“People who simply possess small amounts to use themselves – in my view, that is not felonious conduct and should not be prosecuted and punished as such.– Rhode Island State Attorney General Peter Neronha
Welcome to The Uprising!, your weekly dose of social justice and progressive news.
1a. Peter Neronha
Rhode Island State Attorney General Peter Neronha announced new legislation that, if passed, would reclassify simple drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor. At least twenty other states currently do this. In New England, only Rhode Island and New Hampshire treat simple possession as a felony.
“It is time we recognize – like many other states have – that simple drug possession is not felony conduct,” said Neronha. “This common sense reform will reduce the impact that drug addiction or a conviction can have on a Rhode Islander’s ability to get a job, find housing, and turn his or her life around. And, importantly, we need to re-focus our law enforcement resources on stopping violent crime and drug dealers, instead of over-criminalizing users and those suffering from addiction.”
This is the first major policy decision from the Attorney General’s Office since Peter Neronha took over, and a positive sign for justice reform advocates.
1b. Simple Drug Possession
Those advocates for justice reform include Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) and Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, both of whom spoke at Nerhona’s press conference. Many others have offered their support.
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“The Rhode Island Public Defender (RIPD) proudly lends its enthusiastic support to Attorney General Peter Neronha’s thoughtful legislative effort to make the simple possession of small quantities of controlled substances, with the exception of marijuana a felony under current law, a misdemeanor,” wrote Rhode Island Public Defender Mary S. McElroy.
“The Substance Use Policy, Education, and Recovery PAC is pleased to stand with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha in support of the reclassification of simple possession of controlled substances,” wrote SUPERPAC co-chairs Annajane Yolken, Haley McKee, and Lisa Peterson. “Mass incarceration stemming from the ‘War on Drugs’ has destroyed lives and communities, and felony convictions create significant barriers to individuals in recovery long after their sentence is complete. Reclassification has already shown strong positive outcomes in other states. By taking this step, Rhode Island will show its commitment to supporting evidence-based treatment interventions instead of more of the same failed approaches.”
“The Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University strongly supports the legislation introduced by Attorney General, Peter F. Neronha to reclassify simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor,” wrote Marcela Betancur, Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “States that have taken proactive action of reclassifying drug possession have seen an average of 6 percent decline in their state’s prison population, as well as millions of dollars in savings.”
Other supporters include Eileen Hayes, President/CEO of Amos House; Ian Knowles, Program Director of RICares; Brenda Clement, Director of Housingworks RI; Jennifer L Wood, Executive Director of Center for Justice; Lisa Conlan, Executive Director of Parent Support Network of Rhode Island; Dr. Traci Green, Brown University and Boston University Medical Center; and Dr Josiah “Jody” D Rich, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.
2. Charlene Lima
Deputy House Speaker Charlene Lima lead the chamber into chaos on Tuesday when she tried to cut off Representative Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence) Black History Month speech, delivered on the House floor.
Representative Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence) interrupted Lima’s interruption, shouting, “Can you please allow him to speak?”
This turned into a back and forth between the legislators, culminating in Lima threatening Hull with law enforcement.
“Representative Hull if you keep disrupting this House I will ask the Sheriff to take you off the floor until you can comport yourself!” yelled Lima. “Sit down!”
The optics are blindingly bad. Both Almeida and Hull are former Providence Police Officers and are black. Threatening to have a black man hauled off the House floor by law enforcement during a speech about Black History during Black History Month boggles the mind. It doesn’t help that Lima was seriously condescending in the way she explained her actions.
“Black history does not [just] include Black people. Jewish people helped start the NAACP in New York. They helped with their hard work, they helped with their financing. If you look at the front lines of when Martin Luther King…” said Almeida, when he was cut off.
When some sort of order finally resumed Almeida picked up that thought, saying, “Black history was not done just by Black People. It was in fact done with and included white people…”
Here’s my attempt at editing Almeida’s words together without interruption:
3a. Sheldon Whitehouse
How can the public help fight climate change? a constituent once asked United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island).
Lobby large corporations.
I am not kidding.
