The Uprising! June 14, 2019

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“I think we’ve dealt with this issue already, twice, so I think the third time is not necessary…”

– Senator Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston)

Welcome to The Uprising! Lots to cover, but we’ll start with Reproductive Rights!

1. Reproductive Privacy Act

The Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) H5125B, the House version of a bill to codify the human rights protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law passed a major milestone on Thursday when it was voted out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee (HHS) and onto the floor of the Senate for a full vote. The bill has the approval and full support of all the major pro-choice groups here in Rhode Island.

The bill was originally in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, but was transferred to Senate HHS when it became clear that Senators Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) and Dennis Algiere (Republican, District 38, Westerly, Charlestown) were going to vote against the bill in their ex officio capacity. What was going to be a hard fought 5-4 victory would have turned into a 6-5 defeat for the bill. Though it would have been possible for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence), Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) and Minority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence) to vote in their ex officio capacity and counter the Republican’s plan, all three members of the Senate leadership team are staunchly anti-choice.

So Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston) transferred the bill to HHS, where the bill had a comfortable number of supporters. Even though Morgan voted in the HHS Committee, the vote went 8-2 in favor of the bill. Only fellow Republican Senator Thomas Paolino (Republican, District 17, Lincoln) voted with Morgan, but he was little help to her otherwise, leaving Morgan hanging when she called for a second on her objection.

The bill will be scheduled for consideration by the full Senate on Wednesday, June 19.

1b. Senator Stephen Archambault

When Senator Stephen Archambault decided to vote against the Reproductive Health Care Act last month, he did so with brashness and condescension. Archambault introduced his own version of a bill to codify Roe v Wade, and referred to the Senate sponsor of the bill, Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence), only as “the Sponsor.”

Senator Stephen Archambault

“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. “She 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.'”

Archambault killed the bill in Judiciary, but the House version, the Reproductive Privacy Act, was kept alive so some compromise wording could be cooked up to satisfy Archambault’s overblown concerns. But while that was going on, activists mobilized. Archambault and the Democratic leadership in the Senate found themselves the targets of at least five protests (See: Here, Here, Here, Here and Here) and the promise of a difficult political path forward because of their inability to get this bill passed. It was suggested then that the bill be sent to Senate Health and Human Services (HHS), an idea rejected by Judiciary Chair Lynch Prata and HHS Chair Miller.

So there was a very different Archambault at the HHS Committee meeting where the RPA was ultimately passed. Gone was the bluster, condescension and petulance.

“As someone who believes in a woman’s right to choose and who thinks it is important to codify the protections of Roe v Wade into state law given the current composition of the United States Supreme Court, I am in support of this revised and substantially improved legislation,” said Archambault to the Committee. “I urge all Committee members to join me in supporting it and for the Senate and the House to pass it expeditiously.

“The agreement we have reached, which is reflected in this legislation, accomplishes the goals I’ve had since the beginning of this process. It codifies Roe v Wade, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and at the same time, puts in place safeguards that limit later-term, post-viability abortions.

“I commend Chairwoman Lynch Prata for her principled and wise leadership and demonstrated commitment to reaching common ground,” concluded Archambault.

1c. Senator Elaine Morgan

Senator Elaine Morgan did everything she could to scuttle the legislation that would protect abortion rights in Rhode Island. After her attempt to vote against the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee failed, she and fellow Republican Senator Senator Jessica de la Cruz (District 23, Burrillville, Glocester) wrote an open letter to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and to Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston), Chair of the Senate Rules Committee requesting “that H5125B be returned to Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote so that all nine regular members and five ex-officio members of the committee can vote on the bill to determine if it should proceed to the Senate floor. The three ex-officio members of the Democratic Senate leadership would have the opportunity to vote in favor of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Whatever outcome, it would at least be consistent with the Senate Rules and would not taint the legislation.”

Senator Lombardi told me that the Rules Committee would not be taking up Morgan’s request. Senate President Ruggerio was equally succinct, saying in an open letter, “Your request is denied.”

Morgan has the backing of the Rhode Island Republican Party and recently elected Chair Sue Cienki, who are making the case, perhaps in court, that the Senate broke the rules in transferring the bill from Senate judiciary to Senate HHS.

