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STATEMENT: Center Opposes Push to Deregulate Abortion Industry; Decries Attacks on Catholic Church

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 21, 2017

Deregulation of Abortion Industry Debate Should Not Include Criticism of the Catholic Church

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity opposes the efforts by some lawmakers to deregulate the abortion industry as a preemptive step against unsubstantiated concerns about the Trump presidency. The Center also calls for a retraction of attacks against the Catholic Church and for a respectful public debate. Consistent with its current family prosperity initiative, the Center opposes any policy that promotes radical individualism at the expense of societal values.

“It is a setback for democracy and it could risk the safety of women if any type of abortion procedure can be performed at any time, on almost anyone, under potentially unregulated and unsafe conditions, without honest and rigorous public debate,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It is ironic and disturbing that many of the same lawmakers that have voted to systematically over-regulate legitimate businesses and industries out of existence in our state, are the same lawmakers who want this controversial industry to be given a free-pass to grow uncontrolled.”

In its current form, House bill H5343 could readily be interpreted to prohibit the State of Rhode Island from exercising reasonable oversight over abortion practices.The Center suggests this radical approach does not represent the mainstream thinking of Rhode Islanders. The Center maintains that the public generally opposes gruesome “partial birth” and other late-term abortions; opposes state taxpayer funding of abortions to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers; and opposes women in vulnerable circumstances from submitting to an abortion without informed consent … all of which could become rampant in Rhode Island if the proposed legislation were to become law.

The Center also decries the attacks by Representatives McNamara, Bennett, and Shanley against the Catholic Church and RI Right To Life by implying that they are spreading misinformation. Open and honest debate about such an emotional topic, especially by organizations with long-standing and principled histories with the issue, should be encouraged by all parties,without the need to cast aspersions.

“Certainly Rhode Islanders would not want a butcher like Kermit Gosnell to be able to act with impunity in our state,” added Stenhouse. In 2013 Gosnell, a Pennsylvania abortionist, was convicted of murdering three infants who were born alive during attempted abortion procedures, and was also convicted of 21 felony counts of illegal late-term abortions and 211 counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law. “If the bill is not intended to allow certain procedures under certain circumstances, then the bill should explicitly state those exceptions.”

A detailed discussion of the potential pitfalls of the proposed legislation by Justin Katz, the Center’s research director, can be found on the Center’s journalism and blog site, The Ocean State Current.

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Right on Crime: Increasing Family Prosperity via Criminal Justice Reform

by Justin Katz and Matthew Henry Young

A Pressing Need for Reform

Many families seeking upward mobility and prosperity must first break the cycle of incarceration — a cycle that makes it nearly impossible for those caught up in it, ex-offenders in particular, to achieve productive lives for themselves and their families.

New national research shows that Rhode Island ranked just 48th on the 2016 Family Prosperity Index (FPI) as well as just 48th on the Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI). In December 2016, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, in conjunction with its national partner, the American Conservative Union, issued a 52-page RI Family Prosperity report that highlighted contributing factors to our state’s poor rankings across 57 indexes.

Among other things, the report suggests that Rhode Island has room to modernize and improve its criminal justice system. Reforms put forth as part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and by other organizations can lessen the harmful consequences of over-incarceration for Ocean State families:

  • S0005: to request that the state government continue to seek ways to help Rhode Islanders return to productive activity after having been convicted of crimes
  • S0006 & H5065: to add dedicated funding to an intervention program for domestic abusers, to make supervision more effective and humane through increased training and assessment, with more emphasis on government-driven manipulation toward “pro-social behaviors”
  • S0007 & H5063: to increase and expand the reimbursements for which victims of crime are reimbursed by the state, for example reimbursing families for funeral expenses of deceased victims and expanding the time to report crimes.
  • S0008 & H5117: to modify the rules related to probation and violations thereof by, for example, allowing a punishment of only time served in cases of technical violations of probation and giving judges more flexibility when sentencing for guilty or nolo contender pleas
  • S0009 & H5128: to expand the ability of the parole board to take into account parolees’ circumstances and behavior before incarcerating them for violations (with flexibility in the duration) and to expand the impact statements required for corrections legislation
  • S0010 & H5064: to allow the state judiciary to create a diversion program, enabling defendants to make restitution in ways other than prison terms, to give judges flexibility in handling the sanctions for complaints, and to expand programs for pre-trial risk screening
  • S0011 & H5115: to remove fines over $1,000 as an automatic trigger for designation as a felony ease automatic designations of misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors, with specific exceptions/differences for assault and larceny

