March 31, 2013

If Spiritual Battles Gave Off Sparks

Justin Katz

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I had intended to watch The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday. But life’s being what it is, these days, I couldn’t manage the 126 minutes required. And by the time Saturday rolled around, it felt more appropriate to turn attention toward the Resurrection, which took up only about the final minute of the film.

So, at the end of an exhausting Holy Week of sick children and the consequent sleepless nights, my wife and I turned toward more explicit entertainment, with Christian messages mainly in its metaphors. We watched the first installment of The Hobbit.

The interplay of the thoughts about the two movies brought to mind an impression I took away from the Portsmouth Institute conference on Cardinal Newman in 2010: We have a habit of insisting that the reality of God ought to make the world something different from what it is, and then we blame Him for not making the world what it is not.

Either God exists within the world as we experience it, or He does not. Waiting for crosses burning the sky merely postpones the decision to believe, and as demonic faces in the explosion on September 11, 2001, proved, if you haven’t already decided, it would be awfully difficult for a supernatural sign to be decisive on its own.

More specifically, though, during the various speeches and presentations of the 2010 conference, I remember having the sense that the speakers were fundamentally talking about the reality of spiritual battle. Somehow, it seems, the modern imagination has atrophied in its capacity to believe in that which it cannot see.

With all of our gadgets and the nigh-upon-disprovable reality of video’s special effects, we need the light show. If a priest's counsel of a severely distraught person involved bolts of energy and explosions, few would doubt. If the long process of liberating people from possession by evil ideas came as wizards’ battle of wills and the revivification of the healed victim came with instant physical change, none would question the reality of the evil and the good.

In all respects, the ailment and the fact of being healed might be equivalent, but we look to the visible battle as the mark of reality. So, since we don’t experience magic in the world in the same way that we can imagine it in a movie, it seems all too plausible that nothing else that we can’t visibly see in life exists, either.

Further, in fiction we have no trouble placing the material in partnership with the spiritual, or the magic. Inadequate as swords may be against trolls, they offer some protection from the mystical. A robotic bird can be one wonder of many in a quest of gods and monsters.

Yet, in life, when human ingenuity gives us tools to fight the forces of evil and corruption, as well as the harmful vicissitudes of the world, as we learn how to manipulate chemicals to affect physiology and psychology, we conclude somehow that all must be material. I’d suggest that bombs and bullets can subdue military enemies, but performing the spiritual feat of changing people’s minds might be more powerful, still. Antidepressants may ease the sensation that unseen and down-pulling hooks are buried deep in every follicle, but imparting meaning and hope to each others' lives can be liberating without the drugs.

In that regard, the quick presentation of the Resurrection in The Passion carried the message well. Materially, we see a naked man in a tomb with a hole in his hand, stepping forward to martial music.

If we know the Bible, we know that, having returned from death, Jesus' main action was to have some conversations. There is some mention of the special effects, as it were, in His final appearances, but the miracle exists mainly in His appearance — that He’s among us.

We’ve celebrated Easter, yet again, and life will go on as it has. As for light shows and magic, I’m increasingly convinced that the decision is not one of determining what it means that they do not happen, but of observing that they do.

Make Every Day Easter Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

-- Pope Francis -- Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness...and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! -- Pope Benedict XVI -- We have to let God's love break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires. -- Pope John Paul II -- Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.

March 30, 2013

Note in Response to the Providence Journal

Justin Katz

Because Providence Journal staff writer Lynn Arditi never made any attempt, of which I'm aware, to contact me or anybody associated with the Ocean State Current while writing her article,"Overtime reports inflated, say R.I. officials," a few moments of a Saturday morning are justified for response.

In the article, the Projo reports on the payroll controversy that we reported in three articles this week (here, here, and here). Arditi's failure to seek comment from — or even to name — the people whose credibility her article attacks is in stark contrast to the response that the story has gotten from all of the following local media sources, most of whom also contacted government officials for their explanation of the payroll numbers.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 29, 2013

Rhode Island's Unique Way Out of the Bottom Three

Justin Katz

For many months, Rhode Island has been exchanging places with two other states for worst, second worst, and third worst official unemployment rate in the United States. February marked the milestone of Rhode Island's breaking free from the dance. The Ocean State's 9.4% unemployment rate tied with North Carolina for fifth worst, behind California, Nevada, and Mississippi (all 9.6%) and Illinois (9.5%).

But the numbers deserve a closer look.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Both Sides of the Chafee Raises

Patrick Laverty

I have to admit, I'm torn on this one. The headlines and many people are screaming because Gov. Chafee wants to give two 3% raises to his cabinet members, just six months apart. Yeah, he wants to give more than a 6% raise, in less than a year to directors already making well into the six-figures. How dare he!

Additionally, last year the Governor balked at giving URI faculty raises.

In April, Chafee denounced the faculty raises, saying they were inappropriate “at a time when Rhode Islanders are struggling and when other state employees are making a daily sacrifice to help the state remain fiscally healthy.”

But let's be fair and look at some more facts. These directors haven't had a raise since 2002. Yes, yes, they make six-figures, but if you want to have good people in the jobs, you need to at least pay appropriately. We're talking about fourteen people and the total given in both raises to the directors would be $111,590. Of course not a drop in the bucket, but also it wouldn't be unreasonable to call this the cost of doing business.

Lastly, also mentioned in the article is that the directors have been doing a much better job at meeting their assigned budgets. For the first time in a while, no supplemental budget is required. Ok, so maybe a response to that is "staying within their budget is their job, we're going to reward them for doing their job?" Well, yeah. Do we all think that we have to go "over and above" every year in order to justify any pay increase in our job each year?

I just keep going back to the lack of raises for the last eleven years. That sounds crazy to me. But I get that it's been lean times since then. Is it time to give these people an increase? Maybe a single 3% increase for the year is more appropriate? What do you think?

Clarification: The *positions* have not been given a raise in eleven years. The current set of directors have not been in the positions for that long.

Fish on Fridays

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

Slightly edited re-post of an April 6, 2007 original.

What Dan Harrop Halted

Justin Katz

Following the announcement of Dan Harrop's withdrawal as a candidate in the contentious race for Rhode Island Republican Party chairman, some question arose as to the move's significance. The evening before, the RIGOP's Credentials Committee had ruled to dismiss Harrop's complaints about registration irregularities in a prior vote that he lost by one and that was deemed invalid at the State Central Committee meeting last week, but reinstated by party leadership on Sunday.

With the announcement of that ruling yesterday morning, many in the news media concluded that the issue had been settled, making Harrop's withdrawal in the evening largely without effect.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 28, 2013

Dan Harrop Concedes in Race for RIGOP Chair

Justin Katz

In a statement provided to the Ocean State Current, Dr. Dan Harrop of Providence announces that he has decided to bring his campaign for chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party to a close.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

"GOP Credentials Committee Determines Qualification of Voters at State Committee Meeting"

Monique Chartier

Further to their convention (meeting?) last week which culminated in a very close election for chair and an honest process error, the RIGOP just released the following statement, entitled as above.

Warwick: Last night the Credentials Committee of the Rhode Island Republican Party met to hear a petition to disqualify both the process and some of the voters involved in the March 21, 2013election for new state party officers. Dr. Daniel Harrop III, a candidate for State Party Chairman, brought the complaint. Through his counsel, he argued that the process used at last week's State Central Committee was not in accordance with the Party’s By-Laws and that corrections to the voting roll that evening denied him timely access to the identities of voters. His opponent for State Party Chairman, Mr. Mark Smiley and his counsel, were also in attendance to oppose Dr. Harrop’s complaint.

Dr. Harrop’s complaint was heard by the eleven member Credentials Committee, ten of whom were present last night. The Credentials Committee also heard testimony from members of the RI Republican Party who had direct knowledge of the issues raised by Dr. Harrop’s complaint. After hearing the testimony, and summations by counsel to both Dr. Harrop and Mr. Smiley, the Committee went into Executive Session to deliberate the matter.

The following results were made public after the Credentials Committee adjourned. By a vote of 8 In Favor and 2 Opposed the Committee passed the following resolution:

We find that the event of March 21, 2013 was a Meeting, not a Convention, of the State Central Committee and that all voters who cast ballots were duly qualified to do so.

The significance of the Credentials Committee’s finding that the March 21, 2013 event was a “Meeting” is that different rules are imposed by the Party’s By-Laws for conducting “Meetings” and “Conventions.” Outgoing State Chair, Mark Zaccaria, will formally report these findings to the State Central Committee next Tuesday, April 2, 2013, when the Meeting of March 21, 2013 is resumed after having been continued that evening. . Absent any additional process between now and then, he will declare the results of the original vote to be valid based on these findings.

Government Employee Overtime About Equal to a 38 Studios Every Year

Justin Katz

The State of Rhode Island spent $89.6 million on employee overtime in 2011, according to payroll data acquired by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. The free-market think tank will make the individual payroll data for fiscal years 2011 and 2010 available next week through an interactive transparency Web site.

The average overtime payments of the 9,415 employees receiving at least some overtime in 2011 was $9,516, but removing those who claim relatively small amounts reveals some startling totals.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 27, 2013

RIGOP: Knock It Off!

Patrick Laverty

This story sounds way too much like the long car trips when the kids in the back seat get on each others' nerves enough to where the parent screams "Do I have to separate you two?!?" This might be necessary with the state's Republican party.

I'm sure by now, most Anchor Rising readers are familiar with the events that have transpired in the last week or so with regard to the state party's chairmanship election. Last Thursday evening, a vote was held and Mark Smiley received one more vote than Daniel Harrop. However, one more vote was cast than the number of checked in voters. The current chairman, Mark Zaccaria did what was probably the smartest move, and nullified the election and rescheduled a new vote for April 2. Then in the ensuing three days, he did some investigating and found out that the extra vote was legitimately cast and then reversed his decision, nullifying the nullified vote and declaring Smiley the Chairman.

Whether the actual result is correct isn't the point to me. This kind of decision reeks of some third-world, banana republic dictator election. The body is supposed to simply trust that this decision was made above-board and honestly by Zaccaria? Quite possibly, and very likely, it was. Again, this isn't the point. If we have that level of trust in one person, why don't we simply hand all the ballots to Mr. Zaccaria, let him go into a closed room and come out and tell us who won?

In my opinion, this is where Mr. Smiley should have refused the decision of the chair and insisted on the re-vote on April 2

Now, more accusations are starting to fly. A group that goes by the name of "Youth for the Future of the Republican Party" is trying to smear Mr. Smiley by referring to one of his advisors as a "bigot." Even worse, they're doing this anonymously. To the members of this group, you're doing no favors to the future (or the present!) of the Republican party. You're harming it. It is in extremely poor taste to bring these things out in the public. This is an in-family discussion, not something for public consumption. You are embarrassing yourselves and the rest of the party. Additionally, if someone wants to make a point like this, they should have the gumption to stand up in front of the body and make the statements to the entire group before the election! None of their accusations are new news. Bringing these out less than a week after the election really does reek of sour grapes and extremely poor form.

If Dr. Harrop is not behind these messages, he should come out and condemn them and ask the group to stop. They are not helping his image.

Lastly, Dr. Harrop is challenging that he was unaware of who the voters would be. According to an article in today's Providence Journal by Phil Marcelo:

In his complaint, Harrop argues he was never given a final list of who had registered to vote the day of the party’s state central committee election.
He pointed to Cynthia Fagan, a Coventry resident who, shortly before the Thursday vote, was allowed to cast a ballot in place of Virginia Soucy, a committee delegate from Coventry.
“We were never able to challenge her credentials [because] we did not even know she was coming or would be there,” Harrop wrote. “I cannot lodge a protest against the voting rolls if I do not know the voting rolls.”
I admittedly am not a member of the RIGOP, but I was previously. I was also a backup delegate for my home town. Maybe the rules have changed, but my understanding was that I could go to the meeting and vote if the person I was backing up was unable to attend. I was never aware of any deadline that the main delegate had to announce that he would not be attending the meeting and for me to fill in. That's all this sounds like.

I'm hoping that calmer heads will prevail and the party will decide to follow through on the original decision, to have a new election on April 2, and that it will be handled fairly and to a conclusion. At that point, the party will need to rally around it's new chairman and put past differences aside. If that's not possible, maybe they will need to be separated. The "opposition party" clearly can't do it's job if it is constantly battling itself. So RIGOP members, especially those that end up on the losing end of this chairman's vote, ask yourself what is more important, fighting with other Republicans or fighting to fix the state in a direction you believe in? We're going to need that answer very soon.

Addendum: In the comments below, Dr. Harrop does condemn the anonymous attack messages being sent. Thank you, Dr. Harrop.

Laundering and Medicaid: State Operations Have Incentive to Be Inefficient

Justin Katz

From the time she took a job with the State of Rhode Island in 1979 to 2011, Judith Andrade had worked her way up to regular pay of $37,091 as a laundry worker at Eleanor Slater Hospital. According to payroll data collected by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity she actually took home $76,320 that fiscal year, with overtime pay. The year before, her total had been $79,283.

In an article on the Ocean State Current, yesterday, Suzanne Bates detailed the dozen nurses and psychiatrists at the hospital making over $100,000 in overtime alone. The experience of Judith Andrade shows that it isn’t just the nurses who offer personal care who are able to more than double their listed pay at the facility.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 26, 2013

Government Authority and Respect

Carroll Andrew Morse

In case you missed it, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee had this to say, during a taped interview broadcast this past Sunday on WLNE-TV's (ABC 6) "On the Record With Buddy [Cianci]" and linked to by Katherine Gregg of the Projo...

[T]he media just gets themselves whipped up...who's the piñata of the day, who's the punching bag of the day. And the respect that used to be afforded to leaders [has] eroded across the country, not just Rhode Island.
The relationship between government and respect was also the subject of an email reprinted by Jonathan Haidt, a leading authority on the social psychology of politics, in his recently published The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion...
The enemy of society to a liberal is someone who abuses their power (Authority) and still demands, and in some cases forces, others to "respect" them anyway.
(I personally wouldn't limit that thought to just liberals, but I digress).

The important connection is that when Rhode Island's citizens (whether members of the media or not) think of state government, while they may not immediately think of authority being abused, they certainly can find ample instances of it not being well used. If you believe that Professor Haidt and his correspondent are on to something, then Governor Chafee should be aware that the lack of "respect" that he senses may say more about the government he leads -- and perhaps about his own leadership -- than it does about his critics.

Government Nurses Joining Quarter-Million-Dollar Club

Justin Katz

The Ocean State Current has an article up by Suzanne Bates (freelancing from Connecticut's Yankee Institute) detailing the sky-high overtime that some staff at the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital take home.

