State House Report: Gay Marraige, Nightclubs & the Homeless Bill of Rights
Saturday, May 05, 2012
This week the General Assembly addressed a number of timely issues confronting the state. First, the House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on the eternally hot button issue of same-sex marriage. Next up was a House hearing on underage drinking in nightclubs, likely sparked by last week’s closure of Providence’s Monet resulting from a late night brawl. Not to be outdone, the Senate approved a bill establishing a “Homeless Bill of Rights” and heard testimony regarding medical marijuana compassion centers. Lastly, new legislation was introduced designed to address animal care in state shelters.
House Judiciary Hearing on Same-Sex Marriage
This Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which three same-sex marriage bills were examined. First, is a bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Valencia (D) that would allow same-sex couples legally married outside of Rhode Island to obtain an in-state divorce. Next up for discussion was Rep. Arthur Handy’s bill calling for Rhode Island to recognize same-sex marriages even if they were performed in outside jurisdictions. Rep. Handy’s proposal also prevents religious groups from interfering with decisions of marriage equality.
Unlike Rep. Handy’s bill, the final proposal discussed on Wednesday aims to protect religious institutions. Legislation 2012-H 7753 would eliminate an amendment made to last year’s legislation, which established civil unions that dealt with the interaction between religious intuitions and civil unions. Introduced by Rep. Frank Ferri (D), the proposal states, “no religious organization is required to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, services, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of a civil union.” The bill looks to protect the constitutional rights of religious institutions and grants them immunity in regard to any civil claim or cause of action if they refuse services related to a civil union.
House Judiciary Hearing on Underage Drinking in Nightclubs
With the recent rash of nightclub violence in the news, the House Judiciary Committee examined a bill designed to curb underage drinking on Tuesday. The proposal, which was originally introduced in February by Rep. Joy Hearn (D), would prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from entering a nightclub where alcoholic beverages are sold. Rep. Hearn’s legislation has the strong public support of the Attorney General’s Office.
“I’ve introduced this bill before, but never has this been a more critical problem than it is today with all of the violence happening at our nightclubs,” said Rep. Hearn. “It’s a multi-pronged issue. Individuals under the legal drinking age have easier access to alcohol. There’s more and more fights breaking out at these clubs at closing time. Meanwhile, we’re trying to focus on building and expanding our knowledge districts, but we’re getting distracted by these setbacks. This bill can also be seen as a plus for nightclub owners who are trying to put a stop to recurring violence in their establishments.”
Rep. Hearn’s reasoning has been supported lately in regard to the rise in nightclub violence, especially in downtown Providence. Just last week, Providence’s Board of Licenses voted to close the Monet Lounge on Harris Avenue after a fight broke out on Friday, April 27. The massive melee occurred in the club’s VIP lounge and involved over 50 people. City officials also shut down fellow Providence club, Level II last month after five people were stabbed.
Senate Approves “Homeless Bill of Rights”
This week the Senate approved a landmark bill to establish a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” which if enacted into law, would make Rhode Island the first state to pass such legislation. Sponsored by Sen. John J. Tassoni, the bill looks to provide both long-term and short-term help for the homeless in Rhode Island. The bill dictates that homeless individuals have the right to not be discriminated against in respect to obtaining accommodations, housing and employment. Additionally, Sen. Tassoni’s legislation ensures that homeless citizens have the right to equal treatment by all law enforcement agencies. The noteworthy bill also specifies that individuals have the right to rest or sleep in public places, as long as they are not being obstructive.
“We know what the unemployment rates are and we know that nearly one in two Americans is living near or at poverty level,” said Sen. Tassoni. “We have seen stories about the high cost of homeownership and even apartment rent in our state. We know the social safety net keeps shrinking. We can’t just shrug and say ‘too bad.’ We need to do more.”
The “Homeless Bill of Rights” originated from a Senate Committee on Housing & Municipal Government study examining homeless affairs in Rhode Island.
“The work that has been done by the committee, and today’s passage of the ‘Homeless Bill of Rights,’ are gratifying things,” said Sen. Tassoni, “but the problem has not been solved. We must keep working, and work harder, to move Rhode Islanders off the street and into more permanent, safe housing. And we must acknowledge that, whatever the reason they have become homeless, these people are our fellow citizens and deserve equal treatment and respect under the law.”
Senate Hearing on Medical Marijuana Compassion Centers
On Wednesday the Senate listened to testimony regarding legislation that would make way for medical marijuana compassion centers in Rhode Island. Introduced by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, 2012-S 2555 would amend the current law governing compassion centers to ease worries that the federal government might target them or their patients. The bill addresses previous concerns that delayed Rhode Island’s three proposed compassion centers last year. After initially supporting compassion centers, Gov. Lincoln Chafee placed a hold on their implementation in 2011 due to fears of federal involvement. Federal authorities currently oppose large-scale medical marijuana operations.
Law defines compassion centers as a non-profit organization that cultivates and dispenses “marijuana, or related supplies and educational materials,” to qualified car-carrying patients. Since state compassion centers must be non-profit they are required to allocate profits to fund the centers’ operation or donate them to charity.
Rhode Island is one of 16 states in which medical marijuana is legal. According to Rhode Island law, the possession limit is 2.5 oz usable; 12 plants. Rhode Island’s medical marijuana bill was originally passed in June of 2005, but vetoed by former Gov. Don Carcieri. The House and Senate finally passed the legislation in January 2006 when Gov. Carcieri’s veto was over-ridden.
House Bill on Animal Care - Registry Establishment and New Euthanasia Guidelines
Introduced by Rep. Deborah Fellela, this House bill would require that animal shelter establish a comprehensive registry containing all organizations willing to accept animals for adoption or long-term placement, and amends the existing criteria that animal shelters must meet prior to euthanizing an animal.
Rep. Fellela’s proposal specifies that new registries must include animal organizations, municipal animal shelters and private animal shelters. The registry will include the types and breeds of all animals and be accessible to the general public on the Internet.
Additionally, the bill dictates that animals may only be euthanized when the holding period for an animal has expired; there are no empty cages or kennels available; a foster home is unavailable; another municipal or private animal shelter is unwilling to accept the animal or an animal control manager has determined that there is no reasonable alternative.
The American Humane Association estimates that approximately 3.7 million animals are euthanized each year in the United States.
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