Rhode Island’s dismal overall circumstances will only be improved if policymakers and civil society leaders are willing to join together to pursue needed reforms, one issue at time, as highlighted in the state’s FPI report. The status quo has obviously not been working for Ocean State families.

Outdated and overly harsh policies have done little to help Rhode Islanders and their families when it comes to criminal justice. Our policies have long-term consequences that ripple throughout time and adversely affect children and families… generation after generation.

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Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), December 2016: RI Holds Steady Despite Jobs Hit

The preliminary yearend Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity shows the Ocean State holding on to 48th place in the country despite a hit to its jobs and employment numbers. In part, this result derived from improved income numbers, which lag by a quarter and may moderate when the full year is included in a final result for 2016.

Eight of the 13 datapoints used for the index have been newly updated. Employment was down 803 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell 2,199 and RI-based jobs slipped by 600. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month.) Medicaid enrollment numbers, now available through November, increased by 5,157, perhaps resulting from UHIP and HealthSource RI’s open enrollment period. Within the index that increase was offset by a 2,608 reduction in SNAP enrollment and a 199 reduction in TANF. (Note that these results predate UHIP, which may drive them up when fully functional.) Meanwhile, annualized state and local tax collections were up by $24 million, but personal income was up $802 million.

The first chart below shows Rhode Island still in the last position in New England. As the only two New England states to move in the rankings, Maine and Connecticut managed to increase their distance from Vermont and Massachusetts, respectively. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, with Maine a distant second, at 19th, now two places ahead of Vermont, at 21st. Connecticut moved up two to 32nd, outpacing Massachusetts, at 35th.

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The second chart shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England and the United States on JOI. The Ocean State lost ground against both averages. Rhode Island also lost ground with growing gaps on the unemployment rate (third chart).

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Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI remained at 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI moved up one to 46th.
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Center’s Family Prosperity Forum Suggests Stark Contrast to Governor’s State of the State Message; Statement on Free Tuition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

January 18, 2017

Pro-Family, Pro-Business Focus Recommended vs Governor’s Centrally-planned Mandate & Corporate Subsidy Approach
Left and Right Come Together to Support Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Center Proposes Alternative to Free Tuition Plan

Providence, RI — The overwhelming sentiment from the local and national policy experts, from both the left and right, who participated in Tuesday’s Family Prosperity Leadership Forum at Bryant University was that Rhode Island families should be the focus of public policy; in stark contrast to the corporate tax-credit policies that have been the center-piece of the Raimondo administration’s economic development agenda.

fpi_ri-logoThere was apparent unanimity in the belief that the state’s current corporate welfare strategy would not provide any relief to most distressed families and small businesses.

“When considering our Ocean State’s 48th ranking in overall family prosperity and 50th business climate ranking, it was clear to all attendees that a new policy direction is required,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Instead of greater tax burdens on families and increased mandates on small businesses, broad-based relief that opens the door for more and better businesses to create more and better jobs is what we need if we want a better quality of life for Rhode Island families.”

The forum, sponsored by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity and the American Conservative Union Foundation, and hosted by the Hassenfeld Institutue for Public Leadership, attracted almost 100 civic and political leaders from across the state and nation.