These numbers come to light every now and then — usually with just a glimpse because a nurse or two makes the top however-many list of state employees. The folks on the government side will typically throw up their hands and mumble something about being short-staffed and hemmed in by union rules and hospital regulations.

In the wake of Ken Block's waste and fraud report, however, two angles become more prominent: First, we now know that this inefficient labor expenditure is a regular feature of state government, year in and year out. It's not a temporary difficulty of an inadequate workforce and some contract language in need of renegotiation, but an expected part of the budget (even as the budgets are exceeded by millions of dollars every year).

Second, we're beginning to see that the way the hospital bills the taxpayer, by way of Medicaid, both disguises the cost and distorts the economics. With the federal government picking up a large chunk of the tab, and with union benefits (especially pensions) driving up the non-salary parts of employee compensation, the incentives of government are to tax more and give more away.

The numbers are outrageous enough, and — as we'll be making evident in the days and weeks ahead — they expand beyond just a single hospital or even a single department. But as government works its way more thoroughly into healthcare and every other aspect of our lives, these examples are a cautionary tale of the distorted incentives that will ultimately bring down any centrally planned system.

March 25, 2013

Harrop Will Continue to Challenge for GOP Chair

Carroll Andrew Morse

Philip Marcelo of the Projo has just tweeted that...

Outgoing #RI GOP chair @markzaccaria confirms @DanHarrop challenging party's decision to award chairmanship to @RIGOPMarkSmiley.
(Yesterday, the State GOP issued a press release, stating that the discrepancy between the number of delegates registered to vote and the number of votes counted on Thursday night had been resolved and declared Mark Smiley the winner of the election, based on his one-vote margin over Daniel Harrop)...
Mark Zaccaria, outgoing Chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party, today announced the results of detailed investigations into the voting questions that caused last Thursday’s election for his successor to be called into question. “The problem was that our source documents from the double check-in for voting showed one less ballot issued than we had in the stack we counted.” He said.

Subsequent review of those same documents and corroborating statements from all concerned have positively identified the one eligible voter who was correctly issued a ballot but whose name did not receive the second check mark to correctly indicate that he had been issued a ballot, Zaccaria asserted.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Eight Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 26 - March 28, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

14. Various proposed changes to campaign finance and expenditure laws; H5074 limits all campaign contributions to the General Assembly between January 1 and the passage of the state budget, H5187 limits campaign contributions from lobbyists between January 1 and July 1, H5385 requires disclosure of four year's worth of political contributions by anyone hired by the state, H5502 prohibits lobbyists from contributing more than $200 to any candidate who sits on a committee that the lobbyist appeared before and H5490 prohibits anyone who has contracted with the state for $5,000 or more for contributing to an officeholder responsible for that contract. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 26)

13. H5825: Limits the use of automated license plate readers to outstanding parking or traffic violations, identifying a vehicle registered to an individual for whom there is an outstanding warrant, identifying a vehicle associated with a missing person; or for the purpose of electronic toll collection, and creates other regulations regarding how data collected is to be maintained and used. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

12. S0441: Adds, to the section of the law allowing school committees to "establish joint purchasing agreements between and among themselves or with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees", a section allowing school committees to "to enter into agreements, trusts, contracts, consortia, and other arrangements among themselves and/or with any college or university, and/or with the Rhode Island association of school committees", expanding both the scope of who can be contracted with, and what can be contracted for. (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

11. H5380: Makes "statements, writings, gestures, or affirmations made by a health care provider or an employee of a health care provider that express apology, sympathy, compassion, condolence, or benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a patient...with the exception of the admission of liability or fault" inadmissable in lawsuits against healthcare providers. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

10. S0402: Establishes a program where employers can offer a prospective new hire 6 weeks of 24 hour-per-week training before putting them on the payroll, and the prospective employee won't lose unemployment benefits during this training period. (S Labor; Wed, Mar 27)

9. H5485: Mainly, a bill to raise campaign contribution limits in Rhode Island. It also caps the fine for not filing campaign finance reports at $2,000, and prohibits campaign expenditures by anyone who hits that limit, or who fails to file four or more reports. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 26)

8. S0754: Prohibits health insurance pharmacy benefits from having a "dollar limit" (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 26)

7. S0201: Prohibits medical health insurance premium rates for individual and and group policies from varying based on gender, excluding disability income, long-term care, Medicare supplements, specific disease indemnities and several other categories of insurance. (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 26)

6B. H5681: Requires a warrant in order to obtain the location information being transmitted by an electronic device. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

6A. H5180: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual under arrest. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27) This is the bill that was passed by both chambers but vetoed by the Governor last year.

5. S0639: Mandates that the state Board of Education create a "dual enrollment policy that shall allow students to enroll in courses at postsecondary institutions to satisfy academic credit requirements in both high school and...postsecondary institutions" where "funding allocated for that student shall follow the student to the enrolled higher education institution". (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

4. On Wednesday, March 27, the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the "Background, Implementation status and budget" of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange. Their budget request for the health benefits exchange in the Governor's revised budget for this fiscal year (all funded by Federal dollars) is a 30% increase over what was originally requested.

3. H5516: "A patient who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and is in need of a referral to a medical specialist shall have the right to specify the specialist to whom he or she shall be referred". (H Health, Education & Welfare; Wed, Mar 27)

2. H5802: "Not later than July 1, 2014, and thereafter, all heating oil sold in the state shall contain not less than five percent (5%) of a biobased product". (H Environment & Natural Resources; Tue, Mar 26)

1. H5342: 1) Repeal of the Caruolo act, and the addition of a governing requirement that city or town councils ratify school department contracts. (H Labor; Tue, Mar 26)

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Eight Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 26 - March 28, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Inobvious Priorities: H5278 > Labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms; H5280 > Standards for handling raw milk.

28. H5654: Calamari declared to be the state appetizer (H Health, Education & Welfare; Wed, Mar 27).

27. S0012: Father-daugther dance bill. (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

26. On Tuesday, March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear several bills on the regulation of the mortgage and property rental industries. S0547 (along with House companion H5512) contains this intriguing phrase: "The failure to present the mortgage assignment for recording within the time limits stated herein shall render the mortgage void, but shall not nullify the underlying indebtedness".

25. H5519/H5513: 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. The latter bill has a particular emphasis on deterring precious metals dealers from buying public property like streetlights and manhole covers from people who walk in off the street. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 26)

24. H5874: Prohibits recyclables from being deposited at the central landfill. (H Environment & Natural Resources; Tue, Mar 26)

23. H5331: An assortment of loosenings of criminal law, including the decriminalization of a first offense for shoplifting or driving without a license, and an overall change so that "a petty misdemeanor shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a criminal offense". (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

22. An agenda filled with changes to property insurance, long-term care insurance, life insurance and other kinds of insurance law. (S Commerce; Tue, Mar 26)

21. H5521: Prohibits the establishment of new check-cashing businesses in Providence within a two-mile radius of another check cashing business. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 26)

20. H5571 extends eligibility for expungement from first-offenders to persons who have "not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for a felony for a period twenty (20) years or a misdemeanor for a period of ten (10) years" when they seek expungement. H5328 allows persons convicted of up to six misdemeanors to have them all expunged. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 27)

19. S0511: Directs Rhode Island's public college and universities to create a reverse-transfer policy "to use credits earned at a four (4) year institution for an associate’s degree at a two (2) year institution". (S Education; Wed, Mar 27)

18. S0456: Defines five ways to commit the crime of residential mortgage fraud. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 26)

17. H5388/H5577: Establishes conditions that must be met, which go beyond the IRS regulations currently in use, for someone to be considered a contractor and not an employee. (H Labor; Tue, Mar 26)

16. S0092: Prohibits health insurance policies from requiring that "any alternative brand name prescription drug" be used prior to a brand-name drug that's "prescribed by a licensed prescriber". (Generic drugs can still be given limited preference) (S Health & Human Services; Tue, Mar 26)

15. The annual raft of bills on automobile insurance and auto-body shops (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 27):

  • H5263: No totaling a vehicle if it can be repaired for less than 75% of its market value.
  • H5522: Claimant gets to pick the auto-body shop; insurance company must negotiate with them.
  • H5797: "The automobile body repair shop shall document any agreement with a consumer whereby repairs detailed in an appraisal, and paid for by an insurer have not been made".
  • H5798: Repeals the section of the law requiring auto insurers to conduct "auto body repair labor rate surveys".

March 24, 2013

How's That Fraud Squad Doing? Let No One Be Exempted from Their Scrutiny

Monique Chartier

Very good editorial, entitled "Waste-and-fraud report", in today's Providence Journal.

Mr. Block came back with what was a first glance at the problem; he lacked the data to do a more extensive survey. But he found signs of serious fraud just below the surface — demonstrating that our elected officials and bureaucrats should better monitor the billions of dollars pumped into the system. ...

The report found Food Stamp money going to dead people and more than 60 inmates in the Adult Correctional Institutions. Some recipients were selling their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, or using them for such things as “mail order gourmet meals.”

Mr. Block found that people who requested more than three replacement EBT cards over a year were much more likely than others to have prescriptions for drugs that can be easily resold on the street, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. ...

The governor has organized a small fraud unit in the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, something long overdue and desperately needed.

(Side question about "replacement" EBT cards. If someone ... er, "loses" their EBT card and applies for a replacement, are the benefits, however much or little remains, on the lost EBT card transferred to the new card? Or has this become an illegal but handy-dandy way to considerably amplify the benefit received because the recipient can get a brand-new, topped off EBT card?)

So. What's happening with the Fraud Squad? Have they been given the green light and the information that they need to get to work? If not, why not? Every day that goes by that waste, abuse and abuse is not found and stopped means many tax dollars squandered, dollars that could go to genuinely necessary spending or, heaven forbid, back to the taxpayer.

One important thing to bear in mind as we sit eagerly on Fraud Watch. Whether "waste" or "abuse" or "fraud", the core of each term, the definition is a social program benefit distributed to a recipient who does not qualify for it. The waste or abuse or fraud must be swiftly identified and terminated across the board, no matter the basis for the disqualification. There can be no exception or exemption. Not even if it leads to potential abuse of those 666 by-pass numbers at the Department of Human Services.

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

March 23, 2013

Sharp and Important Contrast: Republican vs Democrat Handling of Two Election Results This Week

Monique Chartier

In case you missed it, this past week presented an excellent opportunity to watch RI Dems and Repubs handle election results.

> At the State House, Democrats discovered that [gasp] a committee had done its job and actually voted on whether to send a bill to the House Floor, resulting in an 8-0 vote in favor. They dispatched a hatchet(wo)man to nullify the result twenty four hours later.

> During their convention Thursday, Republicans found what was undoubtedly an honest process mistake during an election that resulted in an almost-tie. They commendably refused to certify the results.

Now, party names very much not withstanding, who is better at the "demo" part of democracy?

Playing With Numbers

Patrick Laverty

Baseball is a sport that is built on numbers. How many home runs a player has, how many strikeouts a pitcher has, his ERA or a hitter's batting average. Most fans understand these numbers, how to figure them out and generally what they mean. A hitter who gets a hit three times out of ten bats .300 (3/10).

Generally, the only way for a hitter to end up with a better batting average is to get more hits when he's up at bat. But what if there was another way. What if instead of having to get hits each time up, he could simply start subtracting some at bats. He decides to not count one at bat, and now he's batting .333 (3/9). What an improvement! He's a better hitter now!

Oh, that's not fair, you say? That's cheating? Ok, fine, let's go back to the 3 out of 10 thing. We're back to that .300. But now, when he goes to bat and doesn't get a hit, we just don't count those. He goes up to bat and makes an out for the next five times. Instead, we're going to just tell people that he held steady and is still batting .300. Isn't that great? In watching him, he sure hasn't looked very good, but the numbers show that he's still the same hitter. The numbers haven't gotten any worse, even though it sure feels like he's playing worse.

Does any of this seem to make any sense? If this is how baseball statistics worked, would the statistics really mean anything if we could play with the numbers this way? Of course not. Yet we still try to put some meaning on unemployment stats. Month after month, Rhode Island's unemployment numbers either hold steady or improve a little bit at a time, but it sure doesn't feel like it. It doesn't seem like there are more jobs available. But if you look just barely past the headlines, you start to see that there are fewer people even looking for jobs, fewer people on unemployment. They've either simply given up or they left the Rhode Island market and found a job elsewhere. Is that our economic strategy? Is that how we'll get the state out of last place in employment numbers? We'll just keep erasing our "outs" until eventually we're batting 1.000? At what point does this get turned around?

I guess in the meantime, our General Assembly can have twelve-hour debates on issues where everyone's mind is already made up and still not call a vote. We can submit bills on what should be the official mollusk of the state and play games with votes already cast and try some Jedi mind tricks in telling people that the vote that just happened didn't really happen. But maybe someday, we can reverse the trend and create an environment where all Rhode Islanders can find a job, instead of pushing them away to make our numbers look better. Batter up!

March 22, 2013

Mark Zaccaria: RI GOP Leadership Election Continued

Monique Chartier

Mark Zaccaria, whose tenure as Chair of the RIGOP was unexpected extended last night, issued the following statement this morning.

RIGOP Deadlocked on New Chair

Cranston: The State Central Committee of the Rhode Island Republican Party met in convention Thursday night to elect new leadership for the upcoming two year term. The convention was held in the Imperial Room, at Shriners’ Hall, in Cranston. Candidates and their supporters addressed the crowd of more than 200 Delegates and Alternates before balloting began.

After the voting the members of the GOP had a prolonged wait for results. This delay was made necessary by an extremely tight race for the position of Party Chair for the 2014 cycle. Dr. Daniel Harrop, of Providence, and Mr. Mark Smiley, of Warren, were the two contenders for that post. Following several recounts the results were inconclusive.

Raymond McKay, of Warwick, was the Parliamentarian for the meeting. In that capacity he offered the opinion that the voting for State Chair was invalid. His recommendation was accepted by outgoing State Chair, Mark Zaccaria, who gaveled the convention. By the time this decision was made many of the delegates had left the meeting and questions of both quorum and curfew were raised. On that basis the meeting was continued, rather than adjourned.

The convention was able to elect its remaining leadership for the upcoming term. These newly elected office holders will assume their duties at the adjournment of the state convention. They are:

Giovani Calise, of West Warwick – 1st Vice Chair

Michael Grossi, of North Providence – Treasurer

Eileen Grossman, of Cranston – Secretary

Danny Hall, of Warwick – 2nd Vice Chair

“We are confident we can hold a second vote for party leader as early as April 2nd so our newly elected State Chair can then make his way to his first RNC Meeting the following week.” Zaccaria said in a prepared statement.

