The Uprising! May 17, 2019

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“Contrary to the rhetoric, women are not deranged murderers who would carry a fetus for 8 or 9 months before deciding to kill it…”

-Rhode Island Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown)

It isn’t surprising that the leadership at the Rhode Island Senate would want to kill 152A, the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), and it isn’t surprising that Senator Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) would be the person to scuttle the bill, because something like what happened in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon has happened before.

First, some context:

Committees at the State House almost never vote a bill down. The system is arranged so that controversial bills are vetted behind closed doors and when the bills are brought to the committee for votes, everyone knows how the vote will go. Had Senate leadership merely wanted to kill the bill, they would do what they always do, hold the bill for further study until the end of the session, then say to supporters, “See you next year!”

But this bill was getting a lot of attention from the media, and there was a large constituency rallying for the bill to be brought to the Senate floor for a real up or down vote. Further, not getting the bill voted on might hurt the political prospects of key, powerful legislators. So the system, as it normally is arranged, would not do.

Let’s go back about three years, to the last time the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down a high-profile bill with big political ramifications.

On June 15, 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard S3037A, a bill that would have allowed the voters of Burrillville the opportunity to vote on any tax agreements made by their town council with any power plant located in the town. The immediate effect of the bill would be to allow voters to decide on a tax treaty being negotiated between the Burrillville Town Council and Invenergy, which wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the town. Since the residents of Burrillville are very much against the power plant, they would have voted against any tax treaties with Invenergy, and without a tax treaty, there is a very good chance that the power plant would never be built.

This was a problem for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who is very closely allied with the Building Trades. The Building Trades are in favor of the power plant, because of the jobs it will bring. This was a problem for Governor Gina Raimondo, who had welcomed Invenergy into Rhode Island with open arms, promising to do all she could do to make the power plant happen. If the bill passed the Senate, the Governor would have had to veto the bill, something she did not want to do as in the face of rising public antipathy to the proposed power plant. This was even a problem for the bill’s sponsor, Senator Paul Fogarty (Democrat, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester), because though he was representing Burrillville, and supported the bill because of public pressure to do so, normally Fogarty was a reliable pro-union vote, and closely allied with Senate President Ruggerio. (As an aside, Fogarty declined to run for reelection in 2018 and voters chose Jessica de la Cruz, a Republican, to be their Senator. de la Cruz voted against the RHCA as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.)

Just as with the RHCA this week, the House had already passed the bill. Letting the bill die without a vote would threaten the reelection chances of Fogarty, because the people of Burrillville would hold him directly accountable. A way to kill the bill and save Fogarty’s political career had to be found.

Enter Senators Stephen Archambault, Frank Lombardi and William Conley Jr. The three Senators voted against the bill that might hurt Invenergy, but at the same time they praised Fogarty as a champion of Burrillville.

“I think that the people of the town of Burrillville are very fortunate to have you as their Senator and the work that you do for them,” said Senator Lombardi. “Quite frankly you listened to them and you put forth what you thought was a very favorable bill for your citizenry.”

“Senator Fogarty’s advocacy on behalf of the people of Burrillville on this issue was extraordinary,” said Senator Conley. “His heart and soul is behind this bill and whether you agree with one of your colleagues or not, it’s always that kind of advocacy in this building that often goes unsung. So it’s important to note that.”

“I want to echo the sentiments of my brothers and sister with respect to Senator Fogarty,” said Archambault. “He’s been here for you all along, he’s put in a tough piece of legislation, it certainly hasn’t made him any friends on one side but he did it because he cares. I think his actions speak for themselves.”

After slathering Fogarty with praise, these three Senators, with the help of others on the Senate Judiciary Committee, killed the bill, for reasons you can read about in my piece covering this hearing here.

As a result of their behavior, Archambault and Conley lost the endorsement of the Sierra Club. Conley still advocates for the power plant, working in court on behalf of the Town of Johnston to sell Providence Water to Invenergy by the truckload to cool the plant’s turbines. Ironically, some people still consider Conley some sort of an environmentalist deserving of praise even today.