The forum featured a salient moment, when the Center, along with civil rights and political leaders from the left and right, stood together to support the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), which would would modernize the state’s over-burdened probation system. The proposed JRI legislation could help break the cycle of incarceration, which makes it difficult for ex-offenders to live a productive life for themselves and their families. Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey spoke words of praise for those on all sides of the philosophical spectrum who are supporting this vital initiative.

Free Tuition Alternative: Unrelated to the forum, and with regard to the Governor’s proposed “free tuition” plan, the Center suggests that instead of raising $30-40 million in new revenues to pay for expanded K-14 government funded education, that the state should focus on getting K-12 education right by re-purposing $30-$40 million in existing state education funds to empower families with expanded school choices via Educational Scholarship Accounts, as the Center has proposed for the past two years.


About the Family Prosperity Index: In December, along with its national partner, The American Conservative Union Foundation, the Center unveiled an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the Ocean State’s unacceptable ranking on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). The Rhode Island Family Prosperity report highlights Rhode Island’s poor scores on a number of factors, including family self-sufficiency, family structure, fertility, and illicit drug use, compounded by its significant out-migration rate, as the determinant factors in the state’s overall FPI rank of 48th in the nation.

The FPI provides the credible data that state policymakers, civic and religious leaders, think tanks and activists need in order to develop and advocate effectively for policies that improve the prosperity of families and the communities where they live.

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Center to Recognize MLK Day by Supporting Civil Rights “Justice Reinvestment” Legislation at Family Prosperity Leadership Forum

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 16, 2017
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) Seeks to Lessen the

Harmful Impact of Over-Incarceration on Families 
Democrat Senate Leadership to be Recognized for their Work at Tuesday’s “Family Prosperity Leadership Forum” at Bryant University

Providence, RI — As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity will recognize the struggle for civil rights by announcing its backing of a state Senate package of bills, designed to lessen the harmful impact of over-incarceration on Rhode Island families and communities, particularly those of color.

At its Family Prosperity Leadership Forum, to be held Tuesday, January 17, in conjunction with the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Center will join with civil rights leaders to endorse six bills under the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI)” banner that passed the Senate in 2016 but were held back in the House.

“Whether it is criminal justice reform, taxation, or education, if we are to improve our state’s dismal 48th place ranking in overall family prosperity, we must make helping families the focus of our public policy and private advocacy,” said Mike Stenhouse, Chief Executive Officer of the  Center. “At our Tuesday forum, we will recognize the leadership of Senate President Paiva-Weed and Senate Judiciary Chairman McCaffrey on this issue and we fully endorse passage of these bills in 2017.”

The legislation would modernize the state’s over-burdened probation system, which disproportionately impacts black families. The JRI legislation could help break the cycle of incarceration which makes it difficult for ex-offenders to live a productive life for themselves and their families.

Civil society leaders in the business, religious, community, and nonprofit sectors are encouraged to attend the leadership forum. Pre-registration is required at www.RIFamilies.org

In December, along with its national partner, The American Conservative Union Foundation, the Center unveiled an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the Ocean State’s unacceptable ranking on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). The Rhode Island Family Prosperity report  highlights Rhode Island’s poor scores on a number of factors, including family self-sufficiency, family structure, fertility, and illicit drug use, compounded by its significant out-migration rate, as the determinant factors in the state’s overall FPI rank of 48th in the nation.

The FPI provides the credible data that state policymakers, civic and religious leaders, think tanks and activists need in order to develop and advocate effectively for policies that improve the prosperity of families and the communities where they live.

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Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), November 2016: A Quiet Entry to the Holiday Season

The final Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity to be released in 2016 brings little change, leaving until next year information about how factors such as the problematic Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) will affect Rhode Island’s position nationally.

Of the 13 datapoints used for the index, only five were newly updated for the November report. Employment was down 365 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell a substantial 1,758, although RI-based jobs increased by 300. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month.) Medicaid enrollment decreased by 1,369 from August to September and SNAP by 667. The enrollment numbers for Rhode Island’s welfare programs will be a key variable to watch as 2016 data is completed early in the next year. Assuming UHIP doesn’t undermine data reporting to the federal government, the question will be whether increased information finds more current enrollees ineligible than connecting all of the program brings more people to benefits.