Mayor Leo Fontaine Surprises FOX's Stuart Varney

Monique Chartier

... earlier this week on Varney & Co by not vigorously defending the social program that made Woonsocket the subject of that Washington Post article.

Don't miss the part where Mayor Fontaine holds up a state application for food stamps and points out that the last page of it is a voter registration form. (H'mmm, an attempt by government to create a subliminal correlation between social programs and how to vote in the next election?)

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

March 21, 2013

Selecting a New Republican Chair (and a Few Other Officers)

Carroll Andrew Morse

[10:22] The parliamentarian has ruled the vote invalid, and the Charimanship will be revoted on another night.

[10:19] Hall over Olson 109 - 75 for 2nd Vice Chair. Platform fails 95 - 85. Calise over Talan 112 - 68. Smiley over Harrop 94 - 93 BUT that's one more vote than the number of people checked in.

[9:57] Still waiting...

[9:15] Results coming soon, Mark Zaccaria is promising...

[8:32] Back online! We only have the at large delegates to go.

[7:50] Looks like I have to move...

[7:48] And we go to the vote. I need to figure out if I'm blogging from the table where the ballot box is supposed to be...

[7:47] Smiley will make this a full time commitment, more than 4o hours a week if necessary.

[7:46] John Robitaille is supposed to 2nd, but he's been delayed. Mark Smiley speaks for himself.

[7:45] Mark Smiley has a plan. Everything he does is well organized and well thought out, and that's what's needed to build our bigger tent.

[7:44] The GOP needs a closer relationship with the people of Rhode Island. "We need to build a bigger tent". The opposition has JFK Democrats and socialist progressives under the same tent.

[7:43] Barry Hinckley introduces Mark Smiley. Hinckley gets biggest applause in the room so far.

[7:42] Two things we need in a chair-- a fundraiser in chief, and a message that all are welcome under the big tent of pro-growth fiscal responsibility and limited government.

[7:41] Catherine Taylor gives the 2nding speech. 2014 is an opportunity for the GOP to gain in the GA and the Gen Offices.

[7:40] He understands what it is to be a candidate with the Republican label, in one of the toughest environments for a Republican there is. He knows where the party needs to go, reaching out to minorities and women, and helping to craft a strong economic message.

[7:39] Harrop is an accomplished fundraiser who's helped candidates throughout Rhode Island.

[7:38] The upcoming off-year elections are a big opportunity for the party to gain seats.

[7:37] Allan Fung steps to the podium to nominate Dr. Daniel Harrop for chair (endorsed candidate)

[7:36] Main event, coming up...

[7:33] Dave will make sure the chair lives a healthy lifestyle, to reduce the chance he will assume the position full time. In the meantime, he will do anything and everything else to help the party, with an emphasis on communications.

[7:32] A spontaneous floor demonstration of 3 floor signs for Dave Talan makes it way to the front of the room.

[7:30] Dave Talan speaks on his campaign for first vice-Chair. Proudly speaks of his 8th ward Republican little league team -- Allan Fung is a veteran of the little league.

[7:28] He's the candidate who will put the party in the best possible position to win in 2014. He won't let the opposition define us -- he's been an online specialist, will take the battle to the Democrats in the social media space.

[7:26] Gio Calise speaking: What does it mean to be a Republican? That's something we need to think of going into the next election cycle. We need to be the party of opportunity. Immigrants, people who grow up in poverty can thrive, when they realized they are not limited by government.

[7:24] Rogers: We need to make the future of the Republican party about our young people -- Calise will bring youthful enthusiasm to this role.

[7:22] Rep. Patricia Morgan was scheduled to nominate Gio Calise for 1st Vice-Chair, she's probably at a committee meeting, says Mark Zaccaria, Meg Rogers (recent Anchor Rising contributor) will stand in.

[7:18] Pat Sweeney is giving the nominating speech for Danny Hall. Barbara Fenton seconds.

[7:17] Phil Hirons just gave a nominating speech for Lester Olson, for 2nd Vice-Chair

[7:15] Arrived late to tonight's RI Republican State Central Committee, where a new chair will be nominated.

Same Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom at the Rhode Island Senate Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

This afternoon, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee will hear two same-sex marriage bills, S0708 which would put the question to a Constitutional voter referendum in 2014, and S0038 which would directly authorize same-sex marriage by statute. In terms of the guarantees of "protection of religious freedom in marriage", the bills are polar opposites. The referendum bill would create one of the most expansive religious freedom protection regimes associated with same-sex marriage in the country, covering not only religious organizations, but also non-religiously affiliated "small businesses". In contrast, both the House and Senate statutory authorization bills would create one of the nation's weakest freedom of religion in marriage regimes.

To begin, let's note that the Senate Bill directly authorizing same-sex marriage, S0038, as submitted, is an improvement over the version already passed by the House (H5015). The House bill would make Rhode Island the only state in the US to put conditions into an SSM law that religious organizations must meet in order to keep control over their religious doctrine...

15-3-6.1. Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. – (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States constitution and article I, section 3 of the Rhode Island constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms, as long as such policies are consistent with sections 15-1-2, 15-1-3, 15-1-4 and 15-1-5.
Civil law conditions for keeping exclusive control of religious teachings are quite the radical departure from any concept of "separation of church and state". S0038, on the other hand (if it doesn't get amended), lists no conditions that must be met, stating simply...
15-3-6.1. Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. – (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms.
The above language would place Rhode Island with a minority of same-sex marriage states, along with New Hampshire and Maryland, that make overt declarations about religious institutions retaining exclusive control of their own doctrine, as the SSM statutes enacted by most other states include no such statement. This implies one of two things; either the idea that exclusive control of religious doctrine belongs to religious organizations was in most places considered self-evident OR these other states are reserving the right to set limits on the "exclusive control" that religious organizations have over their doctrines.

With those options in mind, consider what Rhode Island's same-sex marriage advocates are calling strong protection, the language above and a second religious freedom clause in the proposed law...

(b) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 3 of 1 the Rhode Island Constitution, no regularly licensed or ordained clergyperson, minister, elder, priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination as described and authorized in sections 15-3-5 and 15-3-6 of the general laws to officiate at a civil marriage, is required to solemnize any marriage. A regularly licensed or ordained clergyperson, minister, elder, priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action based on a refusal to solemnize any marriage under this chapter.
If this section were to be stripped from the bill, either before being passed into law or at some future time, what would be different?

In the best-case scenario, the answer is nothing, i.e. nothing changes because Constitutional "separation of church and state" already prevents the state from ordering clergy to perform any religious actions -- implying, in turn, that the religious freedom sections in S0038/H5105 are only meaningful the event of a worse-case, where government has assumed a power to direct clergypeople in certain of their actions so long as there is no law saying it can't.

A number of same-sex marriage advocates in Rhode Island have actively opposed extending freedom of religion protections further than control of church doctrine and the activities of clergy, even though that is what most other states that have legalized SSM have done, i.e. expressly state that religious organizations, defined more broadly than houses of worship alone, cannot be legally required to participate in the solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage[s] that violate their religious beliefs. For example, a Projo op-ed written by Roger Williams Law Professor Leah Donaldson and promoted by Rhode Islander's United for Marriage took the position that...

H.B. 5015 already offers strong protections for those churches, clergy and religious organizations that have religious objections to marriage equality. Professor Wilson also neglects to mention the various exemptions for religious organizations that currently exist in Rhode Island law. Rhode Island’s anti-discrimination laws already state that they do not “impose any duty on a religious organization.” Additionally, Rhode Island’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects Rhode Islanders’ religious liberty to an even greater degree than the U.S. Constitution. While many could disagree that such broad exemptions are good policy, these issues are already addressed in Rhode Island’s General Laws, and nothing in H.B. 5015 would change religious protections.
However, it makes little sense to argue that a reaffirmation of what (we hope) is already certain, that clergy cannot be ordered to perform marriages by government is an important factor in the Rhode Island same-sex marriage bill, while simultaneously arguing that a clarification of something more ambiguous, services provided by religious organizations related to marriage celebrations, is wholly unnecessary.

To use the canonical example, even if you believe that the proposed SSM law in conjunction with existing Rhode Island law obviously disallows a lawsuit against a Knights of Columbus hall which refuses to host a same-sex wedding reception, clarifying this in the new law would be no different from reaffirming that the government cannot order clergy to perform marriages. Since the law is being rewritten anyway, no substantial burden is imposed by incorporating one more set of changes making clear that a Knights of Columbus facility cannot be sued over this issue -- if that is the outcome that is desired.

Meg Rogers: Abolishing the Master Lever Will Promote, Not Hinder, Democracy

Engaged Citizen

We, as a society, need to give deference to traditions upon which good governance is built, but, like corsets, manual typewriters, and LP records, the Rhode Island “Master Lever’s” time has passed. It is time to allow it to retire with dignity into the memories of our grandparents and public affairs’ historians.

Contrary to what some may say, eliminating “straight party voting” will not result in civil unrest, locusts or the plague. It will not hinder democracy—rather, it will promote it.

In an increasingly complex world, ending the Master Lever will remove a needless barrier to thoughtful voter participation. By removing it, you actually promote voter literacy because voters must pay attention to each and every electoral race and to each and every ballot question or referendum before them. In Narragansett where I live, many voters in 2012 chose the Master Lever for the Moderate Party, even though there were no Moderate Party candidates listed on our ballot. This is not working.

There are no reasons to continue this archaic practice. Please, do not keep Rhode Island behind the curve as we know the majority of states do not permit straight-party voting. Out of the more than 1500 bills submitted before you this legislative session, this one is truly a “no brainer.” Please pass this bill and get back to the business of helping business, and restoring our business climate so that people can work, live and thrive in our beautiful State.

[Meg Rogers is Chair of the Narragansett GOP. This is the testimony that she gave to the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee last week. Visit the Narragansett GOP Facebook page here.]

The Three Ts Are Proving to Be About Ruling Class Insulation

Justin Katz

What are Governor Lincoln Chafee's three Ts of economic development, again? Is it talent, technocrats, and tolerance? Or is it technology, tolerance, and twee ideological fashion? It can be so difficult to keep these gimmicky strategies straight.

This particular strategy is also turning out to be difficult to make work. In fact, it may just be a description of a handful of cities that chance made "hip," rather than a workable, replicable strategy for turning around any given city. Indeed — as should probably be expected when we give broad authority to powerful people to plan the society in which everybody will live — it appears that pursuing a "creative class" strategy tends to produce the sorts of communities that serve powerful people and the cool folks with whom they like to hang out.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 20, 2013

Adults Failed the NECAP...What Does It Mean?

Patrick Laverty

According to Kim Kalunian's story on, 30 out of 50 of the adult test takers received a score that wouldn't allow them to graduate from high school. At least on the first try.

However, what does that tell us? Does the correlation say that these people who scored poorly will not be a success in life? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of success. One might question whether being elected to the General Assembly is a "success."

But one of the troubling parts is when State Representatives like Larry Valencia and Teresa Tanzi come out with quotes that can be construed by the high school students to mean that the test should not be important. Valencia was quoted:

"I was good at math. I took trig, statistics, pre-calculus. I have a degree in chemistry. I think the test is very unfair. It doesn’t represent what the average high school student should know."
Ok, so Rep. Valencia thinks the questions are irrelevant. Has he gone around to ask high school math teachers what they think of the questions on the test? How about the committee that creates the questions? Or are his statements a little less-informed?

Also, Representative Teresa Tanzi said:

“As one of the many capable and relatively accomplished participants who scored ‘substantially below proficient’ on this exercise, I do believe this points to a problem with our state’s new diploma system.”
Problem with the diploma system? Any rational person can construe those remarks to mean that she doesn't think the test should be a requirement for graduation. At least, that is one of the points that the Providence students were trying to make with this event.

The question that I have here is whether people think there should be a minimum set of requirements in mathematics and reading comprehension in order to earn a high school diploma.

And don't forget about this little fact:

In 2010, over 60% of recent high school graduates enrolled at CCRI must be placed in remedial courses; most of these students will not earn a degree.
Our students are failing the NECAP and CCRI is telling us that our high school graduates need remedial work to even take a normal college workload. Yet, we have students and state legislators downplaying the importance of the NECAP. It would seem that the NECAP is at least a minimal indicator of student readiness for college-level work.

Yes, something is broken in Rhode Island's education system, but I really don't think the problem is with the NECAP requirement to graduate. Maybe the problem is with the teaching and/or learning.

In yesterday's GoLocalProv, there was an article about a student who didn't pass the math portion of the test on her first try. She felt she wasn't prepared by her school in Coventry for the questions on the test:

"We had a math packet in the summertime to go over and it wasn’t counted as a test or a quiz, it was an optional thing that you had to do,” she said. “I did it but on that little packet, I didn’t understand any of it. There was nothing about Algebra on the packet, there was only stuff about Geometry and there wasn’t anything you had to solve, it was all multiple choice questions.”

Gobin says her school went over the packet on the second day of class and then shifted its focus to Algebra II exclusively. When she took the test, she said, it included trigonometry and other subjects that her class is just getting to now, five months after the NECAPs were administered.

If all of that is true, that's a failure of the curriculum at the school. If the state's board of education and other leaders feel the questions on the test are relevant for students to know at the time of the test, then the school should adequately prepare the students for the test.

As many have now said, the best thing to come of all this is that people are aware of it and talking about it. There should be no quick and easy answers. We've known for some time that education in Rhode Island was falling behind and needed to be fixed. Maybe now with this new spotlight, we can find the true causes and get to work on fixing them.

General Assembly On Demand

Patrick Laverty

I try to be an equal-opportunity curmudgeon, but when the General Assembly does some good, it's only fair to point that out as well. Referred by a tip from Ian Donnis' twitter feed I found out that Capitol TV is now available online, both streaming and archived video on demand.

This is great for someone like me who doesn't have anything more than an antenna hooked up to my tv. I can't stand all the expensive packages that Cox requires. Thus with no cable tv, there's no Capitol TV for me. Until now.

That's the good news. I guess the bad news is even more people now have access to the events and shenanigans going on up there on Smith Hill. Even better is to watch on the night the budget is brought to the floor and those final waning days and ridiculously early mornings. I'll be enjoying those from my couch, with popcorn, sans cable tv.

Rhode Island Changed Last-Place Unemployment Partners in January

Justin Katz

The message making the rounds on Rhode Island's January employment numbers is that it represented a slight, if mixed, improvement, because the unemployment rate fell to 9.8%, the lowest it's been since early 2009. A large reason for that fact, however, is that a methodological revision by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics made more people disappear from the Rhode Island labor force than it did from the employment rolls.