The fossil fuel industry and the Koch Brothers spend a lot of money lobbying Congress, said Whitehouse, but, “they’re not that big, compared to Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Sales Force, Bank of America, Black Rock, Goldman Sachs, Coke, Pepsi, Ford, GM, you know. There’s a huge number of American companies that take climate change seriously that don’t deny any of it, that want us to stay in [the Paris Accords]…
“Put some pressure on them. They’ve done nothing in Congress because nobody noticed. Nobody called them out on it.”
The response of a woman in the audience encapsulated everyone’s thought.
“I mean, the corporations shouldn’t matter, right?” asked the woman.
It’s way past time we pass an amendment separating Corporations and State.
It was at this same public meeting that Sunrise RI once again had asked Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to support the Green New Deal, “the first ambitious proposal that we have seen from Congress that takes into account the scope and scale of the global climate challenge, and acknowledges its economic, social, and equity implications.”
Whitehouse, in promoting his corporate advocacy idea, suggested that people support CERES, “a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.”
When I looked up CERES, I was unsurprised to see that the Group issued a strong statement in support of the Green New Deal, unlike Whitehouse, who merely uses the plan to raise funds for his Oceans PAC.
3c. Janet Coit
During a Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture hearing on Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) Director Janet Coit‘s reappointment, witness after witness gave glowing testimony and the entire committee, including Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence), voted in favor of reappointment. Coit now can be expected to be officially reappointed after a full Senate vote next week.
But not everyone was happy. No LNG in PVD, and environmental justice group that has been fighting National Grid‘s $180 million LNG liquefaction facility in the Port of Providence in the already environmentally ravaged Washington Park area, was less enthusiastic. That area experiences the highest childhood asthma rates in New England.
Cristina Cabrera, who once headed up the Rhode Island Environmental Justice League, read a statement from No LNG in PVD campaign coordinator Monica Huertas opposing Coit’s reappointment. She prefaced that reading with her own remarks.
“There is no time for our communities,” said Cabrera. “We cannot have an LNG facility, a liquified natural gas facility, in the state of Rhode Island. We cannot clean brown fields and then turn around and shove toxic [facilities] in Washington Park and South Side.
“Children are constantly going to the emergency room for asthma,” said Cabrera. Walking in that area, said Cabrera, “I don’t see the parks. I don’t see the beautiful Rhode Island. Where are people living? Because if you go there you can’t even stand the smell.”
The Global Warming Solutions Act “would create a detailed, defined, transparent administrative structure that would use established state departments and administrative processes, to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.”
The “Ask First” Straw Bill “would prohibit a food service establishment from providing a consumer with a single-use plastic straw, unless the consumer requests such a straw.”
At a press conference to announce their support, ECRI noted the postponement of the State Planning Council Transportation Advisory Committee’s hearing to consider amendments to the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) which would allocate funds for bike and pedestrian infrastructure to roads and bridges.
“This victory is just the start. Preserving bike and pedestrian funding is only the beginning. We need to seriously invest in our bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure moving forward to build a safe network that makes biking and walking for transportation a reality. Biking and walking are truly zero emission modes of transportation,” said Sarah Mitchell, Board Chair of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition.
4a. Kathleen Fogarty
Last year the House failed to pass legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse because of pressure from the Catholic Church and the acquiescence of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston). This, despite the heart wrenching testimony of adult survivors of horrific abuse.
This year, many of those same victims had to go through the ordeal of testifying in public once again. And once again the Catholic Church opposes the legislation, but a new wrinkle is the history provided by Representative Kathleen Fogarty (Democrat, District 35, South Kingstown).
Fogarty’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee provided a first hand account of the behind the scenes maneuvering of Speaker Mattiello to kill the bill.
Fogarty framed her comments as a warning to newly elected Representatives serving on the committee. Last year, said Fogarty, Representative McEntee “put in a full session’s worth of work on this bill.”
On the last day of session, “it was late in the afternoon and Carol came in and she saw me and she screamed, ‘Kathy!’”
McEntee was “physically upset, crying and in tears because her bill got pulled. She worked a full year [and] voted on some of the Speaker’s other bills that he wanted to have through.”
The Speaker, said Fogarty, held the bill McEntee worked so hard to pass “over her head.”
“One of the reasons I voted against the Speaker, and why I’m sitting here now, is because of what happened on that last day of session last year,” said Fogarty. “I want everybody to know, I want people to know at home what happens up here.”