The first chart shows Rhode Island locked in the last position in New England on JOI. Although New England experienced a mix of improved and declining JOI scores, no states changed position in the national ranking. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, with Maine a distant second, at 20th. Vermont was right behind, at 21st. Connecticut narrowly held its 34th position, with Massachusetts next, at 35th.

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The second chart shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England as well as the United States, with the Ocean State’s lag worsening slightly in both cases. Rhode Island kept pace with New England for the gap on the unemployment rate but lost ground against the national average (third chart).

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Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI remained at 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained at 47th.
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National Study Blasts Politicization of RI Pension Portfolio Management; Center renews Call for Pension Fund Protection Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2016

Special Interest Politics Should Never be Investment Criteria

Providence, RI — A national report released yesterday by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – Keeping The Promise: Getting Politics Out of Pensions – dedicated an entire chapter (p.27) to highlighting a “politically-driven decision to divest from a high performing hedge-fund” by then Treasurer Gina Raimondo. With this incident and others in mind, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity renews its call for legislative action that would end the cronyism and overt politics that has caused instability to the retirement-security of public employees and that has exposed taxpayers to further risk. The mismanagement and politicization of Rhode Island’s public employee pension fund have resulted in sub-standard portfolio returns.

“Enough of the political correctness and insider cronyism. We call on lawmakers to act now to ensure that sound fiscal guidelines are adhered to,” reiterated Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The dismal performance of the state pension fund, under General Treasurers Raimondo and Magaziner, could have been minimized if sound investment practices were followed. Some kind of pension-fund protection act is clearly in order.”

Initial research shows that a number of other states have implemented, or are currently considering, provisions that require specific fiduciary guidelines to making pension fund investment decisions. A Pew Charitable Trusts report to the Committee on Alabama Public Pensions indicates that the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA) has suggested that pension fund trustees should adhere to “a robust fiduciary standard” in the execution of their duties. NASRA supports the action of setting strong fiduciary standards into law so that the paramount goal of investment strategies should be the financial security of pension assets.

In recent years, conversely, Rhode Island policy has put retirees and taxpayers at increased exposure, because political correctness appears to have been the primary motivation for making certain investment decisions:

  • Treasurer Raimondo announced a divestment strategy in 2013 from high performing “gun” related investments … for political reasons. (In a similar move the City of Providence divested from eight fossil fuel companies.)
  • As highlighted in the ALEC report, Treasurer Raimondo divested in 2014 from the states highest performing hedge fund, Dan Loeb’s Third Point LLC … caving to political pressure from teachers unions
  • Instead, Treasurer Raimondo invested in other high-fee hedge funds … some of which were associated with her former investment company
  • Treasurer Magaziner announced in early 2016 that state’s proxy votes would be used to influence investment vendors to diversify their boards … to meet an arbitrary politically-correct standard
  • Treasurer Magaziner announced last month a “back to basics” investment strategy to divest of most hedge fund investments … bowing to political pressure from third-party critics

“Each of these fiscally-irresponsible decisions has led to deteriorating performance of the pension fund. There’s little reason to trust that Treasurer Magaziner’s new back to basics strategy will not continue be overly-politicized,” added Mike Riley, Chairman of the Center, and an investment and pension expert. “It is obvious now that the General Assembly must act to ensure proper fiscal due-diligence is conducted, devoid of political correctness considerations.”

In order to protect the security and stability of state retirement funds, Riley suggests that legislation should include the following goals:

  1. Ensure that all investment decisions are made solely in the best interest of the beneficiaries
  2. Limit considerations for investment vehicles to measurable economic or fiscal factors only
  3. Ban other non-fiscal considerations, except in the most extreme instances (e.g., Iran-based companies)
  4. Ensure that investment fees and costs are reasonable in relation to the assets of the retirement system

The Center encourages lawmakers to honor the promise made to public employees and to support related pension-protection legislation in 2017.

