Legislative News – January 22: Commemorating Roe v. Wade; Assault weapon, high-capacity magazine bans introduced

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Representative Jack Lyle, Jr. Chosen as NCEL’s Rhode Island State Lead

Rhode Island House Republican Representative Jack W. Lyle, Jr. has been selected as the 2020 Rhode Island State Lead for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). This position recognizes the leadership of Lyle within the Caucus for promoting innovative and effective environmental policy in Rhode Island.
“I am honored by this national appointment and look forward to working with my colleagues in government in promoting sound environmental policies for the State of Rhode Island,” said Lyle.
Lyle has served in the Rhode Island General Assembly for 12 years, five terms as State Senator and one term as State Representative.  Lyle represents constituents in District 46 which spans Lincoln and Pawtucket. During his tenure he initially served on the Joint Committee on the Environment and currently serves on the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources.  Since first being elected to the Senate in 1980, he has been an advocate for a host of issues including a bottle bill, a ban on single-use plastic bags and plastic straws. He has championed additional funding and resources for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and advocates for measures offered by Save the Bay, the Blackstone Valley Watershed Commission, and the Conservation Law Foundation. He consistently supports initiatives designed to encourage development of alternate energy sources in an effort to help eliminate our carbon footprint.
As an NCEL State Lead, Lyle will serve as the main point of contact in the state, coordinating in-state engagements and recruiting his colleagues to join NCEL.
“State leads are a crucial element of a thriving network like NCEL,” said Jeff Mauk, Executive Director of NCEL. “The Caucus is led by legislators, so the State Leads provide an active conduit of engagement and information sharing with environmental state legislators across the country.”
Created by and for state legislators, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that organizes over 1,000 environmentally-committed state legislators from all 50 states and both parties. NCEL provides venues and opportunities for lawmakers to share ideas and collaborate on environmental issues.

Assault weapon, high-capacity magazine bans introduced

STATE HOUSE — A trio of legislators are pressing for action on bills banning weapons that enable mass shootings.

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Rep. Justine A. Caldwell, Sen. Gayle L. Goldin and Sen. Joshua Miller today reintroduced their bills to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, saying such weapons have no legitimate purpose and that they endanger the public by enabling shooters to swiftly commit mass murder.

“We introduce these bills year after year. In the meantime, mass shootings continue to occur in America on an almost daily basis. After particularly large tragedies like Parkland, Las Vegas or Aurora, the public outrage about our lax gun laws swells, and yet here we are, still allowing the legal sale of weapons whose only purpose is to allow shooters to inflict as much damage as possible in a short time. What is it going to take for us to stop condoning the sale of weapons of mass murder?” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), who is sponsoring the bill to ban high-capacity magazines, a bill she has sponsored for years.

A 2018 poll found 60 percent of Rhode Islanders favor a ban on the sale or possession of semi-automatic rifles. A 2016 poll found 75 percent of Rhode Islanders were in favor of limiting magazines to 10 rounds.

“We introduced these bills early in the session because we believe legislation with the support of a large majority of Rhode Islanders and their senators and representatives should be heard early enough to be brought out of committees and voted on,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), who is sponsoring the assault rifle ban, as he has for several years. “These are the weapons of choice for mass shooters, not recreational hunters. They have no place in homes, neighborhoods or on the streets. As long as they are legal, our state is inviting people to have their very own weapon of mass murder, putting Rhode Islanders in danger.”

The bills were both recommendations made by the Gun Safety Working Group convened by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo following the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. Governor Raimondo, Attorney General Peter Neronha, and the Campaign for Gun Violence Prevention Rhode Island, a coalition of advocacy groups dedicated to preventing gun violence, have all called for bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

“Mass shootings do harm above and beyond even the horrendous violence they inflict. They traumatize survivors, like the family in my district who survived the Las Vegas shooting. They damage entire communities, like the people I’ve met from Newtown who may never truly recover from their psychological and emotional wounds. These devices vastly increase the amount of harm a person can do. Last year’s Dayton shooter was taken down by police within 32 seconds of opening fire. Because he used a high-capacity, 100-round drum magazine, he was able to shoot 26 people in those 32 seconds. No civilian needs that capability, and the Second Amendment does not protect our right to fire 100 rounds without reloading, or to shoot 26 people in 32 seconds. These laws pass legal muster and are a moral necessity,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), who is the sponsor of both bills in the House, as she was last year.  

