State House Report: Search Warrants, Security Cameras & Elections

Saturday, April 28, 2012

 

After a week-long vacation, the General Assembly is back to work on Smith Hill. In their first week back, state lawmakers delved into two crucial civil liberties bills. One looks to protect the voting rights of low-income individuals, while another requires police to obtain a warrant prior to searching someone’s cell phone. Also worth noting is a resolution introduced to recognize the passing of Sgt. Maxwell Dorley, the Providence police officer that passed away on Thursday, April 19.

House Approves Bill Requiring Warrants for Portable Electronics Searches

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Perhaps most notable this week is the House’s approval of a civil liberties bill that requires police officers to obtain a search warrant prior to looking for evidence on a person’s cell phone or portable electronic device. Sponsored by Rep. Edith H. Ajello, this legislation ensures that outdated laws, which do not take into account the current technological age, do not violate the liberty and rights of Rhode Islanders.

“Cell phones, laptops, tablets and GPSs are part of everyday life now, and they are all vast repositories of personal information. They and the information they contain should not be treated any differently than any other personal property, and our laws should make that clear. While there hasn’t been abuse of the situation that we know of in Rhode Island, we shouldn’t wait until a problem arises to update the law for the 21st century,” said Rep. Ajello. “The information in someone’s cell phone should not be held to a lesser standard than the information in their file cabinet or the records from their phone company, both of which require a warrant for search.”

The legislation now awaits approval in the Senate. Although the bill has not been enacted, the attorney general’s office has been advising police to get a warrant before searching cell phones. It also has the support of the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lawmakers Celebrate April as “Donate Life Month”

On Tuesday, Rep. Cale P. Keable (D), along with other state lawmaker joined forces with the New England Organ bank to celebrate April as “Donate Life Month.”

“I am delighted to be here to celebrate April as Donate Life Month in the state, and encourage everyone to register to become an organ and tissue donor. Simply checking the ‘yes’ box at the DMV can make a world of difference to someone in need,” said Rep. Keable, an adamant supporter of organ and tissue donation and a two-time kidney transplant survivor himself.

Just last year more than 240 New Englanders were saved because of organ donations. Furthermore, over 25,000 lives were improved through tissue donations obtained from registered tissue donors. There are currently over 113,000 Americans waiting for life saving organ transplants.

Rep. Keable and the rest of the GA are urging all Rhode Islanders to register as organ and tissue donors. Want to help? Simply visit www.donatelifenewengland.org to register.

 House Resolution - Recognizing the Passing of Providence Police Sergeant Maxwell Dorley 

This week the House read and passed a resolution expressing condolences on the death of Providence Police Sergeant Maxwell Dorley. A native of Liberia, Dorley was killed in the line of duty on April 19, 2012, while responding to a backup request at the scene of a domestic disturbance. The 41-year-old Dorley leaves behind a wife and two children. A 15-year veteran of the Providence Police Department, Dorley was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant on Friday.

Dorley was commended numerous times throughout his law enforcement career including twelve citations and numerous letters of recommendation. Aside from being celebrated for his police work, Dorley was a deeply devoted family man. Dorley was actually set to retire and move to Georgia with his family, where he had built his dream home.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee has called for US and RI flags to remain at half-staff through Saturday, in honor of Dorley. Copies of the House’s resolution will be sent to Sgt. Dorley’s wife, Mrs. Kou Dorley and their two children, Amanda and Robert. Sgt. Dorley will be buried in a private ceremony in Georgia.

 Senate Approves Bill for Cameras at Night Deposit Boxes 

The Senate passed a piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger A. Picard (D-Woonsocket, Cumberland) on Tuesday, which requires security cameras at all bank night repository areas. Rep. Picard was prompted to introduce the bill after a 2010 robbery and murder outside a bank in his district.

“This is a relatively simple measure that can be taken to help protect people who have to make after-hours deposits,” said Sen. Picard. “Those boxes are frequently used by managers of businesses who have to make large deposits, and any banks that haven’t already placed security cameras there to help protect them should do so.”

Back in September 2010 49-year-old David Main was robbed and fatally shot on his way to a Citizen’s Bank on Diamond Hill Rd. in Woonsocket. Main, who was the manager of a nearby Shell gas station, was headed to the bank to make his nightly deposit before he was killed.

Although mostly everyone can agree on the merits behind the installation of security cameras, many are divided on what should be done with Main’s alleged murderer, Jason Pleau. Pleau is currently caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between federal officials and Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who has declined to surrender Pleau into federal custody. Gov. Chafee has refused to do so because Pleau could face the death penalty if in federal hands, a punishment that is illegal in Rhode Island.

Sen. Picard’s legislation will now make its way to the House, where Rep. Donald J. Lally (D) is sponsoring an identical bill.

House Bill No. 8093 – An Act Relating to Elections

Introduced on Wednesday, this proposal attempts to protect polling places that are currently located in low-income or elderly residential areas. Presently, there is a minimum requirement of at least 500 registered voters to constitute a polling place. Sponsored by Rep. Anastasia P. Williams, this piece of legislation would exempt polling places with less than the required number of registered voters if it were located in a low-income or elderly residential neighborhood.

Protecting the voting rights of low-income and elderly citizens has been a hot button issue as of late; especially with the introduction of new voter ID laws in the state. Last week’s presidential primary election marked the first time Rhode Island’s new ID laws have been implemented. Groups like the NAACP and ACLU, who claim there is no evidence of voter fraud in Rhode Island, have criticized the law. Such groups argue that elderly and poor citizens are less likely to possess IDs, therefore could face voting difficulty. Despite the controversy, a survey conducted by Secretary of State Ralph Mollis (D), found less than 25 cases where voters lacked the necessary identification to vote.

 

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