Now, the January numbers show another large drop in the labor force, nearly 1,400 people, thus "improving" the unemployment rate, even though actual employment fell for the first time since September 2011. The reason is that only 681 fewer people reported being employed. That's quite a different picture from Rhode Island's new partner in last place for unemployment, California. The latter has continued to add employment, but people entering and/or returning to the labor force have kept its unemployment rate from going down.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 19, 2013

Students Get at least 4 cracks at Passing the NECAP Requirement

Marc Comtois

In light of the recent outcry over the NECAP graduation requirements, here are the actual requirements as published on the RI Dep't of Ed. website:

First Chance: Score 2 on first attempt (2 out of 4, 2 is partial proficiency) in 11th grade.

If they fail the first try, the student and his parents are then given a school-developed progress plan to follow and students are told exactly what score they must get in subsequent tests to show adequate progress (i.e. they don't actually have to even get a "2").

Second Chance: Re-take test in Fall of 12th grade. Score 2 OR SHOW PROGRESS TOWARDS PROFICIENCY (which means most students who scored a "1" on first try need to answer an additional 5-8 questions correctly).

Third Chance: Re-take a shortened test in Spring of 12th grade. Same requirements as 2nd chance (score a 2 or show progress).

Fourth Chance: After the second failure (ie; between the 2nd and 3rd re-takes), students can substitute scores from an approved list of tests (such as AT tests, AP tests, Accuplacer test, and others).

All of this occurs over a year following the first failure. I'm sure school departments will have remediation classes and other programs in place to help students satisfy the requirement. And parents could even take matters in their own hands and get their kid some extra help like a tutor or (for free) something like Khan Academy.

Who owns your stuff?

Marc Comtois

When is our stuff actually, you know, our stuff? Recently a stir was caused when cell-phone unlocking—the practice of enabling your cellphone for use on any cell network with any SIM card—became illegal. Now, with legislation pending in Congress to re-legalize(?) the practice, Kyle Wiens writes that we need to focus on “unlocking” much more technology embedded in other everyday items we supposedly own:

Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred.

The issue goes beyond cellphone unlocking, because once we buy an object — any object — we should own it. We should be able to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it … without asking for permission from the manufacturer.

But we really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Microwave ovens are a combination of plastic and microcode. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything we own.

This is a property rights issue, and current copyright law gets it backwards, turning regular people — like students, researchers, and small business owners — into criminals.

In a related story, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that the so-called First Sale Doctrine is viable when applied to purchasing products made for sale overseas and then re-selling them in the U.S. As reported by NPR:
The case involves a part of the copyright law that was aimed at so-called gray market goods. These are U.S. copyrighted products — from textbooks to watches — that are manufactured in other countries for sale there, then purchased and imported to the United States for discounted resale.

Supap Kirtsaeng, a mathematics student from Thailand, discovered that some of his textbooks were being published and sold in Asia for less money. They were identical to the textbooks he used at Cornell and the University of Southern California, except that they were much cheaper and bore an inscription saying they could not be exported. He got his friends and family in Asia to send him many copies of the books, sold them on eBay and made about $100,000 profit.

Needless to say, the publisher of the textbooks, John Wiley & Sons, didn't like that one bit. It sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement and won in the lower courts. Kirtsaeng was ordered to pay $600,000 in damages....Writing for the [Supreme Court] majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that to impose geographic limits on the first sale doctrine would make no sense. He cited statistics from retailers indicating that $2.3 trillion worth of foreign goods were imported to the U.S. in 2011, and many of those products were subject to copyright protection when they were made.

Automobiles, calculators, microwaves, tablets, personal computers — all may contain copyrighted software programs or packaging, and many of these products are made abroad with the U.S. copyright holder's permission, Breyer observed. To forbid their importation unless the copyright owner agreed would mean, in essence, that a car owner whose GPS, radio or carburetor was made abroad could not freely resell his vehicle without the copyright owner's permission. Therefore, said the court, goods, once sold lawfully — whether in the U.S. or elsewhere — can now be resold in the U.S. without the copyright holder's permission.

This all comes while Derek Khanna enjoys a mini-celebrity as a copyright reformer. Khanna was the author of the infamous House Republican Study Committee document that include, as Digital Trends calls them, the “three myths” of copyright:
1. Copyright was not created in order to guarantee that content creators get paid, as copyright reliant industries claim; it was created to “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” according to the U.S. Constitution. Khanna adds that the “purpose” of copyright “is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.”

2. Copyright is not, as some claim, “free market capitalism at work,” writes Khanna. It is the exact opposite: “a government-subsidized monopoly,” thanks to the massive, government-upheld penalties on those who violate copyright.

3. Copyright does not lead to “innovation and productivity,” writes Khanna. He argues that, instead, copyright policy has created “a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value.”

So we have a 100+ year old “Happy Birthday” and other interesting items copyrighted. All because the right entities are lobbying the right people.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 19 - March 21

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Johnston, Middletown 2

Inobvious Priorities: S0513 > Requires school districts to develop plans to promote purchases of locally grown fruits, vegetables and dairy products.

20. S0012: The father-daughter dance bill. (S Education; Wed, Mar 20)

19. H5579: Changes to zoning regulations intended to facilitate the development of "small wind energy systems". (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 21)

18. H5616: Requires the state's office of energy resources to "collect price, inventory and product delivery dates, including amounts and types of product sold, and other information which is necessary and material regarding petroleum products, natural gas and other fuels available for supply within the state from wholesalers and resellers of petroleum products". Submitted at the request of the Governor (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Mar 21).

17. The Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee will hear several bills concerning the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation on Wednesday, March 20. Two that stand out are S0314 which prohibits recyclables from being deposited at the central landfill, and S0728 which repeals the prohibition on the RIRC from studying incineration.

16. S0119: Requires the children of recipients of public cash and medical assistance to maintain a 80% school attendance rate as a condition for receiving aid. (S Education; Wed, Mar 20)

15. H5856: Directs the state Board of Education to create a policy for awarding academic credit for military training, experience and coursework at public colleges and universities. (H Veterans` Affairs; Thu, Mar 21)

14. S0662: Dissolves the Worker's compensation investigations unit of the Rhode Island state police. (S Labor; Wed, Mar 20) Several other bills on worker's compensation will be considered at this hearing.

13. S0125: For students attending "the East Providence campus of Bradley Hospital", "the child’s sending district or district where the child resides" and not East Providence "shall be responsible for payment to Bradley Hospital directly". (S Finance; Wed, Mar 21)

12. H5400: Extends a moratorium on licensing of new nursing facilities that was supposed to expire on July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2016. (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 19)

11. H5507: Prohibits employers from "from inquiring whether [a job applicant] has ever been convicted of any crime". (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

10. On Thursday, March 21, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold its advice and consent hearings on the appointments of George Nee, Shannon E. Brawley, Nancy E. Carriuolo, Roland Fiore and Jason E. Kelly to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.

9. H5434: Establishes a fairly lengthy list of "defects or omissions" that a mortgage agreement may contain and still be considered valid (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 19) Several other bills related to real estate transactions and mortgages will be considered at this hearing.

8. S0509: Strong presumption that school suspensions should be of the in-school variety, and a requirement that the State Education Commissioner to study whether school discipline practices disproportionately impact students "based on race or ethnicity". (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

7. H5536: Directs Rhode Island's public college and universities to intensify their remedial programs for incoming students, and to standardize credit and coursework that can be transferred between institutions. (H Education Welfare; Wed, Mar 20)

6. H5787: A one-sided limit (i.e. it applies to the city or town only) on "[L]egal fees pertaining to a labor contract entered into by a city or town", which "shall not exceed two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the value of the contract". (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

5. H5699: Terms of municipal labor contracts would not expire until a new contract was agreed upon. (H Labor; Wed, Mar 20)

4B. S0540: Among other things, charges Rhode Island's "Health care planning and accountability advisory council" with "calculating the annual Rhode Island total health expenditures to establish both a benchmark and growth targets", and specifies standards for "patient-centered medical homes". (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Mar 21)

4A. S0141: Instructs the state health insurance commissioner to monitor a transition away from the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island. (S Health & Human Services; Thu, Mar 21)

3. H5392: Exempts building which pass a fire-code inspection from future inspections for the next 10 years. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 21)

2. H5776: Repeal of Rhode Island's voter ID law. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 19)

1. Rhode Island's same-sex marriage bills; S0708 which places same-sex marriage on the ballot as a Constitutional referendum, along with one of the most expansive regimes for the protection of freedom of religion in marriage in the US, and S0038 which authorizes same-sex marriage directly by statute, along with one of the narrowest regimes -- perhaps so narrow as to be non-existent -- for the protection of freedom of religion in marriage in the US. (S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 21)

March 18, 2013

A Proposed Rules Change, to Restore the Democratic Process in the Rhode Island House

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a separation of powers system, the legislature is made to be the most powerful branch of government precisely because no one person is supposed to be able to easily dominate its proceedings. Rules of a legislative body are supposed to support this principle. Indeed, early on in the parliamentary manual used by the Rhode Island House of Representatives, the spirit of egalitarianism supposed to guide any legislature is expressed with wonderful clarity...

Sec 52. Equality of Members -- In public bodies, the equality of members is presumed. It would seem that for any democratic group to operate, acceptance of the principle of equality of members is essential. Unless that equality is recognized, there is no basis upon which it can be determined who or what number has authority to speak for the group and to make its decisions. Equality seems essential also to secure the accpetance in good faith of the decisions of the group.
Alas, a majority of Rhode Island legislators have somehow been talked into (or talked themselves into) believing that the equality of members is dangerous, and that they must give up the power they should have to participate in setting agendas for substantive committee actions, or else be overwhelmed by the volume of business they have to deal with.

Now, some legislators may sincerely believe that giving one person absolute control over the voting agenda, no exceptions allowed, is the best system of governance there is. But because some legislators believe in the efficiency of one-man rule does not mean that such a system can justly be imposed upon legislators who don't. For an assembly to be considered democratic, pathways that rank-and-file members can use to bring business before the body must be available -- even when the leader of the body is one vote (of many) opposed to consideration of a particular item. (If you want to be the one person who can block a bill, then there's a different office to run for, one that is directly accountable to the voters, and one where your decision can be overridden).

A pathway that allows any legislators to participate in agenda setting does exist in letter of the rules of the Rhode Island House of Representatives: the rule on reconsideration, used by Rep. Patrick O'Neill to call for a vote on the Ethics bill (which the House Labor Committee initially followed through on, before being told not to). In both the spirit of compromise, as well to clarify its use, I propose that this rule be slightly modified to allow a motion to reconsider to be used to bring a bill before a committee at a subsequent meeting...

(12)(f) Committee Chairs shall bring reports of committee actions to the floor no later than two (2) weeks following the committee votes thereon, provided that this shall not apply to the Committee on Finance, nor shall it apply to bills being held for further study under subdivision (e)(v). A committee member may move at any time while a committee is in session for reconsideration of any vote taken on the motions specified in rule 12(e)(i) through 12(e)(v) so long as the bill or resolution which was the subject of the vote remains in the possession of the committee and that the motion is made by a member voting in the majority. When a committee votes in favor of reconsidering a bill under this rule, the Chair shall place the bill on the agenda of the earliest meeting of the committee where the requirements of rule 12(c) can be satisfied. A motion to reconsider in committee shall not be debated.
This will alleviate the concerns about posting of bills and adequate notice before votes that have been expressed. Note also that this retains the principle that there's no debate on the motion to reconsider, so motions for reconsideration wouldn't bog down the meetings for any appreciable period of time (which is exactly why such motions are undebateable). Finally and most importantly, this proposed modification would allow quarter to Representatives who worry that they'll miss out on important backroom dealing and other perks of hanging out at the Statehouse if they are required to sit through the same meetings that regular citizens and conscientious legislators diligently attend, while restoring the democratic process to committee proceedings that the current House leadership is seeking to actively suppress.

March 17, 2013

Sarah Palin Flouts The Nanny

Monique Chartier

A friend remarked yesterday that Sarah Palin made some great points in her CPAC speech. Undoubtedly. But this was my favorite moment. (Apologies for the preceding ad.)

Click here for audience reaction in a double screen shot. Click here for an explanation which, of course, stars New York City's power-mad mayor. And a great rebuttal, involving Dr. Doom's conquering of the world, to the mayor's actions can be found here.

The Story of Rebecka and Jourie

Marc Comtois

The piece detailing "EBT day" in Woonsocket in the Washington Post this Sunday was sad and frustrating all at once. That's what made it a good piece. It showed how Woonsocket has come to rely on 12 days a year for its economic health: the first day of each month when SNAP EBT cards are "re-stocked" with money. It focused on a store owner who organized his business around the beginning of each month. It also focused on a young couple who relied on SNAP. This is part of the sad:

Rebecka and Jourie Ortiz usually ran out of milk first, after about three weeks. Next went juice, fresh produce, cereal, meat and eggs. By the 27th or 28th, Rebecka, 21, was often making a dish she referred to in front of the kids as “rice-a-roni,” even though she and Jourie called it “rice-a-whatever.” It was boiled noodles with canned vegetables and beans. “Enough salt and hot sauce can make anything good,” she said.

Late on Feb. 28, Rebecka came home to their two-bedroom apartment to make a snack for her daughters, ages 1 and 3. The kitchen was the biggest room in their apartment, with a stove that doubled as a heater and a floral wall hanging bought at the dollar store that read: “All things are possible if you believe!” She opened the refrigerator. Its top shelf had been duct-taped and its cracked bottom shelf had been covered with a towel. Only a few jars of jelly, iced tea, rotten vegetables and some string cheese remained in between.

Quickly followed by the frustrating:
For the past three years, the Ortizes’ lives had unfolded in a series of exhausting, fractional decisions. Was it better to eat the string cheese now or to save it? To buy milk for $3.80 nearby or for $3.10 across town? Was it better to pay down the $600 they owed the landlord, or the $110 they owed for their cellphones, or the $75 they owed the tattoo parlor, or the $840 they owed the electric company?

They had been living together since Rebecka became pregnant during their senior year of high school...

They made some of the all too typical mistakes: teen pregnancy, move in together, have another child on their already low income and all exacerbated by a recession where the low-skilled are first and worst hit. Their economic ignorance and inability to prioritize is displayed by their $110 cell phone bill and tatoo parlor debt. That won't help earn them much sympathy.

Yet, while they don't seem to really "get it"--and I don't want to give them a pass--society and the system certainly enable their naivete and ignorance. In today's world, having a cell phone is simply a given--well nigh a "right" in the eyes of many--and spending money on tatoo's is another norm, like getting your ears pierced used to be. That's what you spend your cash, your "extra" money, on. Food comes from SNAP.