The present make up of the Senate Judiciary Committee is not too different today than it was then. Lombardi, Archambault, Leonides Raptakis and Harold Metts are all still members of the committee, and all voted against the RHCA this week. Committee Chair Michael McCaffrey has moved up to Senate Majority Leader, replaced by Senator Erin Lynch Prata. Conley has moved off the Committee. Senator Donna Nesselbush was removed from the committee as retribution for defying Senate leadership. Senators Dawn Euer and Mark McKenney were added to the committee, along with de la Cruz as mentioned above.

The logic behind publicly killing the RHCA is not too different from the logic behind killing the Fogarty bill. If Committee Chair Lynch Prata could not bring the bill to a vote, she would look weak, and be vulnerable in an upcoming election. Bringing the bill to a vote, and having it killed by Archambault and the other anti-choice conservatives on the committee allows Senate leadership to preserve the status of their allies, while shifting the blame for the bill’s failure onto Senators considered to be occupying safe seats.

In short, Schoolhouse Rock lied to you.

Welcome to The Uprising!

1a. Archambault

Late Monday night Senator Stephen Archambault began the process of dashing the hopes of those who support a woman’s right to abortion by announcing on Facebook his opposition to the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA). Archambault, who claims to be pro-choice, was regurgitating the arguments of House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, who claimed in both the House Judiciary Committee hearings and on the House Floor that the RHCA goes far beyond merely codifying Roe v Wade and actually allows for what can essentially be called child murder. Most lawyers disagree with this, including Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha. Blake Filippi is a pro-life Republican.

Archambault introduced his own bill, which includes jail time and fines for doctors who perform late term abortions, much as had been suggested by Filippi in a rejected House floor amendment.

Stephen Archambault

During his lecture to the public preceeding his vote on Tuesday, Archambault framed his opposition to the bill in a weirdly personal way. He attacked the sponsor of the RHCA, Senator Gayle Goldin, without ever mentioning her by name.

“The Sponsor’s had a look at [my] bill for some time. The Sponsor, and some of the other folks that are proponents of this legislation, outright rejected my bill,” said Archambault petulantly. “They didn’t come back with any offer, any compromise. The Sponsor is actually in the paper saying, ‘I don’t support any amendments intended to water down the bill.’

“I don’t act rashly. I don’t act on impetuous thoughts,” continued Archambault, differentiating himself from Senator Goldin. “I don’t do things in a way that doesn’t take into consideration all the information I can before I make my decisions. I listen very carefully and I’ve thought about this issue in great detail. And I’ve looked very deeply at the contrast between my bill and the Sponsor’s bill…

“Boy, I really wish that we’d sat down and been able to talk about compromises to the bill. But I’m not the Sponsor. I’m just a Senator.”

Note to Archambault: Gayle Goldin is also “just a Senator.”

1b. Metts

Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) went into full Bible thumper mode during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the RHCA, even as he denied imposing his “biblical morality.”

“For me it’s not about imposing Biblical morality, as others have accuse me of but it’s advancing the social good,” said Metts. “Are we seeing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the days when evil is called good and good called evil, and putting darkness for light and light for darkness? For me it’s a Biblical, ethical and spiritual issue. Because Genesis 1:27 is clear: We are all made in God’s image…”

Metts goes on in this vein for over three minutes.

But don’t worry, he’s not imposing his Biblical morality…

1c. Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom

The Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom reacted to Metts’ comments Friday morning, saying that they were “dismayed to hear Senator Harold Metts defend his opposition to H5125A, saying ‘Abortion robs God of His glory by substituting man and government in God’s place to determine life and death.’ We support Senator Metts in whatever personal religious belief he has and agree that this represents one part of religious freedom; however he violates the religious liberty of those who feel differently than he with his expression of one version of Christian faith. Senators are elected to represent government, not God, and in conflating the two, Senator Metts denies religious liberty to all Rhode Islanders. We stand in opposition to an elected official associating us with Satan and other religious metaphors. This is not separation of church and State.

“We call upon Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Senate leadership to move H5125A to the Senate floor,” continued the Religious Coalition. “We believe that ALL Rhode Islanders should be represented in a vote on this issue, not simply the few who comprise the Judiciary Committee, and certainly not those who don’t see or value the diversity of the Rhode Island faith communities.”