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10 Multi-partisan Policy Principles to Improve on RI’s 48th Ranking in Family Prosperity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 6, 2016
Multi-partisan Policy Recommendations to Improve Family Prosperity and Upward Mobility

Offers public policy ideas for 2016 State candidates to consider

Providence, RI — With statewide elections in just two months, voters must consider whether a turnover in elected officials is necessary to to see a turnover in public policies that may actually improve their families’ prosperity.

Ranking just 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index (FPI) published earlier this year, the broadest available measure of family well-being, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) today published a summary of the state’s rankings in dozens of FPI categories along with a set of policy principles that lawmakers are encouraged to consider.

“What if we were to realize that the status quo public policy approach, as well-intended as it may be, in reality, has had the unintended consequence of reducing the overall prosperity of our Rhode Island families,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO.”The FPI research clearly demonstrates that cultural, social, and demographic factors must also be considered, in addition to economic factors, when formulating effective public policy.”

The Center maintains that a new public policy approach – an approach that considers the whole person, not just his/her material needs – and that takes the best ideas from across the political spectrum – is required to improve the lives of Ocean State families and individual taxpayers.

The two page policy brief provides a color coded summary of the Ocean State’s rankings. As part of its 48th place ranking among all states, Rhode Island: ranked in the bottom-third in 5 of the 6 major categories, and 18 of the 30 sub-categories; ranked in the middle-third in 1 of 6 major categories and 8 sub-categories; and in the top-third in zero major categories and just 4 sub-categories. The state’s worst rankings are in the major category of Family Demographics, where it ranks red in all 5 sub-categories.

To directly address these problems the Center has developed 10 guiding policy principles that candidates should debate this fall and that lawmakers should consider in the 2017 session. “The solution for our families is not about corporate welfare to targeted ‘advanced industries,’ but rather broad-based policies that enhance opportunity for every family and business,” continued Stenhouse.

In this regard, the Center’s ten policy principles include ideas from the playbooks of both the right and the left. “A new spirit of across-the-aisle and civic cooperation is required if our state government is to effectively serve its constituents. Additionally, community, religious and business leaders also have a very important role to play as public policy cannot address many of the problems Rhode Island must overcome if our families are to improve their chances of upward mobility,” concluded Stenhouse.

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Center Releases Bright Today School Choice Video to Celebrate Milton Friedman Legacy Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 29, 2016

NEW VIDEO: Parents Discuss Why School Choice Would Benefit Their Families as Part of Friedman Legacy Day Celebration

Bright Today Educational Scholarships Would Empower Parents to Choose the Best Educational Path for their Children

Providence, RI —  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) joined in the national celebration of the 10th annual Milton Friedman Legacy Day by releasing a new school choice video, featuring two Rhode Island families. Milton Friedman, regarded as the ‘father of school choice’ , would have been 104 years old today.

SCAs creator of and lead advocate for Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESA) in Rhode Island, the Center encourages families concerned about the lack of educational options available for them to learn more about its “Bright Today” ESA scholarship program, Bright Today legislation, which would empower all Ocean State families with new capacities to choose alternative public or private schools for their children, has not moved in the state’s General Assembly over the past two years.

“Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation and a vital basis for renewed economic growth. Yet very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Just look at the kids in our new video and tell me how we can deny them a better opportunity to improve their chances to go to college, to build a career, and to succeed in life.”

The video, featured on the BrightToday.org website, includes commentary from Gertrude Jones, former President of the Providence School Board and Lifespan Vice President and diversity consultant, who is also an adjunct educational scholar to the Center.

Improving educational outcomes for Rhode Island students is a key component towards improving the state’s dismal 48th place national ranking on the Family Prosperity Index. The Ocean State Current, the Center’s blog and journalism website, also published today a related op-ed – Doing Better by RI’s Children – on the school choice issue.

Over recent year, the Center has partnered with the national Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and with the local RI Families for School Choice to promote the ESA legislation