However, despite these misplaced, even learned, priorities, it is also evident that they aren't satisfied with their current life. They seem to innately know that it needs to get better and they are trying to work and do the right thing. But it looks like they need direction.

The article doesn't mention if either is enrolled in the SNAP Employment & Training program like that offered at Family Resources Community Action in Woonsocket, which also offers financial literacy courses. (The center also offers direction in "Income Supports - Connections to public benefits and other financial support". My cynical side suspects this is probably a bit more popular than the get back to work programs). More troubling to me is that the article also doesn't mention if either have family support. Or if they are taking it. Or if the family of either are any better off in their economic literacy, for example. In short, are Rebecka and Jourie following the same path as their parents? We don't know and that is a bit of context that seems relevant.

Regardless of how they got to where they are now, the couple seems to be at a tipping point. They can either resign themselves to treading water, captured in the government "safety net" or they can try to swim to the real safety of self-suffiency by using the programs available to them. Let's hope for their sake and for their kids that they learn to swim.

Joyeuse Fête de la Saint-Patrick!

Marc Comtois

Why the French? Because I'm the great-great grandson of a girl from County Clare whose family immigrated to Quebec instead of America!

On the other hand, my wife's family came over from Cork straight to Boston....So Happy St Patrick's Day!

March 16, 2013

Candidate for RIGOP Chair: Mark Smiley

Engaged Citizen

On Thursday evening, the RIGOP will choose a new Chair. Mr. Smiley is the second of two candidates. Check out both Mr. Smiley and Dr. Harrop on this week's Newsmakers on WPRI 12.

Let me introduce myself, I'm Mark Smiley and I'm running for Chair of the RI Republican Party.

I've been the Warren Republican Town Committee Chair for 4 years and I am the immediate past President of the RI Republican Chair's Caucus. I served as the Chair to the RI Republican Candidate Recruiting Committee and I revived the Vetting Committee. I was also a member of the By Laws and Platform Committees.

We've often heard that our opposition is a "machine". We must become a machine also. What I've learned is that every part of our machine must improve. Some parts can only improve when the others improve. Giving a candidate the Education, Technology, Volunteer Support, and Financial Support will improve our Candidate Recruitment, as it shows them the commitment of our Party to them. Candidate Recruitment and Vetting will improve our brand and make it easier for voters to elect our candidates. Fundraising will improve as the quality of our candidates and messaging improves. Also, laying the foundation for the future by opening the resources of the RIGOP to the City's and Town's will allow the "Farm Team" to develop, an imperative to our success in the future.

Our messaging is a big concern. RIGOP messaging has been so bad that the media has been left wondering what we are about and the opposition has been more than happy to tell them. We must stop this and start speaking with one voice. We must define the issues we want to talk about. We must do the research. We then must vet them with the voters through phone surveying so that we stop guessing how the voters will react to them. Then we begin talking about our issues all at once. The media will be able to hear us, understand us, and all the voters of the State will begin to listen.

For more on each of these issues, please visit

Or feel free to contact me directly via e-mail:

Candidate for RIGOP Chair: Dr. Dan Harrop

Engaged Citizen

On Thursday evening, the RIGOP will choose a new Chair. Dr. Harrop is one of two candidates. Check out both Dr. Harrop and Mr. Smiley on this week's Newsmakers on WPRI 12.

I am writing to let you know that after much consideration I have decided to run for Chairman of the RIGOP. As we all know, Republicans have an incredible opportunity ahead of us in 2014. With 3, most likely 4, open state wide seats, weak Democrats in the General Assembly and demonstrated success on the town and school level, we must grasp this chance to put the RIGOP back on the map. We have great candidates and extremely dedicated grassroots individuals to help us reach this goal.

I hope over the next month to gain your support and your vote to be our next Chairman. I have spoken with many of you already, spoken to those who I hope to get involved again and have reached out to other like-minded groups that can help us attain the RIGOP’s greatest once again.

We all know that good candidates, good messaging and good branding are only marketed through money and it just so happens I have been successful at raising it over the last several cycles. Personal donations aside, since being appointing Chairman of the Finance Committee, I have assisted in raising over six figures for the RIGOP. Without money, we are not going to be able to do the basic fundamentals the party needs to do to improve its infrastructure. Specifically, we need to rebuild our donor database, we need to have the office staffed at all times, we need to be on the cutting edge of social media and we need to decide on one voter database system that all the candidates can have access to. Last year will be the last time we have to start all over after an election.

I have been in contact with the national party and they are in the process of reviewing what worked this election cycle, what didn’t work and how we must proceed to put our best foot forward. They have dubbed their effort “Renew.Win.Grow”…I believe we should do the same. Further, the national party is moving away from their previous “swing state” strategy, into a “50 state” strategy. We all know that Republicans can win in Rhode Island and now is our time to prove it! I have met with both the RNC Chairman and Co-Chairwoman while in Rhode Island and they have big hopes for our little state.

Please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience through email if you have any questions. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or my new website

I will continue my outreach through election day and I humbly ask for your vote for Chairman of the RIGOP.

Facebook: Dr. Daniel Harrop

Twitter: @DanHarrop

LinkedIn: Dan Harrop


March 14, 2013

What the Voiding of the Ethics Vote Can Teach Us (or "A Journey into the Phantom Zone")

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. A great many Rhode Island legislators, along with their minions, supporters and enablers, are confused about the necessity of holding bills for further study. The specific process that is used at the RI General Assembly conflates two ideas that are not inextricably linked.

That it can be prudent to delay action on a particular question until after a first hearing is eminently reasonable. That delaying action can only be done by making the Speaker of the House the sole arbiter of how long a bill is delayed, or if it is ever heard from again, is beyond unreasonable into the realm of the thoroughly stupid.

2. According to the rules of the Rhode Island legislature, any bill that is submitted is guaranteed just one vote in committee. According to the practice of the Rhode Island legislature, that one vote is usually held before the bill has been deliberated. Frequently, that one vote occurs as part of an en masse vote to hold all of the bills on a committee's agenda for further study.

3. Where does a bill held for further study (usually without deliberation) actually go? The text of the motion as described in House rule 12(e)(v) seems to send it to the full House: "a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study". The House legal staff, on the other hand, is arguing (both in person last evening, and in their remarks to WPRI-TV's Ted Nesi) that a bill held for further study stays in committee, because of the beginning of rule 12(f): "Committee Chairs shall bring reports of committee actions to the floor no later than two (2) weeks following the committee votes thereon, provided that this shall not apply to the Committee on Finance, nor shall it apply to bills being held for further study under subdivision (e)(v)".

Rule 12(f) goes on: "A committee member may move reconsideration of any vote taken so long as the bill or resolution which was the subject of the vote remains in the possession of the committee and that the motion is made by a member voting in the majority". However, the House legal staff argues that this rule does not apply to bills held for further study, because of the previous sentence of 12(f).

Got that? The leadership's logic is that, because of a sentence that says a bill is not to be reported to the full House, it can no longer be treated as if it is "in the possession of the committee", i.e. holding a bill for further study causes it to vanish into a mysterious Phantom Zone, not readily accessible to most of the members of the legislature, from either the committee or the floor.

4. Let's move next to the rule that specifies the process for moving a bill that's been held for further study back to committee. Oh, right, there is no rule for that. The House legal staff also told that directly to Ted Nesi: "[The Speaker of the House's Legal Counsel Susan Pegden] acknowledged that there is no way for the sponsor of a bill to get another vote on it once the bill has been held for further study".

Unsurprisingly, in the absence of a clear process, power has filled a vacuum in good governance and the Rhode Island General Assembly has fallen back to the crudest process there is. One man, the big man of the Smith Hill tribe, makes all the decisions. When support for the voiding of Tuesday's committee vote is offered on the grounds that "the rules matter", this is the rule being defended.

5. If you are believer in the idea that society needs a single leader to bring it discipline and that representative democracy is inherently unmanageable, you can skip the rest of this post. For the rest of you, the question is obvious: Why do rules and processes that send every bill to the Phantom Zone exist in the first place? More formally, what purpose is served by a mandatory process for holding all bills for further study, which results in the House Speaker alone to choose what bills will receive final consideration?

I challenge anyone (not in the group of people described in the first sentence of this item) to come up with a reason why the current process makes sense.

6. There is actually an easy way to fix this that 1) will allow legislators multiple committee sessions to deliberate and consider bills, and 2) should be acceptable to those with a deep emotional attachment to the idea that chaos will shroud the earth if bills cannot be held for further study, while 3) still allowing rank and file members the power they should have to make a real choice on all the issues referred to them.

Just specify in the rules that bills held for further study can be brought back before a committee for consideration either by whatever process is used now or by a majority vote of the committee members (in which case, the bill would be heard at the next meeting, after the posting requirement has passed). That's not going to create an unmanageable process -- so long as the Speaker and the Committee Chairs act in reasonable accordance with the views of their members, which is what they are supposed to be doing anyway.

In the end, if there is a cherished rule built into the workings of the Rhode Island legislature that every bill must be dispatched immediately to the Phantom Zone upon its arrival in committee, then to maintain an actual democratic process, there must also be a way for bringing bills back from the Phantom Zone that any member can initiate.

Are Bills Held for Further Study for the Committee's Benefit or for the Speaker's Benefit?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Paul Spetrini of GoLocalProv posted a story last night on the decision by the House Judiciary Chair to void the previous night's vote that would have sent an Ethics amendment to the full House that contains this item of note...

[Spokesman Larry Berman] added that Fox wants “more time” to review the bill.

“Arguments were made in favor of it, as well as those against it,” Berman said. “He looks forward to considering the merits of the legislation in the coming weeks.”

Note that the references are to the Speaker -- that's one person, not an entire committee -- needing more time to review the bill.

It certainly seems like permission from leadership is a requirement for this bill to be acted on in committee.


In the comments section, John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island notes that Speaker Fox wants more time to review a Constitutional amendment that is, word-for-word, the same as he voted for in 2010.

The facade that this has anything to do with substance, and is not a naked power play, is becoming nearly impossible to maintain.

We Have to Insist on Rules

Justin Katz

Rules of procedure are a sore spot for me.

For several years, now, I've been watching at the state and local levels (especially the local level) as laws and procedural rules have been distorted beyond recognition. On Monday, in fact, I presented a case in a four hour hearing before the Tiverton Town Council, making up the rules as it went, concerning a process for Charter Complaints. The Town Clerk had simply invented a new process that hadn't been done in the past and that wasn't described in the Town Charter.

Typically the lawyers' trick goes something like this: The law doesn't say what the people in office want it to say. It is therefore "ambiguous," and they can do whatever they, themselves, feel is reasonable.

A more extreme example is when the lawyers simply pretend the rules are clear and in their favor. That's the case in the argument of the legislative lawyer whom Ted Nesi cites in his review of how House Speaker Gordon Fox "nullified" a committee vote that he didn't like (ironically concerning the authority of the Ethics Commission over the legislature).

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Interview with House Judiciary Chair Edith Ajello, After Yesterday's Voiding of the Day Before's Ethics Vote

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yesterday's meeting of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Judiciary Committee began with the surprise move of Representative Christopher Blazejewski asking Chair Edith Ajello to void the reconsideration of a further study vote from yesterday that had resulted in a proposed Constitutional amendment on the Ethics commission being sent to the House floor. The Chair ruled that the passage of the Ethics amendment had indeed been out of order and therefore didn't count and, in response to an objection from Representative Doreen Costa, that the matter could not be discussed further at this meeting.

After the meeting concluded, I was able to ask Chairwoman Ajello what this suggested to people, about the role and process of committees at the RI legislature...

Anchor Rising: I've been writing about this subject for a few years, and a question that a lot of people in Rhode Island have is: does a Rhode Island committee in the House of Representatives have the power to pass a bill to the floor without the express permission from the leadership?
Audio: 13 sec
House Judiciary Chairwoman Edith Ajello: Yes.
AR: At the start of the day, when I woke up this morning, Representative Patrick O'Neill was a member of this committee, and it's my understanding that he no longer is. Is that correct?
Audio: 27 sec
EA: I heard that on the floor today.
AR: And as the Chairwoman of the committee, were you consulted on the decision?
EA: I was not....I did not ask that he be removed from the committee.
AR: The practice of voting for multiple bills, to hold them for further study. Do you think that's a good practice, and can the members of the committee be required to vote for all of the bills at the same time?
Audio: 1m 0 sec
EA: Nobody can be required to vote in any way. I think that holding bills for further study is a good way to keep them alive and make it very clear that bills are works in progress. We just heard a bunch of bills that all need amendments. 
The last section of the excerpt above finishes begins with a final question from me: "But might it be a better practice to hold them within the committee, rather than using what is a very unique thing to Rhode Island, to send them to the floor, to hold them for further study, rather than tabling them within the committee". In response, you can hear Richard Raspallo and Susan Pegden from the House Legal stuff jumping in to dispute the premise of my question. We'll take that issue in an upcoming post...

March 13, 2013

Rhode Island House of Representative Judiciary Committee Meeting, March 13, 2013

Carroll Andrew Morse

[7:30] One more: For the record, Reps still present: Ajello, Costa, Marcello, Almeida, Walsh, Martin.

[7:23] Testimony on the Master lever has concluded. On to a bill requiring board of canvassers to report on provisional ballots. Signing off, for the moment...

[7:20] Margaret Kane: Eliminating the Master lever requires voters to read the ballot and know who they're voting for. The current Master lever is an equal opportunity disaster for all parties, and the "programming" part of it cannot be fixed without throwing out the whole system.

[7:19] Mark Binder: Candidates should want people to vote for them as individuals.

[7:15] Sean Gately: It's a disservice that this bill has been held for further study. Chairwoman Ajello tells him that he is off-topic. Gately adds that getting rid of the master lever will do more for Rhode Island's image than calamari or gay marriage.

[7:11] Poll-worker from North Kingstown notes that a common case for people asking for a new ballot is mistakes concerning the master lever.

[7:08] Steven Tetsner: The flaws in the system we have is an insult to anyone who puts the energy into running a serious campaign.

[7:06] Matt Guerra: Master lever made sense for a mechanical voting machine, where you can see the results, and reverse the individual choices you want to.

[7:02] Bev Clay from OCG: She's seen ballots from West Greenwich that look the same as the Burrillville ballots. People don't realize what the master lever does. Mentions the issue of ML votes wiping out all votes in multi-candidate local races.

[7:00] Mike Puyana from the Rhode Island Tea Party -- Master lever discourages the informed and engaged voting that is central to democracy.

