Protecting Citizens from Unjust Prosecution

Why Rhode Island needs a Default Mens Rea Provision

Download a PDF of the 2013 policy brief here ; related Senate Bill No. 414; related 2012 policy brief

2014 GoLocalProv Article – on “Dumb” Providence ordinances

2013 GoLocalProv article – on “50 Dumbest” RI Laws


The rapid expansion of criminal laws in modern day jurisprudence requires a default mens rea (criminal intent) provision to ensure innocent citizens are not given serious criminal penalties for conduct outside the realm of traditional criminal laws.

Every state should be careful when seeking to convict its citizens of crimes without the government proving that he or she intended to violate a law or knew that his or her conduct was unlawful. Many states are moving to protect its citizens from unjust punishment because of ambiguous and poorly-drafted criminal offense statutes.

Nationally, there are fourteen states that have a default mens rea provision similar or identical to that found in §2.02(3) of the Model Penal Code: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Four other states facially require a mental state without a default mens rea.

Close to Home: Examples in Rhode Island Statutes

1) It is a fineable offense, with no requisite mental state, to use the terms “fresh eggs,” “strictly fresh eggs,” “new-laid eggs,” or similar words or descriptions when selling eggs, unless the eggs are consumer grade A or better. R.I. GEN. LAWS §21-17-10, §21-17-6.

What about a farm stand owner who sells “fresh eggs” but doesn’t know to check if they are consumer grade A or better?

2) It is an offense to own a billiard table without a license, and no intent requirement is included. The fine is either $20 or three months of imprisonment. R.I. GEN. LAWS §5-2-12.

What if a bar owner puts a pool table in his facility without knowing of this requirement?

3) It is an offense to sell footwear which has been imported from a foreign country without notifying each person purchasing or intending to purchase that footwear that it has been imported, by displaying in a conspicuous place, in letters at least as large as the figures indicating the price of the goods sold, a sign marked “Imported goods.” If the goods have an individual price marking, they shall also be marked with the words “Imported goods” or the country of origin. This offense carries penalties up to $500 or three months imprisonment, or both. R.I. GEN. LAWS §5.41.1, §5.41.2, §5.41.3.

What about garage or yard sales?

4) It is an offense to own a snowmobile or ATV without “a muffler in good working order which blends the exhaust noise into the overall snowmobile or recreational vehicle noise and is in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise. The exhaust system shall not emit or produce a sharp popping or crackling sound.” The penalty is $100 or 90 days imprisonment, or both, for a first offense. R.I. GEN. LAWS §31-3.2-8, §31-3.2.10.

Does one single pop or crack create criminal liability? What if someone isn’t aware the muffler is required to “blend the exhaust noise” adequately?

Nationally: A Real Life Example of Over-Criminalization

George Norris, a resident of Houston, Texas, imported orchids as a part-time business. In 2003, federal agents raided his home and seized his belongings. Norris was prosecuted and imprisoned because he imported a few legal orchids into the United States with improper paperwork. Because Norris unknowingly committed this “crime,” he not only spent 17 months in prison, but he lost his business, retirement savings, and trust in the legal system.


Enact a Default Mental State in Rhode Island

Criminal laws in Rhode Island today cover a wide range of otherwise innocent behavior, from trading workout tips to transporting poultry, in statutes and administrative regulations.

Such criminal sanctions to regulate behavior sometimes do not include a requisite culpable mental state, opening up innocent actors to serious criminal sanctions for behavior that is not inherently wrong.

Enacting a default mental state provision would ensure that criminal sanctions are levied against the guilty while protecting citizens from unduly burdensome regulations and criminal laws. It would not alter any Legislative pronouncement of a requisite mental state, but merely supply the answer when the Legislature has not already specifically addressed it in codification in a particular criminal law.

This policy recommendation is not about letting violent, career criminals off the hook – this model is about reining in government’s zealous regulation and protecting innocent, hardworking Americans from the destruction of their businesses and livelihoods.

The Criminal Intent Protection will:

  •  Protect citizens from unjust charges or conviction
  •  Protect freedom and liberty for individuals and small business
  •  Strengthen our criminal justice system
How will a default mental state achieve these goals?