“This abortion bill is terrible, and breaking the rules to get it passed is reprehensible,” said Cienki. “This is just another example of how the so-called pro-life Democratic leadership of the General Assembly will do whatever it takes to get an abortion bill passed. These politicians care more about power for themselves than any issue, even the lives of the unborn. If this bill had been allowed to go to vote in committee yesterday, it would have died. Instead by breaking the rules, this abortion bill lives on and if it becomes law, unborn children will die.”

From conversations I’ve had with experts in this area, it seems extremely unlikely that there is any merit to the concerns of Senator Morgan or the Rhode Island Republican Party.

2a. Guns, protests and counter-protests

Faith leaders, elected officials, students and activists gathered in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House to advocate for the Safe Schools Act, H5762, a bill that seeks to ban concealed carry permit holders from bringing firearms into K-12 schools. It was event organized in concert with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) to bring attention to their message that guns have no place inside our schools.

Unfortunately, several members of the Second Amendment Coalition, some wearing their yellow shirts, yelled, chanted and did everything in their power to disrupt and drown out those speaking at the rally.

Some like One Gun Gone founder, Scott Lapham, were talking about family members lost to gun violence. Others, like youth organizer and Providence native Ysanel Torres, were talking about a lifetime of living with gun violence in their neighborhood.

It was similar to what happened to Rhode Island NOW‘s event a week earlier, in which anti-choice activists tried to shout down an event in the rotunda featuring Toni Van Pelt, President of the National Organization for Women.

Both of these groups trying to disrupt these events stayed mostly with the lines of First Amendment protest. Some crossed the line slightly with some pushing, but I’m willing to chalk that up to the size of the crowds. Still, issues like guns and abortion are capable of stirring a lot of emotions, and the line between healthy and unhealthy behavior is thin. We should be careful when we are public on these issues, and when we can be, civil.

She screamed in my ear for twenty minutes straight. Not civil.

2b. Ysanel Torres

Because many of those speaking went unheard by the crowd their to hear them, I made an offer to publish their speeches (or poems, it turns out) here on UpriseRI. So far, only the very talented Ysanel Torres has taken me up on it. You can read her poem here.

2c. Woonsocket

On Tuesday, June 12th the Woonsocket School Committee voted 4-0 to pass a resolution in support of the Safe Schools Act.

Woonsocket School Committee joins the Providence City Council and School Committee, Central Falls City Council, Middletown School Committee, Pawtucket School Committee, Portsmouth Town Council, Barrington Town Council and School Committee, Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee, Warren Town Council, East Greenwich School Committee, Cumberland School Committee, Jamestown School Committee, North Smithfield School Committee, South Kingstown School Committee, and Smithfield School Committee in support of a ban on guns in schools.

3. George Wiley Center

Last Saturday members of the George Wiley Center overthrew their board, and elected a new one.

“We’re here today to take back the Board of the George Wiley Center,” said Zainab Ilumoka before the action. Ilumoka would later be elected the new President of the George Wiley Board. “The executive committee has kind of gone rogue and are now using the Board to benefit themselves. They’ve created positions for themselves, they’re paying each other, they’re running side businesses through the Center, it’s gross.

“And of course they’ve block myself, Myra [Paulino] and Tony [Ansah], three people of color, from joining the Board,” continued Ilumoka. “We first applied to be on the Board in 2015. In that time, multiple white members have been seated. They also didn’t have to go through the process that we went through. We had to interview, we had to submit our resumes – It seems as if they knew someone and they were invited to sit, they were invited to the table, so we’re taking back our seat at the table.”

For full details and video, see here.

The mission of the George Wiley Center, “to build a community that addresses human needs and redresses injustices,” is so important. Here’s hoping the new Board can champion that mission.

4. Laura Olton

Governor Gina Raimondo has nominated Laura Olton to be the new Chair of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Olton, among other things on her resume, is a former lawyer for National Grid. In an oped, Patricia Burke asks if Olton is prepared to hold her former employer properly accountable for what at looks like “fraudulent results reporting for the Worcester National Grid smart meter pilot program.” Burke notes that “Massachusetts residents have submitted two bills to the legislature calling for an investigation of the pilot results reporting. The RIPUC has already received documentation outlining inaccuracies and demonstrating that the smart meter plan is based on corrupt data.”

On Sunday, “[a]mid chants of ‘Rescind the nomination,’ Governor Gina Raimondo arrived home… to the sight about twenty members of the Providence chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (ProvDSA) and their allies who had come to protest her nomination of Laura Olton to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC).”

