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Spotlight on the Statehouse: April 14, 2015

Legislators, lobby groups debate gun control in Rhode Island

The House Judiciary Committee will hear firearm reform legislation Tuesday, with a range of proposed bills attempting to create both more stringent and looser restrictions. Gun control advocates support efforts to ban guns on public school property, bar those with domestic violence misdemeanor convictions from owning firearms and set a 10-round magazine limit, the Providence Journal reported.

Meanwhile, legislators backed by the National Rifle Association are promoting bills that would permit those under 21 to purchase weapons if they provide a viable reason, allow automatic renewal of carrying permits and change the application process to ask for indictments only on offenses punishable by more than a year in prison, the Journal reported.

Lobbyists on both sides have expressed vocal support for their favored legislative changes. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence will hold a “Stand Up Rally” Thursday, at which Mayor Jorge Elorza is expected to speak, followed by a press conference in the State House to “encourage our General Assembly to pass … common sense gun laws,” according to a RICAGV statement, the Journal reported.

Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, Coventry and Glocester, endorsed more lenient regulation. In an interview with the Journal, he asserted that gun control laws fail to reach the criminals they are intended to stop and cited the common practice of dropping weapons charges in plea agreements.

Health Committee hears assisted suicide bill

The Compassionate Care Act came under debate in the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare April 8. Legislation from Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, permitting physicians to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients would make Rhode Island the sixth state to adopt such a law.

To qualify for this option, a patient would need to be diagnosed as having no more than six months to live, be capable of taking the medication him or herself and express the intention to die on three separate occasions, the Journal reported. If the law were adopted, doctors would not be mandated to provide this medication and could not be sued for doing so if the proper avenues were followed.

Bernard Haley of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference opposed the legislation, saying at the hearing, “There is no life we consider not worth living.” The late Rhode Island Senator Lila Sapinsley worked on the bill until her death last year, and her daughter Patricia Sapinsley spoke at the hearing. “This is a compassion issue,” Sapinsley said, adding that “the death sentence is already in place for these people.”

Bill proposes analysis of monthly traffic search statistics

The Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act of 2015 would amend the Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2004 by creating new regulations for police officers regarding the recording of traffic stops. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence, will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The bill calls for new procedures in traffic searches, requiring officers to document all searches in a publicly accessible database, including the reasonable suspicion that initiated the search, according to the General Assembly. During every traffic stop a police officer would also be required to fill out a form provided by the Office of Highway Safety that lists the race or ethnicity of the stopped driver. Collection of data would begin Jan. 1, 2016, and the Office of Highway Safety would be responsible for obtaining the forms from all state police departments each quarter for four years.

A statistical analysis of the data, including a breakdown of the numbers by race, would be run and released for public viewing for each month. Every year for four years, state and municipal police would submit a report outlining any measures taken to combat disparities found within the traffic stop data.



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