1) By protecting citizens from unjust charges or conviction:

  •  It will ensure that criminal offense statutes and rules include a criminal intent requirement.
  •  It will focus the criminal law on putting dangerous offenders in prison (murder, arson, rape, theft, and robbery)–-not putting hardworking Americans in prison who are unaware of vague and ambiguous law.
  •  Many non-violent criminal offenses, such as failing to comply with specific regulatory or reporting requirements, criminalize conduct that is not inherently wrongful.
  •  It will protect citizens from being criminally charged for an accidental mistake.
  •  Many of the offenses that do not include criminal intent requirements are paperwork violations and are created by un-elected, regulatory bureaucrats.

 2) Protect freedom and liberty for individuals and small business:

  •  The average American, worker, and business have no hope of knowing the thousands of criminal-law statutes. They can find themselves facing expensive prosecutions and lengthy prison sentences for making honest mistakes.
  •  Will reserve criminal law for those who intended to commit a wrongful act – those who deserve the consequences.
  •  Will help to protect citizens’ businesses, livelihoods and reputations so they may contribute to, and strengthen, our economy.
  •  Any time lawmakers pass a criminal law that does not take into account criminal intent, honest hardworking citizens can find themselves facing prison time.

3) Strengthen our criminal justice system:

  •  When conduct that is not inherently wrongful is criminalized, it threatens and endangers the integrity of our criminal justice system.
  •  Criminal law should safeguard both liberty and security.
  •  Prosecuting and imprisoning one individual is costly to taxpayers and should be reserved for offenders who knowingly and willfully violated the law.


A default mental state would prevent unjust criminal sanctions for innocent behavior. It would protect citizens from oversights in legislative drafting and provide peace of mind for those taking part in wholly innocent and blameless behavior. It would not restrict the Legislature, but instead encourage it to speak clearly as to the guilty mind it thinks must be proven to obtain a guilty verdict.

Rhode Island citizens are currently without recourse if charged with a crime that should have a mental state included in its language but does not. A default criminal intent provision would restore the protection afforded to Americans for centuries.

Minimum Wage’s Cost in Jobs: 432 at $8.25 and 3,466 at $10.10

Profile of minimum wage worker is NOT of a low-income, family bread-winner.

Related Links: WJAR-10 TV Story; GoLocalProv Story; Pew Research Center: national data backs up our findings; CBO – nonpartisan federal agency echos job loss projections (2014)

2014 Wall Street Journal story confirms Center’s position

Video by FEE: The Truth about the minimum wage …

As an update to prior studies of the effect of increasing the minimum wage on Rhode Island’s employment situation, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity estimates that proposed increases could cost the state hundreds or even thousands of jobs.

Legislation passed the General Assembly in 2014 that will increase the minimum wage in 2015 to $9.00 per hour, from its current $8.00, which was itself a new increase from $7.40 2 years ago. When all is said and done, this jump from $7.40 to $9.00 will wind up costing the state hundreds or thousands of jobs, the lion’s share affecting teenagers.

Additionally, legislators in the U.S. Congress are advocating for an increase to $10.10 per hour or higher.  That change, we estimate, would destroy 3,466 Rhode Islanders’ jobs.

Minimum Wage Changes in Rhode Island

The very next session after the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to increase the minimum wage from $7.40 to $7.75, the legislature will consider bills moving it up again, to $8.25.  The elected officials who made H5079 and S0256 among the earliest legislation to hit the State House, this year, surely see the move as a campaign to help struggling families. But the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity sees it as a continuing assault on the state’s economy and especially those most in need of upward mobility.

Last July, the Center found that Rhode Island’s move from $6.75 to $7.40, from 2005 to 2011, likely cost teenagers in the state 397 jobs.  The increase to $7.75 destroyed an estimated 200 more.

Based on the work of the economists who performed that study, David Macpherson (Trinity University) and William Even (Miami University), with a review of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 2011 and 2012, the Center estimates that, overall, the move from $7.40 to $8.25 will eliminate 432 jobs, 204 of them among teenagers.*

Who Is Affected?

