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Taveras’ agenda bolsters police authority

Among 10 bills, one would permit police to seize weapons in abuse, mental harm cases

Seeking to increase police authority to seize weapons, preclude prisoners serving life sentences from receiving public pensions, and bolster local ordinances through increased littering and zoning-related fines, Mayor Angel Taveras testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the city’s annual legislative agenda April 15.

Taveras is a frontrunner in the race for Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s ’75 P’14 P’17 seat and will face General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Clay Pell and contractor Todd Giroux in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.

“It’s a sensible agenda because it doesn’t bring up any issues that would cost him votes in the primary and general election,” said Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller. “We have a new speaker, who (Taveras) doesn’t have a firm working relationship with, so he doesn’t know what will be passed,” Schiller said. As a result, Taveras has asked for smaller and “more practical” policy changes, she added.

One bill in the agenda authorizes police officers to seize weapons in instances of domestic abuse and mental instability, as well as without warrant from individuals whom officers determine pose a risk of serious harm to themselves or others, wrote Meghan McCabe, deputy press secretary for Taveras, in an email to The Herald.

“I don’t think that the mayor is proposing taking guns from people on the street. I think what they are saying is that if there is someone that is arrested or accused of domestic violence, then they can seize the property and keep it till that person has proven to be stable,” Schiller said.

“We are concerned about the constitutional issues that it would raise,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union. “A lot of the terms used in the bill are extremely vague. For example, it doesn’t define what constitutes a deadly weapon.”

The measure to prevent incarcerated individuals from receiving pensions is being put forth in response to public concerns over a former Providence police officer, Nicholas Gianquitti, who is serving life in prison and whose family continues to receive his $51,000 annual disability pension, the Providence Journal reported.

Taveras also put forth a related bill that grants the Superior Court the right to adjudicate proceedings related to local ordinances that revoke or reduce pensions for municipal employees convicted of crimes that constitute dishonorable service, McCabe wrote.

The littering measure would address waste disposal by industrial companies from neighboring cities and not small-scale garbage disposal, said Scott MacKay, an analyst for Rhode Island Public Radio.

The zoning ordinance was proposed in response to complaints about the noise levels of particular establishments, such as strip clubs or music venues, and would impose higher penalties on them for violating ordinances, Schiller said.

The 10 bills that comprise Taveras’ agenda also include legislation to restore tax exemptions to the independent senior living facility Laurelmead Cooperative, ­permit municipalities to either tax hospitals or enter into agreements with certain for-profit hospitals and maintain waivers for installing traffic violation monitoring devices in towns and cities, McCabe wrote.

Last summer, Laurelmead’s tax bill increased 85 percent when the city’s homestead exemption, a tax discount for homeowners, was removed as a way to streamline tax policy, the Providence Journal reported. The bill put forth by Taveras would restore the elderly complex’s tax exemption by “changing the formula for assessing owner-occupied units in cooperative housing corporations within the city of Providence, according to the legislative agenda,” McCabe wrote.

This bill will benefit the elderly population, which is likely to influence the vote in the Democratic primary in September, Schiller said.

“With the mayor running for governor, they decided not to do something controversial,” MacKay said.

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