Spotlight on the Statehouse: Feb. 7, 2013

By and
Senior Staff Writer and City & State Editor
Thursday, February 7, 2013

Racial profiling

Two state legislators introduced a proposal in the General Assembly this week to reinstate a policy of collecting data from traffic stops to curtail instances of racial profiling.

The legislation — introduced by Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence, and Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence — will require police officers to document in writing their reason for pulling over a motorist or searching a pedestrian.

“As I’ve said for years, driving while black — or brown or any other color — is not a crime,” Almeida said, according to a General Assembly press release. “More than a decade after we first started collecting traffic stop information, those of us in the minority community know that we are still being stopped more often and getting searched for no good reason.”

Legislation with similar intent has failed in the General Assembly when police organizations expressed apprehension that such laws would hinder police work.


Sugary drinks

A bill proposing a new $1.28 per gallon soft drink tax was introduced by a group of legislators earlier this month.

Rep. Larry Valencia, D-Charlestown, Exeter, Richmond, Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, Narragansett, Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, Rep. Maria Cimini, D-Providence, and Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, sponsored the bill, which stipulates that a sugary beverage is a “nonalcoholic beverage … containing sugar, corn syrup or any other high-calorie sweetener including … sodas, sports drinks or energy drinks.”

The legislation aims to decrease the obesity rate, which stands at 25.4 percent among Rhode Island adults.

Restaurant owners have raised concerns that the tax will be bad for business. The Center for Consumer Freedom stated sugary drinks are not the only contributor to obesity, though Harvard’s School of Public Health published a study last September showing they are a major factor.


Manhole covers

In an effort to prevent manhole theft, a bill heard in the House Judiciary Committee today would prohibit scrap metal dealers from buying manhole covers without city consent.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Elain A. Coderre, D-Pawtucket, comes in the wake of complaints from municipal officials about high rates of manhole cover theft.

A total of 230 manhole covers were stolen in Providence in 2012, racking up large costs for the city. The city recently passed a law similar to state legislation that requires scrap dealers to have a certificate from the city authorizing the purchase of their manhole covers.