According to the study, 24,846 Rhode Islanders currently have jobs that pay them at a rate of $8.25 per hour or less.  The “typical” profile — using the highest percentage by each demographic quality — is of a white non-Hispanic high-school graduate, 21-years-old or younger and with no college experience, who lives with his or her parents and works 20-34 hours per week. The following chart shows how dominant each of these qualities is in the under-$8.25 population.

Rhode Islanders Earning $8.25 or Less per Hour by Demographic Category

Simply put, the image of low-income families struggling along at minimum wage is mostly false. The average family income of Rhode Islanders who make $8.25 per hour or less is $61,299.  For these families, the minimum-wage job provides only supplemental income. As the following table shows, even two full-time minimum-wage incomes would barely amount to half of this average.

Annual Income Earned for Different Minimum Wages by Hours Worked per Week ($)




20 hours




34 hours




40 hours




Notes: The percentages of minimum-wage-earning Rhode Islanders in each hours category is as follows:

  • Fewer than 20 hours: 30.2%
  • 20 to 34 hours: 41.6%
  • 35 or more hours: 28.2%

Results assume 52 weeks of work per year.

Source: U.S. Census, Current Population Survey, 2011 and 2012

The following chart illustrates that only a small minority of families rely entirely on a minimum wage income for support, even among households with some minimum-wage income.

Living Situations of Rhode Island Households with a Member Earning $8.25 or Less per Hour

What’s the Effect?

We estimate that the increase of the minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.25 per hour will result in a loss of 432 minimum wage jobs in Rhode Island. This total assumes a lower effect on better educated and older workers.  That’s a 1.74% reduction of employment available to people currently earning less than $8.25. Of those losing jobs, 204 will be teenagers.

The focus of advocates for higher minimum wages is very often on the plight of people striving to live on such low salaries, but most workers at that pay rate do not fit the profile.  Most of them are bringing in relatively small amounts of supplemental income — many as discretionary spending cash for teens and young adults who are still largely supported by their parents.

In the view of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, the loss of employment opportunities for Rhode Islanders in this group outweighs the relatively small increases in take-home pay.  At young adults’ formative age, the connections, habits, and general experience that come from working at any pay scale are vastly more valuable than the small increases that legislators are able to mandate through minimum wage laws.

At the National Level, a Bigger Hammer

This morning, Rhode Island’s two representatives in the U.S. Congress, Jim Langevin (D) and David Cicilline (D), jointly announced their support for the “Fair Minimum Wage Act.” The act would increase the federal minimum wage — and, therefore, Rhode Island’s minimum wage — to $10.10 per hour.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity estimates that this move would result in a loss of 3,466 jobs for Rhode Islanders, or 4.1% of the total number who currently work at or below that rate of pay.  Moreover, even with this broader net, the number of affected families that are subsisting on minimum wage income alone would still be just 17% of all households with at least one member earning that amount.


* Going back to the prior minimum wage rate of $7.40 was necessary because measuring the change from the current rate of $7.75 to $8.25 produced insufficient sample sizes.

“Get Government Out of the Way”: a free-market solution for the RI economy

Related Links: Oct 11 Press Conference Event & CEO Stenhouse Extended Remarks, Prosperity Agenda for RI,
Podcast: ALEC's Jonathan Williams discusses with Dan Yorke on 630WPRO
Video: Mike Stenhouse remarks at Press Conference

Adherence to  Free-Enterprise Principles can Revive the Ocean State’s Economy

The state of Rhode Island requires significant public policy reform to unleash a private-sector economic engine fueled by the creativity, investment, and energy of businesses and individuals. What is not needed are more of the same subjective and politicized tactics that benefit chosen business sectors, favored political constituencies, limited geographical regions, or specific business ventures.