1d. Raptakis

Senator Leonides Raptakis owns Venus Pizza in Coventry, but Tuesday night, after helping to kill the Reproductive Health Care Act in committee, he went out and partied with abortion foes at a far more upscale and expensive restaurant. Raptakis says that he’s pro-choice, but then, so does Archambault, so what does that even mean when it comes from a State Senator any more?

The amazing Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg looked into this party.

The public only learned about the party because Nicholas Denise, a Blue Cross & Blue Shield board member placed on the board by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, tweeted about it. In addition to Denise and Raptakis there were a host of abortion foes present, including Larry Gillheeney, advocacy manager for the right-wing Rhode Island Center for Freedom, Chris Young, Kara Young, Tyler Rowley and Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.

According to Gregg, at Costantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante, where the party was held, “antipasti goes from $11 to $18, and entrees from $17 for the ‘Chicken Alla Parmigiana’ to $25 for the ‘N.Y. Strip Steak Alla Griglia.'”

1e. Lynch Prata

Shortly after the failure of the Reproductive Health Care Act in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the idea was floated that the bill might be moved to the Senate Health and Human Services committee, chaired by Senator Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston).

No dice, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston) in a joint statement with Miller.

“We believe that members of the Judiciary Committee have given the issue full attention, and we have no intention of transferring the Reproductive Privacy Act from the Judiciary Committee to the Health & Human Services Committee. Judiciary Committee members heard from all sides of the public during a lengthy hearing that stretched until 6 a.m., and have spent countless hours behind the scenes researching, working with legal staff, and reading correspondence from everyday Rhode Islanders.

“The appropriate path forward is for all parties who support protecting reproductive health care to continue working together to develop revised language that fully codifies the status quo and can win the support of the Judiciary Committee. As co-sponsors of the bill, we will continue to work tirelessly toward that goal.”

1f. Ruggerio

If Senate President Dominick Ruggerio thought he could escape blame by having the Reproductive Health Care Act killed in committee, he was wrong. Angry supporters of reproductive rights flooded into his office, and when the Senate President left, some followed him all the way out to his car.

1g. Lombardi

Senator Frank Lombardi is so religiously conservative that he continues to vote against same sex marriage. His vote on the Reproductive Health Care Act was never in doubt. That didn’t top advocates of women’s reproductive rights from shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at him and Senator Stephen Archambault as they made their way down the stairs, through the crowd and to the parking lot:

1h. Opeds in Support of Reproductive Rights

2. Doulas

While the Senate Judiciary Committee crushed the hopes and dreams of women’s rights activists in the state, downstairs in the House Finance Committee hearing women were advocating for better medical outcomes for Black mothers and their children.

“Doulas have been around for centuries,” said Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), “women taking care of women. Doulas are not medically trained, however they are trained birth workers who provide emotional/physical comfort, self care, advocacy, [and] cultural support for pregnant and lactating moms from the moment a woman realizes that she is pregnant.”

“Doulas provide support even after pregnancy,” continued Ranglin-Vassell. “While the cost of doula services varies, it costs between $300 and $1,200 on average for a doula or doula service. Because of the cost many women, especially women of color and poor women – and these women are the highest risk for adverse outcomes – they are unable to access doula services.”

“According to the Centers for Disease Control women of color are three to four times more likely to die from birthing or pregnancy related experiences. The sad reality is it happens often.

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure and we cannot afford to wait. This is a moral imperative. As you may be aware this issue cuts across economic lines. I say this because of the public statements and declarations of Beyoncé and Serena Williams, both who had complicated and life-threatening pregnancies.”

For more on doulas, and the importance of getting this bill passed, see:

3. Vaccines

There is a quiet war going on at the Rhode Island State House over vaccines. Currently, vaccines for children are mandatory for both public and private schools. The only exceptions are for medical and religious reasons. But bills submitted by Representative Michael Morin and Senator Maryellen Goodwin would allow for exceptions to also be granted for “personal” and “philosophical” reasons.

This, as the United States is currently suffering the worst measles outbreak since the 1990s.

“Everywhere we’ve seen philosophical exemptions we’ve seen higher rates of outbreak and disease spread,” said Neil Hytinen, Rhode Island Department of Health’s Chief Public Affairs Officer/Legislative Liaison. “Everywhere these outbreaks are happening is where there is a large group of vaccine hesitant folks.”