4b. Bernard Healey
Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin‘s lobbyist at the Rhode Island State House is Father Bernard Healey. Healey did not attend the hearings this year, but instead dropped off a 15 page document opposing the bill to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse.
“Bernard Healey dropped off his 15 pages earlier,” said Representative Fogarty. “He should be sitting in the front row, listening to these stories… It’s the least he could have done, is sitting right here behind us.”
There was applause.
“The fact the Catholic Church is not here, but sent a 15-page document speaks thunderous[ly],” said Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), who introduced the bill. “Their document clearly states that they are not in favor of this legislation, although it’s twisted and turns and tries to say it in many different ways, but I can’t, at this point, make much sense of it.”
Later, Jim O’Neill, who testified in favor of the bill closed his comments asking, “Church and state. I always thought things were supposed to be separate… The state has a responsibility. It’s for public safety. Why does this church basically have an office upstairs in this building? Why are we answering, with governance, to the church, from this building? Outrageous.”
5a. House 68 Special Election
On Tuesday, March 5, there will be a special election in Bristol and Warren for a new Representative from House District 68. The candidates are:
- Libertarian William Hunt
- Incumbent Kenneth Marshall, a former Democrat running as an Independent
- Independent James McCanna Jr
- Democrat June Speakman
The candidates squared off in a debate last Monday evening. You can watch the entire debate here.
At a debate things got heated at times, especially around the issues of abortion:
5b. William Hunt
House District 68 candidate William Hunt is a Libertarian, but as a Catholic, opposes abortion. Can one be both a Catholic and a Libertarian?
Not according to Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras and a close advisor to the Pope.
Melinda Henneberger, writing for The Washington Post notes that in 2014 Cardinal Rodríguez, “…preached against deregulation and ‘worshipping idols, even if that idol is called “market economy.” Rodríguez also called trickle-down economics a ‘deception,’’ and said the ‘invisible hand’ of the market steals from and strangles the poor: ‘We are no longer to trust the blind forces and the invisible hand of the market. This economy kills. This is what the pope is saying.’
“Some libertarians have described the pope’s economic views as naive and uninformed — and Rodríguez returned the favor. ‘Many of these libertarianists do not read the social doctrine of the church, but now they are trembling before the book of Picketty,’’ he said, referring to French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-seller, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, on the wealth disparities that have us headed into a new Gilded Age.”
6. Natasha Daigle
Lauren Niedel writes: “On Valentine’s Day, Natasha Daigle, a Burrillville High School junior, was in her English Class presenting her project on segregation in the days of the Roaring 20’s when she herself was confronted with racism. After the completion of all the presentations, a circle/slash “no” symbol over the n-word in large lettering was projected onto a 32×40 inch whiteboard in her classroom. Though it would have been easier to ignore this event, Natasha wanted her story to be heard…
This was easily the biggest story on UpriseRI this year so far. Warning, several of the racist messages Natasha has received are in this piece.
7. Joseph Shekarchi
Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is hitting some small businesses in Rhode Island in a way that makes it difficult to call them tax cuts. Instead, these businesses are seeing a tax increase, due to limits on the amount of state and local taxes (SALT) that can be deducted from one’s federal liability.
House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) has quickly introduced legislation to alleviate this problem, so that Trump’s tax cuts will remain tax cuts.
Andy Boardman writes, “While state lawmakers have leapt to respond to federal tax changes that affect high-income Rhode Islanders, one important change impacting low-income residents has been left unaddressed.”
“Buried in the TCJA was a subtle but alarming modification to the country’s largest anti-poverty program, the earned income tax credit (EITC),” writes Boardman. “Instead of expanding the EITC, which benefits low-income workers, President Trump and congressional Republicans changed the law to erode its value over time. Rhode Island’s EITC is set equal to a percentage of the federal EITC, so it too is being curtailed. To offset the EITC erosion that has already begun to impact low-income workers, Rhode Island lawmakers should commit to incrementally raising the credit every year.”
I hope Shekarchi will react with equal speed to the needs of low-income families as he did to the needs of small businesses not receiving the tax cut they wanted…
8. Rent Control
As Oregon becomes the first state to impose state wide rent control, a new report from PolicyLink, the Right To The City Alliance and the Center for Popular Democracy finds that rent control is the only policy tool that can provide immediate relief to renters facing unaffordable rent increases.