Rhode Island does not have to reinvent the wheel. Three proven steps are required to embark on a new path to improve Rhode Island’s economic fortunes:

1. Embrace the free-enterprise system as the means to restore prosperity

2. Follow and learn from successful economic policies implemented in other states

3. Design and implement public policy reforms reflective of the above, applied evenly and universally

In seeking to provide assistance to too many people, in caving to special-interest-group concerns, and by doling out special favors to the well connected, the state of Rhode Island has created dozens upon dozens of legislative barriers to success. These barriers have restricted economic and individual opportunities and incentives, resulting in the worst business climate in the country, loss of out-migrating taxpayers, a slew of Fs and Ds on the state’s Competitiveness Report Card, and the most dismal jobs outlook of any state in the nation. Prosperity can only be achieved if those barriers are systematically torn down and we move decisively on a new economic path.

That proven economic path is the free-enterprise system. Even President Obama calls it the ‘genius of America’, yet Rhode Island has sharply departed from its principles. Free-market concepts must be re-embraced and recognized as the economic engine that has proven to be the most effective machine ever devised to raise people out of economic misery and into a higher standard of living. This means our state must enact policies that lower taxes, reduce regulations, and cut spending. The benefit will be increased economic activity, more jobs, and positive state-to-state net migration. In contrast, government redistribution polices have failed the very citizens they intend to help.

Before we undertake the task of implementing specific policy reforms that dramatically roll back laws that hinder economic growth, a long-term commitment to economic freedom must be established. Removing certain barriers while erecting others will get us nowhere. Adherence to free-market principles is required. But, as a state, we must also be willing to work through our political and cultural differences.

Contrary to our popular notion of polarized politics, the free-enterprise system is not a political philosophy. It is a well-delineated economic philosophy predicated on a culture of success. As a people, we must overcome our disdain of the successful and resist the temptation for government to serve as referee in tilting calls to favor groups it perceives to be in need. This is not the proper role of our uniquely American form of government; it interferes with the efficient mechanics of the free-market system and it provides disincentives to achieve and prosper.

We must accept that a paycheck is better than a welfare check and recognize that a growing economy that provides job opportunities is far more desirable than a stagnant economy that breeds dependency on government services and impedes upward mobility. We cannot have it both ways. We must also understand that it is a morally preferable that free people should strive to be self-sufficient and maintain the rewards of their own hard work. Government policies should create incentives for the pursuit of individual happiness, not hinder that pursuit.

The main strategy to unleash Rhode Island’s economic revival should be to learn from and follow the successful policy reforms enacted in other states; namely, creating an attractive business climate, with free competition, so that all laborers, entrepreneurs, and businesses can have more opportunities to work, to innovate, to grow, and to prosper.

Our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has researched and developed an initial set of policy reforms that are consistent with these goals – our Prosperity Agenda for Rhode Island: a set of taxpayer-friendly, worker-friendly, and business-friendly reforms that reduce burdens on employers and provide more freedom of choice for individuals; proven reforms, successfully implemented in other states, that will start to move the Ocean State down a new path towards economic growth.


Cranston Herald: Study shows free-market enterprise is path to prosperity in RI

Policy Reform: Reduce State Minimum Wage to Federal Level

Teen Employment and Weekly Hours worked are steadily dropping in RI


Minimum wage increases helping to sink teen employment in the Ocean State

As teens transition into adulthood and self-reliance, the likelihood of developing crucial career skills, of building their personal networks and résumés, and of earning valuable spending money is diminishing in Rhode Island. Moreover, a higher minimum wage is drag on jobs development for everyone looking for entry-level work.

See our “Teen Employment” policy brief here … 



Policy Reform: Enact Changes to Civil Justice Laws

Legal Sharks in the Ocean State

Do state laws attract shark activity in the Ocean State?

An important part of creating a better and less risky business climate in Rhode Island is to lessen the threat of litigation for legitimate business practices. Doing so would lower the cost of liability insurance for most businesses, reduce consumer costs for many products and services, and free up businesses to become more creative and innovative in developing new concepts.

Specific Recommendations:

 A) Medical malpractice and product liability reform: Enact laws that limit the amount of non-economic and punitive damages that judges and juries may award to injured people (policy brief TBD).

 B) Implement “criminal intent” provision: Enact a law that protects citizens against prosecution for non-criminal or non-intentional activities … as dozens of other states have done.