(c)2019 Emma Boast

To the ProvDSA, Olton is a non-starter. “Olton is a resident of Wellesley, Massachusetts (median income: $159,167), and a former lawyer for National Grid, a multi-national utility company that earned $3.5 billion dollars last year.” They can’t see how Olton would see her way clear to supporting a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), which would “make utilities more affordable for low-income Rhode Islanders and prevent utility shutoffs.”

5. Pride

It’s Pride month, and on Saturday Providence will be celebrating with an all-day festival and the Illuminated Night Parade. This year Pride is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, started by Marsha P Johnson, a trans woman of color.

So of course the Providence Journal had to insult our LBGTQIA+ community by running an oped by David Carlin that was as low on facts as it was high in bigotry on Tuesday. Rather than quote from the transphobic piece, I’ll give you a few lines from the Reverend Dr Gwendolyn Howard‘s response, which I was happy to run on UpriseRI. Howard is a clinical social worker and proud trans woman.

Carlin, says Howard, “concludes that people like me are the ‘weirdest members of society’ and ‘delusional.’ I have worked in clinics with clients who really are delusional. I’m not sure he understands the meaning of the word. As for being among the weirdest members of society, it is hard for me to believe that Christianity is all about name-calling and hurtful insults. I’m also not convinced that Christianity is about denying marginalized members of society their basic rights – denying their worth and dignity as human beings. Among the things I do know about Christianity is the admonition to ‘pray for those who persecute you.’

“My prayers tonight will have new additions.”

The struggling Providence Journal is taking a financial hit for their bigotry. Several people have cancelled their subscriptions as a result. “It’s almost like they’re trying to go out of business,” said a friend.

See you at Pride!

6. Invenergy

Invenergy, the company that wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amidst the irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island, can’t seem to help themselves. They seem dedicated to deception.

Most recently I was made aware of the way they are trying to get around the issue of need. Here’s the quick and dirty explanation: In order to be licensed by the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), Invenergy must show that the plant is needed to keep the lights on in New England. Invenergy’s problem? The plant is clearly not needed. New England has all the power it needs coming on line or already online for as far out as energy markets can project.

To get around this, Invenergy is arguing that the EFSB doesn’t actually have to show need. That part of the law, says Invenergy, was “effectively repealed” when Rhode Island passed the Utilities Structuring Act (URA). At least Invenergy says that sometimes, when writing about the issue in complex memorandums and other submissions to the EFSB. When pressed on the matter and forced to answer honestly and openly, Invenergy’s Lead Attorney, Corporate Lawyer and Chicago resident Michael Blazer says, “We are not suggesting that the URA implicitly or sub silentio overruled some portion of the facility siting act. We don’t suggest that at all.”

Invenergy so wants to have it both ways. They know what the law says, and how it’s supposed to work, but they want to open the door to this spurious line of reason for any members of the EFSB who feel the need to justify an unjustifiable vote to approve the plant.

7. Resolutions Against Supremacy

The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a resolution condemning white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The full Senate, minus one member, also passed the resolution. The one person to oppose the resolution was Senator Elaine Morgan (See: Item 1a and 1c above), who told the Providence Journal that any resolution that condemns neo-Nazis should also condemn leftist Antifa types.

That resolution was introduced by Herb Weiss, who wrote this piece, featured on UpriseRI.

When Weiss asked Larry Berman, the House’s Director of Communication, about a House companion resolution that denounces and opposes White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups, Berman told him Representative Jean Philippe Barros (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket) had planned to introduce one but “because it was getting late in the session” Barros was unable to get his bill introduced.

“It should be noted,” writes Weiss, “that Senate President Dominick J Ruggerio allowed Nesselbush to introduce her Senate resolution recognizing its merit and importance to the Jewish community.”

8. ICE

United States District Court Judge John McConnell today issued a blistering decision against United States Attorney General William Barr, and in favor of the Cities of Providence and Central Falls. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions withheld federal funds from several Rhode Island cities including Providence and Central Falls, after the cities refused to cooperate with Federal immigration officers. Sessions, and later Barr, tied the disbursement of these fund s to cooperation with Federal immigration enforcement agencies, such as ICE.

9. ACLU

10. Bartholomewtown Podcast

11. ConvergenceRI

12. Providence Daily Dose

13. The Womxn Project

14. Picture of the Week:

The Senate Chamber at the Rhode Island State House: Literally building a barrier to Democracy.

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About Steve Ahlquist 995 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