Justin Katz to Receive Prestigious "Lumen Gentium" Award from the Diocese of Providence

Center Congratulates its own Justin Katz for Lumen Gentium Religious Award

STATEMENT: May 16, 2017
For Immediate Release

Justin Katz to Receive Prestigious “Lumen Gentium” Award from the Diocese of Providence

Providence, RI — Referring to his work as “subtle evangelism,” Justin Katz will be honored this Wednesday evening by the Diocese of Providence with the fifth-annual “Lumen Gentium” award for communication of the Catholic faith at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, Rhode Island.. Translated as “Light of the Nations,” the prestigious award will be presented to Katz, who serves as research director for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and editor of its online journalism website, The Ocean State Current.

“Articulating the beautiful logic and practical wisdom of a worldview rooted in Catholic belief and tradition can be the force of revelation,” said Katz. The award for Katz coincides with and complements the Center’s recent “family prosperity” initiative, which takes into account social and cultural issues, along with economic and demographic factors, when considering overall family well-being and public policy. Religiosity, or church attendance, is one of dozens of factors that make up the Family Prosperity Index, in which Rhode Island ranked a dismal 48th in 2016.

“We congratulate Justin for his great honor. It was his steadfast belief that social and religious issues cannot be separated from economic issues that led to the revelation that our Center should adopt the more holistic Family Prosperity Initiative as the central core of our policy advocacy moving forward,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.

Readers are encouraged to personally congratulate Justin Katz at @JustinKatzRI.

Marijuana Legalization: Constitutional Crisis and Increased Costs and Legal Jeopardy for Employers?

Click here to see our previous marijuana statement

Click here to see testimony from CEO Stenhouse

April 5, 2017. Providence, RI — Concerned about the lack of serious debate about the societal impact of legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana use, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today published a policy brief that underscores the high risks that employers would face without adequate statutory protections. The brief follows a statement last month by the Center about the potential negative impact on family culture.

“If we want to increase opportunities for meaningful work for Rhode Island families, we need every employer and every job to remain in our state,” warned Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Imposing new legal risks on the business community, without proper evaluation and accommodation, would be an irresponsible act that would further harm our already last-place business climate.”

With hearings expected on the legislation next week, according to the policy brief, the legalization of recreational marijuana would create a constitutional crisis, whereby increased usage rates, could create major legal jeopardy and new costs for employers:

  • Legal jeopardy and costs for employers
  • Workplace safety
  • Increased drug testing costs for employers
  • Increased workers’ compensation costs and liabilities
  • Difficulty in identifying, recruiting, hiring, and maintaining drug-free employees
  • Loss of employee productivity
  • Increased costs to taxpayers for social services programs for those who become or remain unemployed for marijuana related reasons

“I have professionally dealt with employees who are concerned about their own personal safety when their co-workers are stoned in the workplace,” said Michael Cerullo, an Adjunct Scholar to the Center on the issue of substance abuse. “Increased usage of marijuana will invariably lead to decreased safety and productivity in manufacturing and other work environments, and will create legal problems for employers who seek to maintain a drug-free workplace.”

Cerullo is founder of What’s the Rush RI and is one of the state’s leading activists against marijuana legalization until a more thorough examination of the data from other states can be made. He is a private practice psychotherapist. Cerullo has evaluated and treated hundreds of adolescent and emerging adults involved with DCYF, the Family Court and justice system and with residential rehab programs.

As a more prudent approach, and in order to better understand these and other issues, the Center and Mr. Cerullo support the concept of a legislative study commission to properly vet data from other states and to evaluate the potential impacts of legalization across the board. The Center recommends a two-year commission study and reporting period so as to allow for even more research to be compiled. This approach is in keeping with the prestigious Rand Corporation’s view that it will not be until 2020 that we will fully see what changes take place in use, revenue, black market activity, big marijuana industry behavior and in downstream treatment, public health and safety trends.

Hair Braider Freedom

Center Supports Cape Verdean Woman, Others, in Quest for Hair Braiding Freedom. Hearing Today

Regulations Inhibit Many From Pursuing Financial Freedom
Joceyln DoCouto Cannot Afford Onerous Licensing Requirements

Providence, RI — Hair braiding is a cultural and practical art-form for Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hails from Senegal and Cape Verde. Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, are not able to turn this generationally-developed natural hair practice into a legitimate business that would provide them with hope for financial independence.

With a hearing scheduled for this afternoon, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today joins with the RI Families Coalition in support of regulatory reforms that would free natural hair braiders from the occupational licensing mandates currently imposed on the harmless practice. Across the country, recognizing the need to encourage honest work, conservatives and liberals are banding together to advance related reforms.