See ‘Criminal Intent’ policy brief here …







Policy Reform: Give Rhode Islanders a “Right to Work”

Right To Work = Worker Freedom

Right to Work = FREEDOM for Ocean State workers!

All workers want full freedom to pursue a career of their choice.  Freedom of Association is a core American liberty that should be extended to all Rhode Islanders looking to negotiate their own workplace rules, have full incentives to perform at a high level, and determine whether or not pay union dues is in their best interests.

Enacting Right-To-Work (RTW) policies would give Rhode Island a major advantage over its neighbors by making it the only New England state with RTW protections for its workers — without costing the state a dime in budget expense.

Read our Center’s Right-To-Work policy brief here …



Teen Employment Sinking in the Ocean State

Quick links: to download the printable PDF of this study click here.  See Media Release at end.

Related stories: Research Director Justin Katz discusses the issue on the Dan Yorke Show.


Gainful employment is disappearing from the experience of the American teenager (ages 16 to 19), and increasing minimum wages are part of the problem. In Rhode Island, teen unemployment was 28.3% in 2011, more than double its 2007 low of 12.9%, and hours worked per week had fallen from 10.0 to 6.1.

Rhode Island’s minimum wage climb from $6.75 in 2004 to $7.75 for 2013 will have cost 597 teenage jobs. As teenagers’ employment has fallen and their average hours worked per week have decreased, the weekly working hours per 100 teens in the population has dropped 62% — and 79% for those without high school diplomas. Because 70% of working teens are in the retail or leisure/hospitality industries, a bold policy change such as eliminating the state sales tax would be especially beneficial to them.

Getting Teenagers Accustomed to Working

Chores and a lemonade stand become a newspaper route and a summer job in retail, then a professional trade following high school graduation. If college is in the picture, retail transitions to on-campus service work followed by some sort of internship, which lands the young adult at the entrance of a career path, degree in hand. Such is the classic progression of young Americans’ easing into the workforce, with the adventurous and innovative breaking off to build their own companies or invent new industries.

The United States’ extended jobs recession appears to have accelerated a disruption of this pattern. The change has been acutely felt in states that have trailed the nation’s meager recovery, such as Rhode Island. From 2003 to 2011, teenagers’ share of employment in all Ocean State industries fell from 5.7% to 4.3%, despite the fact that their overall percentage of the population held steady.

In 2011, states with minimum wages that exceeded the federal rate tended to have higher unemployment. High minimum wages disproportionately harm teenagers’ employment prospects.  So, not only are young adults in such states operating in dampened economies, but the jobs that they would typically seek are even harder to come by.

Policy Recommendation

With Rhode Island in desperate need of an economic turnaround, and because dedicated and well-rounded young adults will be critical toward that end, the state must reverse the working plight of its teenagers. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends that the General Assembly and Governor Chafee:

  1. Set Rhode Island’s minimum wage at the federal rate of $7.25.
  2. Consider a bold economic policy, such as eliminating the state sales tax, that would jolt the overall economy forward with especially beneficial effects for the teenage population.

Minimum Wage & Teen Employment

The effect of minimum wages on unemployment rates is a contentious issue among economists. Until the 1990s, they broadly understood increased minimum wages to harm employment. Since then, various studies have muddied the waters.

Given the myriad variables involved in a modern economy, small-scale policy changes can disappear in the data, and incremental minimum wage hikes may not register. Consensus is still strong, however, that low-skill, low-pay groups like teens are adversely affected by such increases.

Of the 24 states with unemployment over 8.0% for 2011, 11 had set their minimum wages above the federal $7.25 per hour. Of the 26 states with 8.0% unemployment or lower, only six had elevated minimums.  The average unemployment rate for former was 9.0%, compared with 7.7% for those in which the federal rate applied.

That gap doubles for teenagers (16-19 years old).  In states where the $7.25 minimum applied, teens’ unemployment rate was 21.7%. In the elevated-rate states, it was 24.3%. Chart 1 illustrates the point, narrowing the focus to the eight states with minimum wages over $8.00 per hour.

