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Rhode Island Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union

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2011 Legislative Session

Legislation Issue Areas:

 

Criminal Justice

Pro-Civil Liberties:

Anti-Shackling The ACLU, the RI State Nurses Association, and RI NOW continue this year to combat the shackling of pregnant prisoners.  Legislation proposed by Sen. Rhoda Perry and Rep. Donna Walsh would ensure that the restraint of pregnant incarcerated women during transport, labor, delivery, and recovery, which is viewed as a major human rights and civil rights concern within the United States and the international community, does not take place in Rhode Island.  The ACLU has already provided testimony to the House and Senate judiciary committees, and is working closely with legislators to move the bill through.

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Civil Rights

Pro-Civil Liberties

Marriage Equality The ACLU continues to provide lobbying support to Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the coalition leading the way toward passage of an equal marriage bill.  There are several bills in the works this year, running the gamut from defining marriage as between a man and a woman, to allowing for civil unions, to providing full equal marriage rights.  In February and March, the ACLU testified in front of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, respectfully, asking legislators to make Rhode Island the sixth state recognizing equal marriage rights for all.

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Immigrants’ Rights

Anti-Civil Liberties

E-Verify. The year was off to a positive start as, on his first day in office, Governor Chafee signed an executive order lifting the requirement that businesses and the state use the deeply flawed E-verify program to check the immigration status of workers, but we are not done working yet.  Shortly after the executive order, the ACLU testified in front of the House labor committee on legislation which would reinstate the use of this program which, by the Social Security Administration’s admission, contains 17.8 million errors, and has been found to lead to workplace discrimination on the basis of national origin.   The ACLU will continue to monitor this legislation as the session continues.

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Open Government

Anti-Civil Liberties

School Committee Meeting Notices. As in past years, the General Assembly is considering several bills which claim to ease the financial burden on school districts by eliminating the requirement that they post notices of school committee meetings in newspapers and allowing them to post solely on the internet instead.  On March 3 the ACLU testified in front of the Senate judiciary committee, asking legislators to take into account the “digital divide” between households which have regular, reliable internet access and households which do not.  The ACLU is working closely with bill sponsors to find a way to meet both the needs of the schools and of all the individuals who have a stake in their local government.

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Discrimination

Ban the Box In March the ACLU testified before the House labor committee on H 5101, which would bar employer from asking about an applicant’s criminal history before determining whether or not they are a qualified candidate for the job.  The ACLU testified that, in addition to other provisions, the elimination of a question on job applications regarding past convictions, “the box”, would make it easier for qualified individuals who have e criminal history to find jobs, thereby greatly reducing the likelihood they will return to prison.

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Privacy

Pro-Civil Liberties:

Newborn Screening Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski has introduced an ACLU bill, S 0200, to clarify existing law regarding illnesses for which newborns must be tested.  In 2008 the General Assembly passed a broad-based law which not only allowed doctors to test for disorders which are treatable in early childhood and for which there is a benefit to early detection, but which permitted non-consensual screening of “other conditions”.  This language left the testing too wide open, allowing for genetic testing for conditions which a baby could be predisposed to but never contract.  S 0200, on which the ACLU testified on March 9, eliminates the civil liberties concerns with genetic testing and keeps newborn screening focused on the diseases which are treatable in childhood.

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Racial Profiling

Pro-Civil Liberties

Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act. Analysis of three years’ worth of traffic-stop data has shown that blacks and whites are twice as likely to be stopped by police, yet are less likely to be found with contraband.  The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act, sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry and Rep. Grace Diaz, would build upon current racial profiling legislation and address concerns regarding traffic stops, searches of juveniles, and immigrants.  Among other things, the act would prohibit police from asking innocent passengers for identification, or searching juveniles without suspicion of criminal activity, and would require police officers to document the reasons for a traffic stop.  On February 22, youth and adults spoke powerfully at a press conference about their experiences with racial profiling in hopes their words may lead to comprehensive legislation.  The ACLU and the many organizations which make up the Campaign Against Racial Profiling continue to work tirelessly and aggressively so that this bill, now in its sixth year, may soon become law.

Anti-Civil Liberties

Primary Seat Belt Law. The ACLU testified in front of the House judiciary committee on March 2 in opposition to H 5444 and 5449, which would make not wearing a seat belt enough of a reason for a driver to be pulled over.  Under current law, a driver may only be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt when pulled over for another reason.  While the benefits to wearing a seat belt are clear, the ACLU remains concerned that a primary seat belt law would only exacerbate racial profiling in Rhode Island, and encouraged the committee to refrain from passing such a law until comprehensive racial profiling legislation exists.

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Learn more about the distinction between these two components of the RI ACLU.