Legislation sponsored by Representative Anastasia Williams (H5436) would allow natural hair braiders to engage in legal work without the mandate to obtain the same permission from the government that is required of cosmeticians and hairdressers.

“This licensing burden is especially harmful to many people who would prefer to start new careers and earn paychecks instead of receiving welfare checks,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center, who also plans to tesitfy today. In 2016 Rhode Island ranked a dismal 44th in ‘entrepreneurship’ according to the national Family Prosperity Index. “Unfair and unreasonable occupational licensing restrictions must be repealed if we want more Rhode Islanders to have a chance to improve their quality of life and engage in entrepreneurial commerce.”

Anti Free-Market, Protectionist Policies? It is a common scheme for advocates of certain industries to lobby government to impose strict licensing requirements in order to create barriers to competition. According to a 2012 report by the Center, many such occupational licensing mandates have a disproportionate and negative impact on low-income workers, who often can’t afford the time or money to meet the sometimes onerous and unnecessary requirements.

Further, the Institute for Justice, in 2016, reported that there were 16 states in the United States that required hair braiders to get a “cosmetology” license, which could involve spending hundreds or thousands of hours in training and hundred or thousands of dollars on tuition or fees. In these cosmetology classes, students have to learn how to use chemical treatments and how to cut hair – tasks that have nothing to do with braiding hair.

Additionally, 14 states, along with the District of Columbia, require hair braiders to acquire a specialized license. In Mississippi and Iowa, hair braiders have to register with the state. Specialty licenses require 600 hours of classes and can cost thousands of dollars.

However, in recent years, many states, understanding the anti-commerce nature of such “protectionist” policies, have moved to reverse similar anti-jobs mandates. With regard to providing hair braiders the freedom to work, the states of Indiana, South Dakota, Iowa among others have considered licensing repeals for this specific vocation.

STATEMENT: Center Claims It Reckless And Anti-Family to Legalize Marijuana This Year

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 13, 2017

Center Claims it Reckless and Anti-Family to Legalize Marijuana This Year
Supports Study Commission as More Prudent Approach

Click here to see our statement on risk to employers

Click here to see testimony from CEO Stenhouse

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity claims it would be reckless to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state this year, as sufficient analysis has not been independently conducted. While public discussion has focused on revenues, underground markets vs regulated markets, incarceration rates, and forms of strict regulation, the Center believes that the potential impact on families and on society have been a glaring omission in the statewide debate.

“How would any family benefit from increased use or abuse of any substance,” asked Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “We must put the interests of minors, families, and overall society above all other considerations.”

Conflicting data from studies of Colorado, Washington and other states that have previously legalized recreational cannabis use have created an unclear picture of the short-term and long-term effects.

“The research shows that there are major potential risks to individuals and to society, but we cannot yet accurately quantify the actual scope of these concerns. This is why we need more time to study the issue. We should not recklessly move forward until we know with more certainty where we are headed,” said Michael Cerullo, who was today named as an Adjunct Scholar to the Center on the issue of substance abuse.

Cerullo is founder of What’s the Rush RI and is one of the state’s leading activists against marijuana legalization until a more thorough examination of the data from other states can be made. He is a private practice psychotherapist. Cerullo has evaluated and treated hundreds of adolescent and emerging adults involved with DCYF, the Family Court and justice system and with residential rehab programs.

“As Patrick Kennedy recently warned, increased use of marijuana could indeed lead to increased opioid and other substance abuse. Already with a statewide illicit drug use problem, there is simply too big a risk for families for Rhode Island to act at this time” added Cerullo.

The Center also points to the unresolved question of enforcement of federal marijuana prohibitions, and whether or not Rhode Island would be putting itself in legal jeopardy by rushing to legalize the drug. The Trump administration signaled in late February that it is considering stricter enforcement of existing federal marijuana laws when it comes to states acting independently on the matter. The Obama administration openly took the position that it would not enforce related federal law. “This federal legal question is yet another issue that must be cleared up before Rhode Island moves forward,” concluded Stenhouse.

As a more prudent approach, and in order to better understand these and other issues, the Center and Mr. Cerullo support the concept of a legislative study commission to properly vet data from other states and to evaluate the potential impacts of legalization across the board. The Center recommends a two-year commission study and reporting period so as to allow for even more research to be compiled. This approach is in keeping with the prestigious Rand Corporation’s view that it will not be until 2020 that we will fully see what changes take place in use, revenue, black market activity, big marijuana industry behavior and in downstream treatment, public health and safety trends.

STATEMENT: Center Joins National Taxpayer Group to Oppose Carbon Tax Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 1, 2017

15 Cents per Gallon & other Increased Energy Rates Will Further Harm RI Families, Businesses, and State’s Overall Competitiveness

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity supports a letter to Ocean State lawmakers issued today by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the national pro-taxpayer group headed by Grover Norquist, in opposition to the concept of a new state carbon tax on energy; a tax that will kill jobs in Rhode Island.

Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeanine Calkin, Ana Quezada, James Seveney, Harold Metts, and Frank Lombardo (S0365) would place a new tax of $15 per ton of emissions; a tax that will then increase by an additional $5 per year. The bill will be heard today by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture. The House version of the bill (H5369) sponsored by Representatives Regunberg, Carson, Handy, Keable, and Donovan has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

“This progressive-government kind of interference in the market, which will drive up energy rates for every Rhode Island family and business, is one of the major reason’s why Ocean Staters suffer from the 50th ranked business climate and the 48th rank in family prosperity,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Once again, some lawmakers are placing the advancement of a radical green agenda, ahead of the interests of the people of our state – the forgotten families.”

Already paying some of the highest energy and gasoline rates in the country, Rhode Island families and business could see an increase of up to 15 cents per gallon if this bill were to become law, according to ATR.

Job-Killing, Economy-Busting Proposal? Whether via carbon taxes, green energy mandates, or restrictions on cheaper fossil-fuel based energy production, higher energy costs are a major drag on economic growth. According to a 2016 report by the Center, an extreme green energy agenda, which this bill would advance, could result in dire economic consequences;

  • 4,000 – 6,000 fewer jobs
  • $141-$190 million in total costs
  • a 49-73% increase in the base cost of electricity, leading to
  • a 13-18% increase in electricity rates
  • $670-$893 million extracted from the economy

“Our state economy is simply too fragile to be able to handle this kind of negative hit,” concluded Stenhouse. “And at what offsetting gain?”

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.

Stenhouse Testimony on Justice Reinvestment Initiative Bills

The PDF below is the written testimony submitted on January 31, 2017 to the House Judiciary Committee by the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, with regard to the House package of bills recommended by the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).

The testimony follows the prior day’s release of the Center’s Right on Crime policy brief, which discusses the impetus behind these bills, as well as other criminal justice reform issues.

PDF of Stenhouse Testimony

Policy Brief: RI’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative is step towards being Right on Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 30, 2017

Right and Left Agree That pro-Family Considerations are the “Right” way to “Reinvest” in Criminal Justice
House Leaders Encouraged to Give Serious Consideration to JRI Package of Legislation

fpi_ri-logoProvidence, RI — With related House Judiciary Committee hearings scheduled for Tuesday, and in line with the pro-family objectives of its new Family Prosperity Initiative, the center-right Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity today published a policy brief that supports the State’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) that is being advance by many on the left.

In order to give certain ex-offenders a better chance to achieve a productive life for themselves and their families, the policy brief – Right on Crime – lays out multiple reform ideas that can modernize and strengthen the Ocean State’s criminal justice system so as the lessen the harmful consequences of over-incarceration on society.

Ranking a dismal 48th in overall family prosperity, Rhode Island’s probation and parole rate is fourth highest in the nation, which many believe leads to a high rate of recidivism.

Consistent with the conservative “Right on Crime” movement that is taking hold in red and blue states across the nation, the reforms recommended in the Center’s brief address many issues that have long concerned liberals and that have proven to be destructive to Rhode Island families, including:

  • Poor & minorities disproportionately incarcerated
  • Critical family members embroiled in the criminal justice system
  • No default criminal-justice provision
  • Children of incarcerated parents trapped in cycle of crime and poverty
  • Over-burdened probation system

As discussed in the Right on Crime brief, an attempt to address many of these issues was included in a package of legislation known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) during the 2016 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly and reintroduced this year. The bipartisan JRI package of bills, many of which are reviewed in the brief, unanimously passed the state’s Senate both in committee and on the floor in 2016. However, for unknown reasons, the legislative session ended without the bills’ making it to committee hearings in the House of Representatives, despite broad bipartisan support for the initiative as well as from parole officers, criminal defense attorneys (both public and private), civil rights advocates, and community leaders. The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee heard the 2017 version of these bills earlier this month.

CJFPI

Mike Stenhouse, Ray Rickman, David Safavian, Senator McCaffrey, Grant Collins

As an example of this cross-philosophical public policy cooperation, at the January 17th Family Prosperity Leadership Forum, which attracted almost 100 civic and political leaders from across the state and nation, the Center, along with local and national civil rights and political leaders from the left and right, stood together to support the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which would would improve the state’s over-burdened probation and overall criminal justice system.

The proposed JRI legislation could help break the cycle of incarceration, which makes it difficult for ex-offenders to improve their quality of life. Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey spoke words of praise (click for video) for those on all sides of the philosophical spectrum who are supporting this vital initiative.


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.

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.

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.