Riley made to the police on that Fateful Night, WPRI's Ted Nesi tweeted a couple of days ago,

Riley’s comments are still no match for Senator Ciccone’s immortal words, "You think you got pension problems now?" http://www.wpri.com/dpp/news/polit...

No match, indeed. (For those who might have missed it, explanation here.)