[6:58] Chairwoman Ajello has returned.

[6:57] Abel Collins: Representing the Sierra club and himself, he supports repealing the master lever. It doesn't add anything, but it does create confusion.

[6:48] Meg Rogers: The Master Lever should be allowed to pass into history like corsets and manual typewriters.

[6:46] Representatives for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Rhode Island support elimination of the Master Lever. Common Cause Rep reiterates that his group has been involved with gathering the empirical data showing confusion, and there's no good reason to keep it.

[6:45] Note: Now that Reps Ajello and Blazejewski have told the other Reps they can't vote without leadership permission, they've already left the room. And why should they stay? They're on the inside, and committee meeting aren't the place where decisions are allowed to be made.

[6:42] Rep. Craven is asking Healey if the evidence of confusion that's been demonstrated might make the master lever something could be challenged in court.

[6:39] Bob Healey says if there's a Master Lever on the ballot, there's a chance for confusion. If there's no Master Lever, there's no chance for confusion, and Ken Block's work has shown it would be wise to get rid of it.

[6:34] Lisa Blais from OSTPA states that repealing the Master Lever will make every vote count, and it should be passed out of committee and to the floor as quickly as possible.

[6:32] Of course, the vote is not binding. Which makes it no different from any other vote taken, before the committee seeks leadership permission first.

[6:31] Edith Ajello holds a show of hands of people who are opposed to their legislation. From what I saw, no one raised their hands.

[6:24] Comparison between partisan and non-partisan races in Burrillville was 131% greater on ML ballots than on non-ML ballots.

[6:23] More states have gotten rid of the master lever than have early voting (which RI is seriously considering).

[6:22] People are using the Master Lever to indicate their political philosophy.

[6:21] On one ballot, a person connected the lines for all parties.

[6:18] Block is going through all of the weird permutations of what can happen with the Master Lever -- 61% of people who voted "Moderate party" in Burrillville created no Moderate votes, because voters individually chose other party candidates in all races...

[6:15] Ken Block: In seven years of testifying on the master lever, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say we need to keep it.

[6:11] Representative from the SoS says his office believes 1) that people think they're answering a question of what party do you belong to when they pull the master lever and 2) it leads to undervoting in non-partisan races.

[6:08] Spencer Dickinson is describing his version of a master lever bill, and tying it to his top-2 gubernatorial runoff bill, because they would both have impact on third party candidates.

[6:05] But, Marcello says his rationale has advanced -- he's convinced by some of the work that Ken Block has done that the master lever creates confusion.

[6:04] OK, Master lever is up. Rep. Marcello introduces the bill; he says he's concerned that some people's victories are questioned, because of the master lever.

[5:59] Still here, waiting for the Master Lever issue to come up. We're still on the issue of whether the law needs to be changed, to specify that people in line to vote but outside of the polling place should be allowed to vote.

[5:44] Ooops. Ajello says she described the wrong bill. Hard to believe that someone who's been doing meetings this way for so long can't stay on the script. After all, we learned tonight that there's nothing else in a House Judiciary meeting, but the script.

[5:42] Ajello introduces the bill to let people in line with the polls close at 8, rather than "inside of the polling place" cast their ballots.

[5:38] Phil Marcelo reports the San Bento bill that makes mail ballot recounts difficult has been withdrawn.

[5:22] Moving on to several mail ballot bills, as we continue with Committee theatre.

[5:10] And now, after a naked display of discipline over democracy, the committee is discussing "elevating democracy" with respect to the early voting bill.

[5:06] And after the fake AG bill is disposed of, the committee votes to hold all bills for further study, with only Rep. Costa voting no. Rhode Island Democratic reps seem to think it's their job to rubber stamp whatever that leadership approves. Terrible day for democracy in Rhode Island.

[5:05] Rep. Costa objects. Ajello rules her out of order, because we have a hearing to conduct.

[5:03] Representative Ajello declares last night's ethics vote void.

[5:01] Blazejewski tries to undo last night's ethics bill vote.

[5:00] Roll called. O'Neill's name not.

[4:57] Chairwoman Edith Ajello has arrived and is in her seat. Rep. Michael Marcello, sponsor of one of the master lever bills is here also.

[4:53] Enough people in the room, that they are directing people to an overflow area. Maybe they'll be able to watch the meeting with Rep. O'Neill.

[4:44] Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal has just tweeted that Representative Patrick O'Neill has been stripped of his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

[4:34] OK, back to liveblogging the meeting at hand. There's already a full House in 313. Ken Block, Donna Perry, Bob Healey, Abel Collins, Mark Zaccaria among others...

[4:31] But the rationale for undebatability only makes sense if the people who voted it out of committee will be guaranteed an opportunity to send it again to the floor.

[4:29] That is the spirit of why the motion to recommit is undebatable.

[4:25] ...and when a bill is sent to committee, it (might) make sense to let the committee do its work on its substance, and wait until it comes back, before spending any time seriously debating it.

[4:20] To keep the process efficient, you want the folks on the committee to do the fine detail work. Again, in our ideal deliberative body, the committee is a smaller group, with a smaller list of responsibilities, so it makes sense to let them do the bulk of the work in drafting a bill...

[4:19] Ideally, everyone gets to say their piece and a vote is taken, and a decision is made with input from everyone.

[4:16] Imagine real people, with real constraints on their time in energy, who have to make real decisions, but in the ideal deliberative body...

[4:14] The motion to recommit is undebateable (as the Rhode Island Senate reminded us, several years ago). There is actually a reasonable logic behind this...

[4:11] While we're waiting, let's try an experiment in stream-of-consciousness writing, pondering uses and abuses of the motion to recommit...

[4:09] The bell calling Senators and Representatives to the floor is ringing. On the House side, they only have one bill to consider today, so their floor session should be relatively quick.

[4:07] Here's the whole agenda for today, starting with the no pretending to be the Attorney General if you're not bill.

[4:00] Good afternoon, from the Rhode Island Statehouse, room 313. I will be liveblogging today's House Judiciary Committee, where the bill to eliminate the master lever, among others will be considered.

Block Report: Food Stamps Abused For Oxy and Vike

Marc Comtois

According to the Waste and Fraud Report formulated by Ken Block and released in a redacted version by Governor Chafee this afternoon (pdf), there's a whole lotta Oxy and Vike on the market thanks to Food Stamps:

We performed a study where we looked at Medicaid drug utilizations for Vicodin and Oxycontin (and all of their various related forms). We chose these two drugs because there is a strong resale market for these drugs. In this study, we identified a pupulation of EBT recipients who the data suggest are selling their EBT cards on a monthly basis and wanted to see if their drug usage was statistically different from the Medicaid population at large.

We only looked at Food Stamp recipients who requested more than 3 replacement EBT cards in the timeframe of a year. The operating theory here is that anyone replacing thier EBT cards that often are likely selling their Food Stamp benefits for cash.

RI has 1,358 Food Stamp beneficiaries who requested more than 3 card replacements in the course of a year. Of those, 868 had at least one Medicaid drug prescription filled. There were a total of 155,948 Medicaid beneficiaries who had at least one pharmacy benefit.

When comparing the 868 Food Stamp beneficiaries who received Medicaid drug benefits, 149 had Oxycontin prescriptions (17%) and 234 had Vicodin prescriptions (26%). That is compared to 4% and 8%, respectively, for other Medicaid beneficiaries. As the report continues:
The difference in the percentage of the Food Stamp trafficking population receiving these prescriptions versus the entire Medicaid population's percentage of these prescriptions is significant and beyond statistically meaningful, suggesting a strong predictive link of fraud in one program leading to fraud in other programs.

Kicking Off the Office Pool on the Size of the Block-Report Scandal

Justin Katz

With Governor Lincoln Chafee planning a “media availability” at 2:30 this afternoon related to an analysis by Ken Block’s Simpatico Software to find waste, fraud, and abuse in Rhode Island’s social services programs, many residents are wondering whether he’s been hoping to hide something.

Governor Chafee has excused his early decision not to release the full report on the grounds that there is an investigation ongoing into the results, but there is much that he could tell us without jeopardizing official state police activities. Most significantly: What’s the total? What’s the bottom line for what the State of Rhode Island is losing to incompetent, inappropriate, and illegal activity?

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Man Bites Dog: A House Committee Passes Ethics Bill instead of Holding for Further Study

Marc Comtois

UPDATE @ 4:30 PM: Kathy Gregg at the ProJo tweeted out:

Hear that right? Did Speaker [F]ox just publicly remove J Patrick O'Neill from house judiciary after last nights ethics bill coup. Yes.
Thus does O'Neill become the object lesson for what happens when you move to vote a bill out of committee without Speakah Fox's permission. I'm sure Rep. Marcello hopes the "cloud of suspicion" doesn't cover him....

Maybe what Andrew said spurred something? Ted Nesi reports:

Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill got a taste of revenge on Tuesday night.

During what was looking to be an uneventful hearing, the Pawtucket Democrat apparently surprised House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Edie Ajello and managed to get the 13-member panel to pass a proposed constitutional amendment [pdf] that would restore the R.I. Ethics Commission’s power to police state lawmakers. Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, seconded O’Neill’s motion.

A spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox wasn’t immediately available for comment, and the vote hasn’t been posted online yet. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island and a longtime proponent of the ethics amendment, was shocked and elated by the sudden turn of events.

“They were intending to hold this bill for further study before Rep. O’Neill made a motion to reconsider,” Marion told “We were caught off-guard, but we’re delighted because now the whole House of Representatives is going to have to vote on the resolution.”

The bill’s sponsor – Rep. Mike Marcello, D-Scituate – was as surprised as anyone; he was actually out of the room when the committee voted.

“I’m happy the bill passed, but I’m somewhat concerned about the manner in which it did,” Marcello told “But a pass is a pass. I just hope the manner in which it passed doesn’t leave a cloud of suspicion as to whether or not it has the true support of the House.”

"Cloud of suspicion"? Generated by whom? Sheesh, even the freakin' sponsor of the bill doesn't know how to deal with the passage of his own bill without the prior receipt of the proper marching orders from leadership. I'm sure everything will settle down and we'll be back to "further study" in no time.

March 12, 2013

Moving Toward Abolishing the Lever

Patrick Laverty

The movement to abolish the master lever, or more accurately in Rhode Island, abolish straight party voting (SPV) seems to be gaining steam. A couple days ago, Andrew wrote about the majority of the House Judiciary Committee is also in favor. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 4:30, the committee will hear public testimony on the bill. If this is a bill that interests you, it might be a good idea to stop by and let the House Judiciary know what you feel on this bill.

However, some have questioned whether the master lever really hurts anything. Let's do a quick review. The point of SPV is to cast a vote for all candidates on a ballot who are a member of that party. In multiple cases, voters will cast a vote for a party that has no candidates on the ballot! In multiple cases, voters will cast a SPV vote but then vote for candidates in other parties on the same ballot! Why is that? Are they confused about how SPV works and what it means? If so, that's voter disenfranchisement and needs to be fixed immediately. The fix is to eliminate the option. The only other possibility is malice. They are either protesting or simply trying to cause confusion on their ballot. So again, let's eliminate the ease that someone can create this level of confusion on their ballot.

There's also the issue of undervotes. A SPV vote only goes to candidates who are a member of that party and running in a partisan race where parties matter. Many races on a ballot are considered "non-partisan", which means the candidates are not running for the seat as a member of a party. If a voter casts a SPV vote, any candidate in a non-partisan race does not get a vote, unless the voter specifically casts a vote in that non-partisan race. If the voter does not, that's called an "undervote."

Some will say that many people don't care about these races. They're often for things like school committee and many voters are there simply to vote for President or Congress. They don't care about the down-ballot races. But, looking a little deeper into the numbers that they've dug up over at, they found that on ballots that contained a SPV vote, 45% also had an undervote for non-partisan town council races. On those ballots that did not have a SPV vote, only 19% contained an undervote. In non-partisan school committee races, 31% contained an undervote without the SPV line marked while 58% had an undervote when the SPV line was connected.

That indicates people don't fully understand what the straight party vote is doing on their ballot. This hurts the integrity of elections in those non-partisan races. This is doing a disservice to the candidates in those races. The data bears out the fact that when Rhode Island joins the many others who abolished straight party voting that we will then have more true elections and a great deal of integrity will be restored.

Please consider stopping by the Statehouse tomorrow night and telling the House Judiciary to Abolish the Lever.

March 11, 2013

Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 12 - March 14, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. H5760: Allows all Rhode Island school departments to accept "donations, gifts and grants of money, equipment, supplies, materials and services, conditional or otherwise, from any state, the federal government, or any governmental entity or agency; or from any person, firm, association, foundation or corporation". (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 13) Right now, only Coventry and Woonsocket are allowed by the law to accept outside contributions. Rhode Island can be weird sometimes.

9. H5064 is a Constitutional amendment that increases representatives' terms to 4 years, with a term-limit of 3 consecutive terms for any one individual; H5105 is a Constitutional amendment increasing the terms of both Senators and representatives to 4 years, with a limit of 3 consecutive terms for any one individual. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

8. H5495: Constitutional amendment requiring a top-2 runoff election if no candidate for Governor receives a majority in the general election. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

7. H5525: Gives the Public Utilities Commission the authority to regulate "the display of objectionable content". (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

6. Following Tim White's WPRI-TV story on double time and a half for correctional officers during snow emergencies, it is worth noting that the Department of Corrections budget will be heard by the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 12.

5. H5575: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature would disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

4. S0029/S0282: 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. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Mar 14)

3C. H5040: Allows mail ballots to be used in a general election, without any explanation being provided. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13)

3B.H5683/H5565: Proposals to allow in-person early voting in elections for several weeks before the "traditional" election day (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13)

3A. H5672: Excludes mail ballots from an election recount unless evidence of irregularities is shown first, and prohibits review of in-person ballots from being reviewed for voter intent. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13) Submitted at the request of the Board of Elections and prime sponsored by William San Bento, who "won" an election where four different ballot counts produced results of 543-540, 543-543, 545-543 and 544-543. San Bento's response to this appears to be to limit recounts.