The assault weapon bill would bar the sale and possession of assault weapons. It contains exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel, and would allow current assault weapon owners who pass a background check to keep the weapons they currently own.

Assault guns were banned across the United States from 1994 to 2004, but the federal act expired and was not renewed. Seven states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and Hawaii — plus Washington, D.C., currently ban them.

The high-capacity magazine legislation would ban possession, manufacture, import, purchase, sale or transfer of any ammunition-feeding device capable of accepting more than 10 rounds. Currently, Rhode Island law limits hunters to three bullets for duck hunting and five for deer hunting, but there is no limit for the number of bullets in weapons commonly used for mass shootings. Under the bill, those who currently own such devices would have 120 days to remove them from the state or surrender them to a gun dealer or police.

All the bills were submitted today. The high-capacity magazine bill has a total of 42 cosponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate, including primary sponsors Representative Caldwell and Senator Goldin. The assault weapon bill had a total of 34 cosponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate, including Representative Caldwell and Senator Miller.

Commemorating Roe v. Wade and closing the gaps on access to abortion

STATE HOUSE – On the 47th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision protecting the right to choose an abortion, Sen. Bridget Valverde and Rep. Liana Cassar today announced legislation that will lift the ban on abortion coverage for state employee health plans and ensure that abortion care is covered by Medicaid.

“Abortion is basic health care and should be covered by your health insurance no matter how much money you make or where you work. Right now, we have an unfair, discriminatory system in place here in Rhode Island. State employees and Medicaid patients deserve the same coverage as everyone else, but the law prohibits their insurance from providing it. These policies result in people and their families being denied access to health care, and in this case, those impacted are disproportionately poorer Rhode Islanders. We believe that every person has the right to make their own reproductive health decisions, but these Rhode Islanders cannot do that when their insurance is expressly prohibited from covering their choice,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown).

The bill would add Rhode Island to the ranks of 16 states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, whose Medicaid programs cover abortion.

“The General Assembly passed the Reproductive Privacy Act last year, which was a great success. The RPA eliminated many of the unconstitutional laws enacted in Rhode Island after Roe v. Wade to restrict reproductive rights. The ban on Medicaid programs and state employees’ insurance policies covering abortion is just one more vestige of the time when legislatures used every tool they had to deny people their right to choose. All Rhode Islanders deserve bodily autonomy, including the poor and those who are employed by the state. This ban is a backdoor means of denying reproductive rights, and it should be eliminated,” said Representative Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence).

The legislation is aimed at eliminating sections of law that expressly prohibit state employees’ and Medicaid recipients’ insurance from covering for abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or where the life of the mother would be endangered, as required by federal law. In compliance with the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services, it adds language that specifies that no federal funds shall be used to pay for them, except as authorized under federal law. The law would take effect upon passage.

The legislation is part of a campaign coordinated by The Womxn Project, and is supported by the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, the ACLU of Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, COYOTE RI, the National Council for Jewish Women, the National Association of Social Workers, RI Chapter, the United State of Women (Rhode Island), CaneIwalk, Rhode Island National Organization of Women (NOW), the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The Collective  and Swing Left Rhode Island. 

“We worked so hard as a movement and in coalition to make sure that in Rhode Island our right to abortion is protected, no matter what happens at the federal level. As we commemorate Roe and see the endless attacks on this right, we believe we have to draw the line and fight back. It is time to get rid of harmful policies that take away coverage for abortion. When people can’t afford care because they are denied benefits, that takes away their right to make their own decision. We won’t stand by and let this happen. We will continue to organize and make change together,” said Jordan Hevenor, co-director of the Womxn Project.