Musings on the political scene

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From Frying Pan to Fire:
Many Warwick voters in house district 21 tired of former State Representative Eileen Naughton for her many years of disregarding constituents. Her failure to ever attend village association meetings were most notable.
District voters jumped from the frying pan into the fire, however, when they elected current State Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson over Naughton. Most probably wish they had the locally invisible Naughton back in office.
Vella-Wilkinson wants to pass legislation that would keep teacher and municipal employee labor contracts in place after they expire if a new agreement has not been reached. Such a law would cause fiscal chaos in every community in Rhode Island.
Unions would have no incentive to bargain. Why would any union negotiate in good faith for a successor agreement that threatens to hold salaries in check, that might reduce overly-generous benefits, or that might give back to management a few of the rights given away by previous municipal and school leaders?
Passage of Vella-Wilkinson’s bill would guarantee that our cities, towns and school districts will be totally run by unions who will exercise power far beyond the vast and disastrous control they exert already.
Who would suffer? Of course, it would be the taxpayers and the students!

No Gender-Bias in RI Corruption/Influence Peddling:
It seems clear that in the Ocean State gender is not an issue when it comes to corruption and influence peddling.
State Representative Anastasia Williams of Providence is being investigated by the Attorney General’s office after she amended 32 of her campaign reports to account for $266,000.
Former Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed left her elective position earlier this year to become leader of The Hospital Association of Rhode Island. Lo and behold, a few months later that association convinced House Speaker Mattiello to add $12.5 million to the state budget for hospitals. (Coincidentally, it’s the exact amount the House ripped from the Energy Efficiency Program whose loss will likely result in higher electricity higher rates for homeowners in RI.)
No one can say that Rhode Island is not a gender-neutral state when it comes to opportunities for women to join their male counterparts in what can only be called an infection of corruption and influence peddling. It’s now, “I know a guy, err... a Gal.”

Torturing Chickens:
State Representative Michael Chippendale, Republican of Foster, thinks “cage-free eggs were a trend that has passed”. Many, perhaps most, Rhode Islanders disagree vehemently with the representative! And, it’s not a partisan issue, it’s a moral issue!
Countless Republicans, Democrats and independents buy only cage-free eggs and ardently believe that all animals raised for human dietary benefits should be treated humanely as they devote their lives to our dining tables.
Representative Chippendale and all of the state senators who refuse, year after year, to approve a humane cage bill should force themselves inside a high school athletic locker and live there for awhile. Not for the rest of their lives as we force chickens to do; just for a little while to see how Rhode Island hens feel. Yes. A high school athletic locker is roughly equivalent in size for a human to the hen cages we use for chickens.
None of us want an egg-producing business to go belly-up. Therefore, the humane cage bill could be amended to give farmers already in the egg business five years to phase in the new cages. It’s not the ideal solution, but it is a reasonable compromise that will eventually lead to humane treatment of hens in the Ocean State.
Legislator who refuse to vote to stop the torturing of animals should be voted out of office in 2018.

More Special Treatment for Firefighters and Police:
Speaking of fiscal chaos for municipalities, a bill before the General Assembly would reward firefighters and police officers with two-third pay for life, untaxed, for developing heart disease.
As Brian Daniels of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns has testified, “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, demonstrating how prevalent it is in the population...and heart disease is attributable to numerous causes, including diet, exercise, smoking, family history and numerous others.”
If millions who are not firefighters and police officers develop heart disease, why should anyone think a firefighter’s or police officer’s job is the cause of his heart disease and not due to the myriad causes that afflict the rest of the population?
Should accountants who develop heart disease be so generously compensated with disability retirement? Should teachers? How about soldiers who risk their lives under extremely stressful conditions far more often than firefighters and police officers?
To dish out this enriching and undeserved benefit to firefighters and police officers would bankrupt our cities and towns. As our taxpayers die every year from heart disease, let’s not take more and more of their hard-earned tax dollars and shift it unfairly to groups of municipal workers who have developed heart disease, not from the stress of their jobs, but from the same non-job causes as the rest of the taxpayers.

