State House Report: Decriminalizing Pot, Homeless Bill of Rights & Underage Tanning
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Both the House and the Senate worked into the early morning hours on Wednesday to conclude the GA’s 2012 legislative session. Unfortunately for Rhode Islanders, lawmakers seemed to focus on small bills rather than tackling more substantial pieces of legislation. Particularly, the GA passed legislation establishing a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” but balked at the chance to address the lingering Woonsocket tax bill. Additionally, lesser pieces of legislation like an underage tanning bill and a motorcycle-parking proposal were OKd.
Assembly OKs Legislation to Create "Homeless Bill of Rights"
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Homeless Bill of Rights,” don’t be alarmed. If enacted, Rhode Island’s new homeless protection bill would be the first of its kind in the nation. Sponsored by Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) and Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence), the legislation specifies that “being homeless does not deny a person basic human rights, nor does it deny them access to necessary services and fair treatment.”
If enacted, the bill would guarantee that the homeless:
- - Have the right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to lack of a permanent mailing address or a mailing address that is a shelter or social service provider.
- - Have the right to use and move freely in public spaces (sidewalks, public parks, public transportation, public buildings) in the same manner as any other person and without discrimination on the basis of housing status.
- - Have the right to emergency medical care free from discrimination based on housing status.
- - Have the right to vote, register to vote and receive documentation necessary to prove identity for voting without discrimination due to housing status.
- - Have the right to protection from disclosure to law enforcement agencies without appropriate legal authority any records or information provided to homeless shelters and service providers and the right to confidentiality of personal records and information in accordance with limitations on disclosure established by the Federal Homeless Management Information Systems, the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Federal Violence Against Women Act.
- - Have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy of personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.
- - Have the right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status.
Motorcycle Riders Get Their Own Parking Places
On Tuesday, the GA passed a controversial bill that would provide motorcycle riders with designated parking spots at municipal or state buildings. Sponsored by Sen. John J. Tassoni (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) and Rep. Peter John Petrarca (D-Dist. 44, Lincoln, Johnston, Smithfield), the bill states that city and town officials draw up new parking plans to include motorcycle parking by November and that designated spots be made available by April 1, 2013. The law does not apply to state airport parking lots.
Additionally, parking plans may be revised whenever it is deemed necessary. The law also states that plans must be reviewed at least once every five years. Unauthorized use of motorcycle parking spaces will result in an $85 fine, according to the new legislation.
Although the bill is seemingly harmless, it has conjured up mixed emotions due to the fact that local cities and towns will be forced to foot the bill. Local officials must entirely redraft parking plans for all municipal buildings and pay to renovate said parking lots to accommodate motorcycles. They must also pay for the signage that must be used to designate motorcycle-parking areas.
According to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, "When you add up all the unfunded mandates, it's just more costs that all come at the worst possible economic time."
GA Passes Legislation to Restrict Underage Tanning
Though some state lawmakers originally proposed to ban underage tanning entirely, a compromised version of the bill passed on Wednesday. In January, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and Rep. Eileen S. Naughton sponsored a pair of bills that aimed to entirely prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from using an indoor tanning facility. The revamped version of the legislation allows minors to use tanning facilities if they have a doctor’s note or a signed parental consent form.
Despite the revision, Sen. Perry believes that the new law will attract attention to the dangers associated with underage tanning. “For all the same reasons we don’t allow kids to buy cigarettes, and more, we shouldn’t let them in tanning booths. If their parents want to let them in, they should know what very serious risks they are exposing their children to,” said Senator Perry.
Individuals that use tanning beds prior to the age of 30 have a 75 percent increased risk of melanoma, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Statistics also indicate that melanoma rates doubled between 1973 and 2004, arguably due to the rise of tanning salons throughout the U.S.
Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bills
It’s official. Rhode Island is now the 15th state in the U.S. to decriminalize marijuana. Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a pair of bill on Wednesday that would eliminate the criminal charge for possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana. The new law would instead impose a civil penalty of $150 for the first two offenses. A third violation, occurring within 18 month of the previous violation would result in a misdemeanor.
“I’m very happy the governor has decided to support this legislation,” said sponsor Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth). “I am hopeful that this will allow our law enforcement officials to do what they do best – solve real crimes. I’d also like to thank Senator Miller, who worked with me on this legislation and on the Senate study commission, and all the groups that helped us bring about this change.”
Sponsor of the Senate’s bill, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick) hopes that Rhode Island’s legislation will become a national model for future decriminalization laws.
“This legislation maintains the spirit of the policy with adjustments that factored in concerns from the judiciary, law enforcement officials and the community,” said Sen. Miller. “That’s why we have the third strike turnover. If you possess an ounce or less within 18 months of a prior offense, it gets treated as a misdemeanor. Additionally, half of the revenue we make with these fines goes toward education and treatment programs for youth.”
General Assembly Passes Bills Enhancing State’s Approach to Autism Patient Care
Lastly this week, the GA passed legislation that aims to improve the way in which individuals with autism are treated in Rhode Island. The pair of bills, sponsored by Sen. Edward J. O’Neill (I-Dist. 17, Lincoln, Pawtucket, North Providence) and Rep. Peter G. Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston), makes clarifications to the autism insurance bill of 2011. Specifically, it simplifies the range of coverage of services and credentials necessary for practitioners working with children with autism. The legislation now awaits the approval of Gov. Chafee.
While the previous law dictated that only practitioners licensed by the Department of Health could provide treatment for the autistic community. Since few practitioners meet those requirements, the new legislation amends the stipulation in order to increase the scope of care provided for people with autism.
“This legislative package will directly impact the families who are caring for autistic individuals because it enhances their quality of life,” Sen. O’Neill said. “This is a message to those families that the state is beginning to change its outlook on these disorders and treat them seriously. It’s a disability that is becoming more prevalent in our children. It’s something we need to keep in mind as scientists and doctors continue to develop new treatments and insight into how these disorders form.”
According to the Autism Society, Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S. Roughly 1 percent American children ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder. It is estimated that 1 in every 88 children born will develop some form of autism.