2. H5492: Constitutional amendment applying the code of ethics to the state legislature. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

1. H5778: Eliminates the straight-party option from Rhode Island election ballots. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13)

Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 12 - March 14, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

20. H5300: Creates an underground utility contractor licensing process (and fee) where, apparently, none currently exists. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

19. S0212: Allows "mobile and manufactured homes within a mobile and manufactured home park" to count towards a city or town's low or moderate income housing requirements. (Senate Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 14)

18. S0672/S0640: Prohibits local ordinances regarding "the location, design, construction, or maintenance of on-site sewage disposal systems and/or wetland setbacks or requirements" from being more stringent than DEM or CRMC regulations. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Mar 13)

17. S0501: Joins Rhode Island to something called the "International emergency management assistance compact", 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, Mar 13)

16. H5657: "All pupils in grades kindergarten through eight in all public schools in the state shall receive instruction designed to prevent the abduction, exploitation or sexual abuse of children". (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 13)

15. H5711 mandates that all higher education institutions in Rhode Island (no distinction between public and private is made) honor suitable "military training, experience, correspondence courses and occupations, and adopt a policy for applying those credits to veterans. {H5712, S0629} mandate that state licensing boards consider the "education, training or services completed by an individual as a member of the Armed Forces or Reserves of the United States, the National Guard of any state, the Military Reserves of any state, or the Naval Militia of any state toward the qualifications to receive the license or certification". Both bills submitted at the request of the Governor. (S Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs; Wed, Mar 13 & H Veterans' Affairs; Thu, Mar 14)

14. H5364: Allows the state to make a refund deal for "any financing leases entered into with the authorization of the general assembly" (no explicit mention is made of "bonds", "guarantee agreements", or "other obligations"), while "public corporations" could only refund various instruments of obligation if they had been issued "to finance the acquisition, construction, or improvement of an essential public facility". (H Finance; Wed, Mar 13) This bill has already been passed by the full Senate, so whatever it does, it goes to the Governor if it passes the House.

13. S0279: Requires all licensed healthcare organizations in Rhode Island to "establish a system for identifying patients or residents who could benefit from palliative care", where palliative care "includes, but is not limited to, discussions of the patient's goals for treatment; discussion of treatment options appropriate to the patient, including, where appropriate, hospice care; and comprehensive pain and symptom management". (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Mar 12)

12. H5184: "No public school official or public school employee shall display or distribute to any pupil any campaign materials...relative to any campaign for election to public office, nor shall the same be sent home with pupils". (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

11. H5251: Mandates "constant" electronic surveillance in all individual resident rooms and public areas of licensed nursing homes. (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 13) This line still strikes me as creepy: "Electronic monitoring in residents' rooms, bathrooms, and bathing areas shall be constant", even if the surveillance in the bathrooms and bathing areas is only required to be audio.

Coming up in Committee: Thirty-Two Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 12 - March 14, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

For the first time, the list goes to three parts...

Local Impact: Central Falls 2, One or a Few Big Employers.

Inobvious priorities: S0498 > Adds the executive director of the Economic Development Corporation to the Interagency Council for the Homeless; S0353 > Sets weekend fees for justices of the peace; H5395 > Golf carts allowed to operate on roads near golf courses.

32. H5775: The redefinition of the meaning of red, yellow and green traffic lights goes to committee for a second time. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

31. S0517: Adds a Division of Agriculture to the Department of Environmental Management. (S Environment and Agriculture; Wed, Mar 13)

30. H5322: No pretending to be the Attorney General or using the office's emblem, if you're not the Attorney General. (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 13) Is there a specific incident that led to this bill?

29. S0209: Adds the mayor of Newport and the town council presidents of Portsmouth, Tiverton, Jamestown, Middletown, and Little Compton to the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority (giving 6 of 9 members to the East Bay). (Senate Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 14)

28. H5450: Allows a telephone company to use wireless or VoIP service to meet the requirement that it be able to cover everyone in a given geographic area. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

27. H5454: "Notwithstanding any general or public law to the contrary, the [Public Utilities Commission] and the division shall have no jurisdiction or authority over wireless service". (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 13)

26. {S0093/H5454}: Changes to the Bristol County Water Authority, the most interesting of which are ones like "All actions taken by the board of directors must be in compliance with the Rhode Island General Laws 'Access to Public Records Act'...and the 'Open Meetings Act'", which basically make clear that the BCWA cannot claim that it has some nebulous not-quite-government status that allows it to evade requirements for conducting business in the open. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Tue, Mar 10 & H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 12)

25B. S0486: Knocks out a section of the law that says compensation for traffic tribunal magistrates "shall be determined by the chief magistrate of the traffic tribunal subject to appropriation by the general assembly". And replaces it with nothing. (S Judiciary, Tue, Mar 12)

25A. S0702: Promotes a position of family court general magistrate to a family court judgeship. (S Judiciary, Tue, Mar 12)

24. H5075: Lifts the prohibition on classified state employees running for state office. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 12)

23. Two committee agendas this week are filled with bunches of technical commercial regulatory bills; people with an interest in the insurance, real estate, design or banking industries may be interested in looking over the Senate Commerce Committee agenda and the House Corporations Committee agenda for Tuesday, March 12.

22. S0426: "The Rhode Island department of human services shall require all generic manufacturers whose products are to be provided to Medicaid recipients to engage in a competitive bidding process created by the department of health to ensure that it is providing Medicaid recipients with quality generic products at a competitively bid cost". (S Health and Human Services; Thu, Mar 14)

21. S0198: "Any emergency services system operated by the department of children, youth and families...shall direct families with children in need of behavioral health crisis evaluation to community-based settings unless the hospital emergency services are voluntarily sought by the family or child, or is deemed medically necessary by any involved party". (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Mar 12)

A Revision in Time Saves 1600

Justin Katz

In George Orwell's 1984, the protagonist, Winston, begins to notice the import of the revisions that he makes to news and history as an employee of the Ministry of Truth. No fact is so set in stone that it can't be made to look better through revisions of the past.

In the real world, nationally, as well as locally here in Rhode Island, the newspapers have been touting the lower unemployment rates. Somehow the massive revision of the numbers and change of the methodology have gone sparsely mentioned.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

March 10, 2013

House Judicary Majority Supports Eliminating the Master Lever. So They Should Vote to Eliminate the Master Lever

Carroll Andrew Morse

The weekly legislative review will start a little early this weekend.

On Wednesday, March 13, the House Judiciary Committee will hear several bills on removing the master lever (i.e., the straight-party option) from Rhode Island election ballots. For various reasons, the most important of these bills is H5778, submitted at the request of the Secretary of State.

Consider this: According to Ken Block's Eliminate the Master Lever website, there should be enough votes on the House Judiciary Committee to pass this bill...

House Judiciary Committee
Supports Eliminating the Master Lever?
Representative Edith H. Ajello (Chair)Yes
Representative Joseph S. AlmeidaYes
Representative Christopher R. Blazejewski
Representative Doreen Marie CostaYes
Representative Robert E. Craven, Sr.Yes
Representative John J. DeSimone (Vice-Chair)No
Representative Donald J. Lally Jr.
Representative Charlene LimaYes
Representative Michael J. MarcelloYes
Representative Peter F. Martin (Secretary)Yes
Representative J. Patrick O'Neill
Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi
Representative Donna M. WalshYes

...meaning that for H5778 to go before the full House membership, all that has to happen is for Judiciary Committee members who have said they support eliminating the master lever to vote for what they say they support. Neither leadership, nor anyone else outside of the House Judiciary Committee, has the power at this stage of the lawmaking process to prevent H5778 from reaching the House floor It only be denied a floor vote if the declared supporters of eliminating straight-party voting decide to let someone else decide the issue.

To fully understand this, consider how the vote to hold for further study is described in the House rules: a vote on "a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation that it be held for further study". A vote for passage is described similarly: a vote on "a motion to report the bill or resolution to the House with a recommendation of passage". Both actions result in the bill being reported to the House, the difference being that a bill reported with a recommendation for passage must be acted on by the full House while a bill held for further study, according to a express rule, need never be heard of again. The rules are murky on what can happen next after a bill is held, and the practice in the Rhode Island legislature has been to leave it solely to the leadership to decide if a held bill is returned to committee. But the leadership does not assume this power to decide a bill's fate and has no actual power to block any bill from reaching the floor (provided it has been submitted early enough in the session) until a majority of committee members decide that they are going to surrender their power to decide on a bill.

Make no mistake however, it is not the existence of the "further study" rule nor any other rule at the Rhode Island General Assembly that has made the open committee process subservient to decisions made behind closed doors. The real problem is that a great majority of Rhode Island really believe they must wait for leadership permission before they can vote the way they want to in committee on every single issue that comes before them. There is no rules change that can fix this; only representatives willing to act on the principle that making their own decisions is more important than following orders can.

So are there any Representatives on the House Judiciary Committee that would consider taking the radical for Rhode Island step of saying "let's vote on this" when the master lever bill comes up for consideration this Wednesday? I believe there are no less than three strong possibilities...

  • Representative Michael Marcello, the primary legislative sponsor of the abolish the lever bill, sits on the House Judiciary committee. If he hears nothing during its hearings to change his mind about the bill he sponsored, and thinks it has the votes to pass, it would be entirely appropriate for him to motion for this bill to be sent to the floor for consideration, rather than be held for further study.
  • The chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee is Representative Edith Ajello, also a supporter of abolishing the Master Lever. Perhaps someone can politely point out to her that a majority of her committee supports passage of this bill, and that it would be appropriate for her to send the bill to the House floor, rather than hold it for further study (assuming that she does not believe that part of her job as a committee Chairwoman to block bills that have majority support from her members, until she gets permission from elsewhere).
  • And if the powers that be don't want to take action on the bill immediately, Representative Doreen Costa is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. She (as does any member of the Judiciary Committee) has the right to ask that the bill be voted on immediately during Wednesday's proceedings, instead of it being subjected to further study, and she may be inclined to be less reticent about being the first one to stand up and say we should vote on this than some other Reps.
Despite what people who are complacent with the existing power structure may try to tell you, it will not lead to unmanageable anarchy if a group of legislators who are in the majority tell the leadership that they don't have to wait for permission to vote on a bill they support. That is, in fact, what they were elected to do.

March 9, 2013

Yowzah: RI Campaign Consultant Arrested for Alleged Campaign Violation

Monique Chartier

The campaign flyer at the center of this allegedly campaign law violation, and its dissemination at the last minute of the 2012 campaign, was such a nasty maneuver that part of me cheered when I heard that it has resulted in an arrest.

(Jim Archer, candidate for the General Assembly, was the target of the flyer.)

[James Archer's] complaint centered on a campaign flier and e-mails that appeared in mailboxes in Smithfield, just before the election. They displayed a police report on Archer’s arrest — along with the nephew of another 2012 Republican candidate — on a years-old vandalism charge involving ripped campaign signs that was dismissed by a judge in August 2007, after a three-day trial.

Archer, in his complaint, said the flier suggested he “lacked integrity.”

However, the nastiness per se of the flyer and its last minute distribution is not illegal. In today's ProJo, Kathy Gregg outlines the prospective violation of campaign law.

[Rob] Horowitz is charged with a misdemeanor violation of a law that says in part: “No person shall intentionally write, print, post, or distribute … a circular, flier, or poster designed or tending to injure or defeat any candidate,” unless the name of the person or organization disseminating the item is “conspicuously” displayed.

Oops, the flyers apparently lacked this information, conspicuously displayed or not. (Kathy helpfully tweeted a link to the law itself.)

At the same time, I'm curious as to what the trigger is for a campaign violation to lead to an arrest. I would have thought campaign law violations would have fallen on the civil infraction, not the criminal, side of the law book. Does this mean that the 237 PACS and candidates who have been hit with fines for not filing, or filing late, their campaign finance reports are all subject to arrest? Can a civil infraction lead to an arrest or did the lack of disclosure itself on the flyer push it into a criminal matter?

I am agog. Consider this an open solicitation for answers on these points.


Thanks to Brassband for pointing to the section of Rhode Island law that makes this omission a misdemeanor, as opposed to merely a civil infraction: § 17-23-3.

In fact, § 17-23-3 makes all of the following violations of Rhode Island's campaign law a misdemeanor.

§ 17-23-1 Signature and labeling of advertising in periodicals. – No person shall publish or cause to be published in any newspaper or other periodical, either in its advertising or reading columns, any paid matter designed or tending to aid, injure, or defeat any candidate for public office or any question submitted to the voters, unless the name of the chairperson or secretary or the names of two (2) officers of the political or other organization inserting the paid matter, or the name of some voter who is responsible for it, with that person's residence and the street and number, if any, appear in the paid matter in the nature of a signature. The matter inserted in reading columns shall be preceded by or followed by the word "advertisement" in a separate line, in type not smaller than that of the body type of the newspaper or other periodical.

§ 17-23-2 Signature of posters, fliers, and circulars. – No person shall intentionally write, print, post, or distribute, or cause to be written, printed, posted, or distributed, a circular, flier, or poster designed or tending to injure or defeat any candidate for nomination or election to any public office, by criticizing the candidate's personal character or political action, or designed or tending to aid, injure, or defeat any question submitted to the voters, unless there appears upon the circular, flier, or poster in a conspicuous place the name of the author and either the names of the chairperson and secretary, or of two (2) officers, of the political or other organization issuing the poster, flier, or circular, or of some voter who is responsible for it, with the voter's name and residence, and the street and numbers, if any.

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

March 8, 2013

Trust Chafee? You're Kidding, Right?

Patrick Laverty

My, how quickly Governor Chafee can change his opinion on things. First, on January 10th of this year, his office issued a press release that began:

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee Announces New Transparency and Accountability Initiative, Signs Supporting Executive Order

Providence, RI - In his continuing efforts to promote open and honest government in the State of Rhode Island, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee today announced a new Transparency and Accountability Initiative. The goal of the Initiative is to provide the public with an increased level of information regarding the operation and management of government, as well as ensuring the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Beginning today, Rhode Islanders will have access to a number of documents that have already been uploaded to the Rhode Island state government Transparency Portal ( Over the next 18 months (on a rolling basis), the state will continue to add financial reports, audits, forms, and other financial information such as contracts, grants and quasi-public agency expenditures.

"The people of Rhode Island deserve more and better information about the operation and management of their government," said Governor Chafee.

However, today NBC 10's Bill Rappleye reported:
Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Friday, he's learned of waste and fraud in the state's Medicaid system, and that the fraud involves food stamps too.

Chafee told NBC 10 during a taping of "10 News Conference" that he does not intend to tell the public about what he's found and instead working on closing the gaps that allow cheating.

Does not intend to tell the public? Wait, what? Can I re-read that press release? Lemme see, "Chafee today announced a new Transparency and Accountability Initiative" and "to promote a more open and honest government." Really? He was just joking, right?

In the News Conference video, Rappleye even asks Chafee "What happened to transparency?" to which Chafee responds, "You're heckling me here." I'm not exactly sure how a media member asking the Governor to live up to his own promise, less than two months old, can be considered "heckling." Not once during the pointed questioning did Chafee ever say that the public will be allowed to see the contents of the report and Chafee also stated that he is not trying to avoid embarrassing anyone in his administration by releasing the report.