Big Brother is Watching:
The premise of George Orwell’s prophetic novel, “1984”, written in 1949 about a future society where every citizen is watched twenty-four hours a day by “Big Brother” government, is creeping closer and closer to reality.
The Rhode Island General Assembly is now considering a bill that would allow government to install cameras on every roadway in the state to take pictures of every license plate that passes. The system would then notify government of the movement of every driver in our state.
The bill is, ostensibly, designed to identify and fine uninsured drivers. However, the logical outcome of having such cameras in place will, of course, lead to future use for everything from other ticketing to car tolls to outright government surveillance of citizens’ every movement simply because it’s possible.
Organizations as disparate as the Civil Liberties Union and the insurance industry oppose the bill. So, why in the world would our legislators even consider it? It’s the lure of every-expanding government power. More government power means more government control; which ensures government continues to grow larger and larger.
Our state government is already powerful enough. Let’s not give it even more power by allowing it to conduct constant surveillance over our lives.

Line-Item Veto:
Once again, the line item-veto in Rhode Island has gone down to defeat. The General Assembly has voted to “study” the issue for another year instead of passing the long-overdue legislation that would give the governor the ability to veto specific items in the budget instead of having to veto the entire budget to rid it of line items slipped in for special interests or inserted as unfair and costly “pork” for legislators’ districts. In Rhode Island’s insular political world, “study” equates to defeat, even if only temporary.

The Royalty and the Peasants:

After being admonished in an extremely harsh, condescending and demeaning manner by State Senator Stephen Archambault, D-Smithfield, at a senate hearing, Terry Gorman of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement characterized members of the General Assembly as “They’re the royalty and we’re the peasants.”
Smithfield voters should send a message to all Ocean State legislators by not rewarding Senator Archambault with reelection because of his pompous, “I’m the king and you’re not” attitude toward a constituent. Perhaps then the message will soak in that simply because we elect men and women to represent us, we are not electing them to positions of royalty. They remain servants of the people, not the people’s rulers.

Guns and Domestic Violence:
Domestic violence in any form is despicable and should not be tolerated in any fashion. One way to advance this position is to keep guns out of the hands of potential domestic abusers.
A bill before the General Assembly would allow confiscation of firearms from anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime of violence, including domestic abuse or violence, and would require confiscation of firearms from anyone who is under any provision of a protective order. The protective order part of the bill is necessary and will help reduce domestic violence. However, the bill overreaches with its misdemeanor provision.
It’s one thing to prohibit firearms to those convicted of felony violence and to keep firearms out of the hands of those under a protective order, it’s quite another thing to prohibit those convicted of a misdemeanor from owning firearms. A misdemeanor conviction can be for something as minor as a spouse raising his or her voice to a partner, or simply slamming the door violently as the offending party leaves the house. Do we really want to deprive someone of a constitutional right for committing a misdemeanor, for an action that doesn’t rise to the level of a felony? In all other constitutional rights areas, voting for example, only commission of a felony takes the right away. And, regardless of what Speaker Mattiello says, this provision clearly is a “gun control issue.”
The requirement for those with a restraining order to surrender all firearms while the order is in effect, has the same salutary effect as the misdemeanor law would have and would provide the same protection for someone who feels threatened by the person who has committed a misdemeanor. Enacting what is, in essence, a lifetime restriction on firearms possession for a misdemeanor violation is excessive and likely unconstitutional.
If the misdemeanor provision is to remain in the bill, it must have a reasonable and automatic gun return provision that is far shorter then the proposed five years after which a gun owner must then petition the court for return of his or her guns. Firearms should be automatically returned to those convicted of a misdemeanor after one year unless a protective order remains in effect.

Editor’s note: A former Beacon columnist, Warwick resident Lonnie Barham is an occasional contributor to these pages.

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