The report finds that if rent control policies were passed 37,709 Providence households would have their housing stabilized.
The Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA), a campaign committee of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), has crafted an ordinance that would establish rent stabilization in Providence. THA’s proposal “seeks to address rising rents in the city, which are the result of real estate speculation following the foreclosure epidemic, gentrification in neighborhoods like Federal Hill and the West End, and an upsurge in student rentals in neighborhoods from Washington Park to Mount Hope.”
9. Minimum Wage
Family members of Rhode Islanders living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, direct service professionals (DSPs), labor leaders, and legislators are calling on the General Assembly to pass legislation that gives DSPs a living wage. House bill H5338, sponsored by Representative Evan Shanley and co-sponsored by 48 other House members, including Democrats and Republicans, will move DSPs to a $15 minimum wage over the next two years. A companion Senate bill sponsored by Senator Louis DiPalma was introduced Wednesday.
Noelle Siravo spoke to me about her son, an adult male dependent on the care provided by DSPs. “It’s extremely difficult to manage him 24/7 so I look forward to all the support I can get,” said Siravo. The care providers “go above and beyond for the menial amount of money that they make doing this.”
10. Reproductive Rights
“It has become obvious that this administration will stop at nothing to take away basic health care from the people who need it most,” said Amanda Skinner, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.
“A significant proportion of our Title X patients identify as members of racial or ethnic communities that often face significant health challenges due to systemic inequities—this administration is manipulating laws and regulations to deny immigrants, people of color, and people with low incomes access to vital, lifesaving health care services.
“The gag rule prevents health care providers from telling their patients how and where to access safe, legal abortion and forces doctors and nurses to mislead patients who are seeking care. It is time to stop political, racist and oppressive attacks—no one should have their basic health care taken away. Our doors will stay open, and we won’t stop fighting for our patients and the care they need.”
“Settlement agreements have been filed in two cases brought last October by the ACLU of RI and RI Legal Services to protect the rights of special education students who were harmed by Providence’s three-week long school bus strike. Although some remedies have already been implemented by the Providence school district in response to the legal actions, the settlement agreements, filed with the R.I. Department of Education, establish additional enforceable school district educational and financial obligations to compensate the students and their families…” [continue reading]
12. The Bartholomewtown Podcast
- Rhode Island State Representative Brian Newberry (Republican, District 48, North Smithfield)
- Touring the Rhode Island State Archives with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
13a. College Hill Independent
“When politicians block constituents, this also means preventing them from from taking part in debates over local politics that only happen on Twitter, and from seeing their stances on issues they may not release formal press releases about. Free speech issues arise when politicians claim their accounts are their private property (as they ran the same accounts, sometimes with the same handles, as private citizens), even as they engage in political discussion on the site. The legal question of whether becoming a politician fundamentally changes the nature of one’s speech on Twitter has not been resolved…”
Read #Blocked by Alina Kulman.
13b. Brown University
Brown University student journalists Lucas Smolcic Larson, Julia Rock, Harry August and Jesse Barber knocked it out of the park with a special report in the Providence Journal about “invitation-only networking events, sponsored by a wealthy patron of the university,” benefiting the children of the rich and famous.
“It is bad enough that Brown provides legacy preferences in admissions — essentially affirmative action for the rich,” wrote Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and an expert on socioeconomic inequities in education, in an email. “Separate dinners for wealthy students send a terrible message about Brown’s commitment to inclusion.”
14. Vineyard Wind
Tim Faulkner from ecoRI News writes about the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) meeting where the Vineyard Wind project was approved over the objections of many members of the Fishing Industry.
“Can we actually get our heads around the fact that people we are for murdering children are our ‘leaders,'” tweeted Republican Charles Callanan. “My first instinct to anyone who would harm a child is to protect them with an appropriate response. ‘Cool moms’ don’t kill.’ @eg_gop @bridget4ri @justine4RI”
Representative Justine Caldwell (Democrat, District 30, East Greenwich) the target of Callahan’s message, reported the tweet to the police as a possible threat.
16. Gina Raimondo
The Public’s Radio interviews Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo.
- Political Roundtable: Raimondo on Budget, Abortion and Democrats’ Hopes of Retaking the White House
- Bonus Q&A: Raimondo on Jobs Numbers, Education, Superman Building, Beach Fees and More
17. Picture of the week:
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