Can someone please explain again those green and blue campaign signs we saw two years ago? "Trust Chafee" Are you kidding me? First he signs his own decree for transparency and then about six weeks later he refuses to release a report detailing fraud and waste of taxpayer money? This is baffling, to put it nicely. November 2014 can't come soon enough for this Governor's seat.

March 7, 2013

Rand Paul's Concerns are Valid -- But His Position Should Let Him Do More than Just Filibuster About Them

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. The idea of the executive branch of the United States government creating a kill list, or a capture or kill list, is not a question of whether the President can order the Armed Forces to respond to organized threats that cross into the United States. Targeting a foreign facility or foreign forces operationally engaged in violent conflict against the US where an American citizen may be may be working with enemy belligerents is a different problem from deciding to put individual names on a list of people to be killed, wherever the opportunity presents itself. It is the blurring of this distinction that makes reasonable Senator Paul's questions about the Obama administration's drone policy.

2. The kill or capture list further blurs a second distinction, the distinction between war and covert operations. They differ in significant ways. Anyone engaged in military operations against the people of the United States is subject to having hell rained down upon them. But once they surrender, individual identities don't matter, whether generals or privates are involved. Once they give up, names aren't checked against a list to determine who is to be summarily executed on the orders of the Commander-in-Chief. What the Obama administration has done by focusing on the killing of specific individuals is more like a covert operation than a military operation.

3. Covert operations present their own unique set of ethical challenges -- which is why they are supposed to follow at least one hard and fast rule; they are not to be carried out within the borders of the United States. Again, Senator Paul is reasonable in asking if the Obama administration believes, in effect, that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force allows the extension of covert operations to non-imminent threats within the United States.

4. Even outside of the borders of the United States, justifying putting an American citizen's name onto a kill list is challenging. Americans plotting to kill other Americans in collaboration with a foreign enemy (whether inside or outside of US borders) are guilty of treason. Treason is a serious charge, which is why it is the one crime defined at the Constitutional level in the US (Article III, section 3)...

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The intention of defining a particular crime at the Constitutional level was to make it very difficult for anyone in government to change or bend the rules for dealing with that crime. Skipping past the part about obtaining testimony by two witness to the same overt act in open court and moving right to placing an American citizen's name on a kill list definitely bends the rules for dealing with treason.

5. As a national body politic, we have to give some thought to what it means when our government appears to be more comfortable with killing American citizens by executive order than it is with actually prosecuting treason. Somehow, we've found ourselves with a political elite less worried about the ramifications, substantive and symbolic, of killing its own citizens without due process, than they are about having to make an argument that American citizenship means something -- and that its betrayal should carry a high price. (This is a long term problem not unique to the Obama administration; consider that such traitors as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen weren't charged with treason either).

6. However, it's not quite kosher for Senator Paul, or any other member of Congress to blame the current state of affairs on an uncheckable assertion of Presidential authority. The President is acting according to a Congressional mandate, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force...

(a) IN GENERAL.—That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
It is Congress that gave the President a very open-ended grant of power to use military force against "persons" who aided the September 11 attacks, including a mandate "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States" without any territorial restrictions. If Congress doesn't like how the President is executing this mandate, they should commence the process of amending it. Andrew McCarthy, who is about as hawkish as you can get on this subject, has several ideas for a more narrowly-tailored AUMF...
[A]fter a dozen years, the AUMF’s definition of the enemy needs overhaul. So, similarly, does its explanation of what force Congress is authorizing. Again, lawmakers need not address all the hypothetical situations in which it might be proper to target American citizens. But nothing prevents Congress from amending the AUMF to provide explicit protections for Americans suspected of colluding with this unique enemy. Congress could, for example, instruct that in the absence of an attack or a truly imminent threat, the president is not authorized to use lethal force in the United States against Americans suspected of being enemy combatants. Congress could also define what it means by “imminent” so it is clear that lawmakers do not endorse the Obama administration’s preposterous interpretation of that term.
Ultimately, the question that must be answered is whether we are going to live with an anti-terrorist AUMF forever, or whether it should be repealed at some time in the foreseeable future.

7. Finally, representative government has its origins in people assembling for an airing of grievances against the executive authority. Senator Paul's filibuster fits perfectly into this tradition, and he did get an answer from Attorney General Eric Holder on the question of drone strikes within the United States...

"It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no."
Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, on the other hand, in their particular criticisms of the filibuster, have chosen different a role for themselves, one that bears more resemblance to noblemen who see their station as closer to the executive than it does to representatives of the people who elected them.

March 6, 2013

A Literal Notebook Dump

Carroll Andrew Morse

To fill in some of the unplanned posting slack in these very interesting times we're living through, I present to you an actual notebook dump (with annotations). The underlined phrases are entries from my Anchor Rising dead-tree notebook, followed by a brief description of the posts they were (and still might) supposed to become. Meanwhile, some of the even bigger things going on in the world are being worked on, as fuller posts...

MJ & International treaties -- At the same time Rhode Island is considering decriminalizing marijuana, the United Nations is telling the Federal Government of the United States that it shouldn't let the states do this (Associated Press story here). There's potential for identifying some common ground, between folks that don't usually agree, about what makes government power legitimate. This is also an example to ponder about the degree to which treaties should or shouldn't be used to make law within the United States.

NLRB controversy -- You may have heard that the District of Columbia circuit court ruled that the President cannot make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board if the Senate is not in recess (Washington Post story here). Because of this ruling, the NLRB no longer has a quorum for its meetings. What you may not know is that a further petition has been filed with the Court, asking it to suspend any further action in a Rhode Island case that was ruled on by the vacated NLRB members. Details of the Rhode Island case (United Nurses and Allied Professionals [Kent Hospital] and Jeanette Geary) are available here.

Predictability post -- We know that policymakers, especially economic policymakers, like to cite predictability as a goal, e.g. Governor Chafee saying his administration has "created a climate of certainty, stability, and predictability" in response to the latest state unemployment figures. However, predictability really shouldn't be a goal in and of itself, especially when what seems to be very predictable is people dropping out of the Rhode Island labor force.

Immigration/Amnesty proposals -- According to folks who follow this issue closely, the latest talk about "comprehensive immigration reform" coming from Washington's political elite all begins from the assumption that an immediate amnesty will be step 1 with other steps to follow -- but in all of these deals, the immediate amnesty is all that matters (and maybe the real goal), and everything else is just window dressing.

March 4, 2013

Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 5 - March 7, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

10B. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees will hear large rafts of bills on motor vehicle law on Tuesday, March 5 and Thursday, March 7, respectively. {H5505, S0470, S0564} and S0355 toughen penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, H5779 for driving to endanger, and {H5379, S0565} for both; H5666, submitted at the request of the Governor, toughens the maximum penalty for driving under the influence with a child under age 13 in the vehicle, but allows the prison sentence to be suspended or deferred (currently not allowed); H5177 toughens penalties for hit-and-run offenses, while H5691 loosens the penalty for multiple moving offenses; {H5675, S0456}, S0218 and S0417 tighten laws on texting while driving . (Bills in curly braces are companions to one another).

10A. Bills to help cars enforce the law on their own. {H5149, H5338, S0563}/S0566 would add an ignition interlock requirement to the possible sentences for convictions for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. H5774 would replace license suspension for convictions for driving under the influence with the use of ignition interlocks (though fines and prison sentences could also still be applied as penalties). H5669 would require installation of a device prohibiting cell phone usage in the vehicle of an individual convicted of texting while driving. (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 5 & S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 7)

9. Bud. Art. 11: A plan to use $10M per year in municipal aid, for three years, to incentivize municipalities to transition their locally administered pension plans into MERS, and to create "Funding Improvement Plans" that receive state approval. (S Finance; Wed, Mar 6)

8. S0460: Increases penalties for crimes committed in association with "criminal street gangs". (S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 7)

7. H5603: Allows individuals "serving in a branch of the uniformed military services" 18 years of age or older to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 6)

6. H5343: Limits cities and towns which can participate in the statewide Municipal Employees Retirement System to those "that do not participate in any other pension plan or system". (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 7) Does this mean cities and towns are not allowed to join MERS if, afterwards, they would still have one or more pension plans outside of MERS -- or does it mean that they're prohibited from joining MERS, if they have a plan outside now?

5. H5204: Requires all licensed healthcare organizations in Rhode Island to "establish a system for identifying patients or residents who could benefit from palliative care", where palliative care "includes, but is not limited to, discussions of the patient's goals for treatment; discussion of treatment options appropriate to the patient, including, where appropriate, hospice care; and comprehensive pain and symptom management". (H Health, Education and Welfare, Wed Mar 6) The question raised by this bill is what it is that the legislature wants to mandate that healthcare providers discuss, that they think is not being discussed now.

4. H5318: Adds, to the section of the law allowing school committees to "establish joint purchasing agreements between and among themselves or with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees", a section allowing school committees to "to enter into agreements, trusts, contracts, consortia, and other arrangements among themselves and/or with any college or university, and/or with the Rhode Island association of school committees", expanding both the scope of who can be contracted with, and what can be contracted for. (H Health, Education and Welfare, Wed Mar 6) This is at once the argument for and against "regionalization", for in a general sense that it can make sense for state government to encourage school districts to collaborate on certain activities, against in the Rhode Island specific sense that quirks in RI law and governing practices can act as impediments to sensible collaboration, with "regionalization" taking the form of the state saying to local governments that since we prevented you from doing what makes sense, we're now taking away your autonomy. This kind of change to the law can help the "against" dynamic from happening.

3. H5506: Extends binding arbitration for police and fire contracts to retirees. (H Labor; Tue, Mar 5) Would this bill have meant that the deal Angel Taveras made with Providence's unions could have been made subject to an arbitrator?

2. Bud. Art. 9: Lowers the corporate tax rate in Rhode Island, from 9% now to 8% in 2014, to 7.5% in 2015, to 7% from 2016 onward. This article also contains several other tax-code related items, including a long section on penalties for tax-preparers. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 5 & H Finance; Wed, Mar 6)

1. S0220: Bans use of cell-phones while driving. (S Judiciary; Thu, Mar 7)

Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 5 - March 7, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Coventry

Inobvious Priorities: H5101 >> no driving with a dog in your lap; S0008 >> warning labels that say cell-phones may cause brain cancer (for the record, the American Cancer Society's position is here); S0171 >> laundries must post prices of each garment cleaned.

19. One inobvious priority slides its way into the main list. H5775 redefines the meaning of red, green and yellow traffic lights. I'm not kidding. (H Judiciary; Wed Mar 6)

18. Bud. Art. 21: Converts a $4.2M loan used to obtain matching funds for the purchase of buses that was taken from a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority "revolving loan fund" into "a direct grant" that "need not be repaid". (S Finance; Tue, Mar 5)

17. S0341: An assortment of loosenings of criminal law, including the decriminalization of a first offense for shoplifting or driving without a license, and an overall change so that "a petty misdemeanor shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a criminal offense". (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 5) The bill currently posted on the GA website is unamended from the version held for further study last week by this same committee. Will the committee being dealing with a Sub A?

16. H5291: Bars anyone under age 21 from nightclubs. (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 6)

15. Bud. Art. 22/Bud. Art. 23: Places the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation in charge of reissuing $25M (initially) in historic tax-credits that were issued by the state but have since been "abandoned". (H Finance; Tue, Mar 5)

14. H5510: Municipalities that require that retiree health benefits be provided through Medicare would be required to reimburse costs of enrollment. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 7)

13. Various changes to criminal record expungement. S0094 would extend eligibility for expungement from first-offenders to persons who have "been convicted of not more than two misdemeanor offenses" when they seek expungement. S0338 would extend eligibility for expungement from first-offenders to persons who have "not been previously convicted of or placed on probation for a felony for a period twenty (20) years or a misdemeanor for a period of ten (10) years" when they seek expungement. S0423 allows persons convicted of up to six misdemeanors to have them all expunged. (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 5)

12. H5442: Prohibits Rhode Island employers from requiring proof-of-citizenship that is more stringent than Federal law "as now or hereafter amended". (H Labor; Tue, Mar 5)

11. H5344: Disability pensions from municipal or quasi-municipal entities would be reduced by any amounts that a pensioner earned from other sources. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 7)

March 3, 2013

One of the Few Manufacturing Jobs that We Don't Need: Gov Chafee Manufactures Out of Thin Air a Brand New Business Climate Factor

Monique Chartier

The headline of Governor Chafee's OpEd in today's Providence Journal summarizes his premise:

Gay marriage key to flourishing R.I. economy

But is it? Several analyses have placed Rhode Island at or near the bottom for business-unfriendliness. What criteria did they use to rank the states? Helpfully, in their December, 2012 report [PDF] "A Review of Rhode Island’s Business Climate and Cost of Doing Business Rankings", RIPEC has aggregated much of this information. From the tables on pages four, seven and ten, I compiled the criteria and list them after the jump.

Combing through these lists, nothing comes close to Governor Chafee's purported new criteria to measure a state's business climate.

The question itself of gay marriage leaves me viscerally unmoved either way. Conversely, the sight of Rhode Island's top general officer twisting the truth in the vital matter of the state's fragile economic viability so as to advance a key component of a politically correct but economically irrelevant agenda renders me exasperated and angry.

It is time to address Rhode Island's economy and unemployment rate (lower but still the third worst in the country) by legislatively improving the state's business climate. Creative fiction about what it takes to accomplish this only leads us onto a false and distracting tangent, keeping us further away from our goal - all the more so when the fiction is communicated with the prestige and natural amplification of the state's Executive Branch.

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

From RIPEC's "A Review of Rhode Island’s Business Climate and Cost of Doing Business Rankings" [PDF].

Criteria used by CNBC's "Best States for Business 2010-2012":

Cost of Doing Business - Workforce - Quality of Life - Economy - Transportation - Technology & Innovation - Education - Business Friendliness - Access to Capital - Cost of Living

Criteria used by Forbes' “The Best States for Business, 2012”

Cost of Doing Business - Labor Supply - Regulatory Environment - Economic Climate - Growth Prospects - Quality of Life

The Beacon Hill Institute “State Competitiveness Rankings”, which ranked Rhode Island 19th for competitiveness, uses a slightly different set of criteria:

Govt. & Fiscal Policy - Security - Infrastructure - Human Resources - Technology - Business Incubation - Openness - Environmental Policy

March 1, 2013

The Mysteries of Employment Statistics

Justin Katz

According to a news release from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT), there are actually 800 fewer people employed in Rhode Island than previously thought. But that's a good thing... because even more people gave up looking for work than we thought. Recovery!

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...