Testimony from experts, doctors and medical students doesn’t sway some politicians.

“I’m going to take all of their concerns, all of their testimony with a grain of salt,” said Representative Robert Phillips (Democrat, District 51, Woonsocket), referring to the experts during a House Health Education and Welfare Committee hearing on May 1, “because my children’s pediatrician has sent a letter to [this committee] last year and I have a copy of it again this year, that he is in support of [expanding vaccination exceptions for personal and philosophical reasons.]

“If we have medical people on both sides, which ones do you weigh different?” asked Phillips, betraying a deep ignorance about the way science works.

4a. Invenergy

The lawyers on all sides of the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) hearings to decide the fate of Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant are filing their Post Hearing Memoranda today. The memorandum will count as their final arguments, the last statements they can make to the EFSB boardmembers.

The ball is now entirely in the hands of EFSB boardmembers Margaret Curran, Janet Coit and Meredith Brady, who must now decide whether or not Invenergy gets a license to build the power plant.

I review Conservation Law Foundation (CLF)’s Post Hearing Memorandum here. The brief is written by CLF Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer, who essentially shows that the power plant is not needed for electricity, the power plant will cause irreparable harm to the environment, the power plant will not save ratepayers money, and Invenergy cannot be trusted. Any one of the first three reasons would be more than enough to stop this proposal in its tracks. But Invenergy has at least eight high paid lawyers advocating on their behalf, an they will not go down without a fight.

Having sat through nearly every hearing and read countless documents on this case over the last four years, my opinion is that the power plant will not be licensed, unless of course the fix is in on this project in a very deep way. We’ll see.

4b. DEM

As reported here, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has issued a draft air pollution control permit for the proposed Invenergy power plant for public review and comment. Invenergy is the company that wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amid the pristine, irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island.

This makes it seem as though the power plant is one inevitable step closer to being built, despite the environmental damage it will do locally, despite the fact that the power plant is completely unneeded, and despite the existential threat such power plants contribute to. But in truth, this draft permit is not so big a deal.

“This is neither a big deal nor unexpected,” said Jerry Elmer, Senior Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the group that, along with the Town of Burrillville, has been opposing the power plant before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB). “Invenergy applied to DEM for its air permit years ago, and we have been expecting this draft permit for a long time. DEM still has to go through a fairly lengthy process before Invenergy can be given an actual, final permit.”

5. Guns

Bucking the Second Amendment Sanctuary Town movement in Rhode Island, the Central Falls City Council passed a resolution Monday evening calling on the Rhode Island General Assembly “to make our community safer” by banning assault weapons, high capacity magazines and concealed weapons on school grounds. Bills to accomplish these goals have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, and heard in committee.

You can read about it here.

6. More opeds:

UpriseRI is proud to publish smartly written opeds on a range of subjects of interest to readers. Email me at atomicsteve@gmail.com

7. The Preston Model

A British Town’s Novel Solution to Austerity: Preston, in the north of England, is prioritizing public spending on local businesses

8. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

9. ecoRI

10. Providence Daily Dose

11. Picture of the Week:

After the defeat of the Reproductive Health Care Act in the Senate Judiciary Committee, reproductive rights activists filled the Senate Chamber for nearly a half an hour, chanting for their rights.

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About Steve Ahlquist 1059 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Reminder to Archambault, Metts and the other Forced Birthers: 2020 is coming. For Archambault, it’s as much about being a liar as being in favor of reproductive slavery and forced birth. He lied during his campaign to pander to District 22 constituents and he lied about his bill being rejected – he waited until it was too late, according to Senate rules, to be considered. Metts goes beyond simply being a religious man to being absolutely intolerant of anyone else’s religious beliefs. Ask Rabbi Sarah Mack or Reverend Eugene Dyszlewski, both of whom were demeaned and insulted by Metts when they gave testimony on S-152. Metts had the utter nerve to lecture them on the Bible. I expect him, at some point, to start speaking in tongues because he came pretty damn close more than once. Lombardi has proven that he’s a misogynist AND a homophobe, and cannot be trusted to represent all but a small segment of other bigots in his district. I offer to go through their medical and other private records to let them know what they should and shouldn’t do regarding health care. After all, I have just as much experience in the health care field as they do.

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