United States Unemployment and Teen Unemployment by State Minimum Wage, 2011

Rhode Island

In 2011, the Ocean State’s teen unemployment was 28.3%, the worst in New England, and more than double its 2007 low of 12.9%. Meanwhile, the weekly hours of the average employed RI teen dropped from 10.0 to 6.1.

Putting Rhode Island in context requires an acknowledgment that it simultaneously has the most-sickly economy in New England and the second lowest minimum wage, in 2011. The $7.40 per hour the state mandated for the lowest-paid employees within its borders was higher than only New Hampshire’s rate, regionally. Increasing the rate to $7.75 this past legislative session pushed the Ocean State past Maine, as well.

At first glance, these comparisons would seem to contradict the notion that high minimum wages are associated with higher unemployment. As suggested above, however, minimum wage is a secondary factor and is not sufficient to save a state economy that is already failing.

In an update for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity of their 2010 study, “The Teen Unemployment Crisis,” economists David Macpherson (Trinity University) and William Even (Miami University) found that Rhode Island’s increase from $6.75 in 2005 to $7.40 cost the state’s teens 397 jobs in 2011. Of that total, 306 were lost to those without high school diplomas. As the Center reported in June, Macpherson and Even estimate that the additional hike, to $7.75 per hour, will cost Rhode Island’s teenagers another 200 job opportunities.

In total, that $1 raise will have cost about 2.7% of employed teens valuable work experience, increasing to about a 7.1% loss among those without high school diplomas.

Table 1 shows the dramatic drop in teen employment from 2002 to 2011. For perspective, the 2010 Census found 66,423 Rhode Islanders 16-19 years old — about 32,663 without high school diplomas.


Table 1
RI Teen Employment Trends by Age and High School Diploma
16-19, no diploma 16-19 18-20, diploma
2002 (%) 38 49 64.3
2011 (%) 19 32.4 49.2
Change (%) -50 -33.9 -23.5
Ave. hours/week
2002 6.7 10.7 19.3
2011 2.8 6.1 13.1
Change (%) -57.6 -43.1 -32.3
Hours/100 teens
2002 254.4 522.2 1,240.20
2011 54 196.5 642.2
Change (%) -78.8 -62.4 -48.2
Note:“Change” percentages may differ due to rounding.Source: Census Bureau & Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Surve


Not only are fewer teens working, but those who have jobs are spending less time on them. The weekly hours worked per 100 teens in the total population captures the combined effects of these trends. Employment is evaporating from teens’ experience in Rhode Island.

Massachusetts shows that a high minimum wage doesn’t always correspond with high teen unemployment (see Chart 2). But if Rhode Island insists on imposing a high rate, it must take even more dramatic steps to improve its economy to counter-balance the downward pressure on employment.

U.S., Rhode Island, and Massachusetts Teen Unemployment, with Minimum Wage Changes, 2002-2011

One Solution: Eliminate Sales Tax

In early June, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity proposed its Zero.Zero plan to eliminate the state sales tax in Rhode Island.  Such a policy would be especially beneficial for teens.

The Center found that immediate elimination of Rhode Island’s sales tax would create 23,873 jobs. The data did not differentiate between industries or the demographic qualities of the newly hired workers, but it would be reasonable to predict that teenagers and other low-wage workers would benefit disproportionately and more immediately.

By far, Rhode Island teenagers are more active in the very industries that most feel the effects of the sales tax: retail and leisure and hospitality. Of teens who were working in 2011, 23.5% were in the retail industry, where they accounted for 8.8% of the workforce. Another 46.4% worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, accounting for 17.8% of all employees.

Altogether, 69.9% of working teens were in these two industries. Clearly, the healthier retail and leisure market in a zero percent sales tax environment would benefit the lowest-paid workers first, including Rhode Island’s young adults.


As with all of the challenges that it faces, Rhode Island has a choice between paths: the one we’ve been following and one that shifts decision-making back toward individuals working together in a less-regulated private economy. The first shifts resources under the control of government planners, and the second would allow Rhode Islanders to keep their money and make decisions in accordance with their own interests.

For all of the emphasis that the state has been placing on developing a “knowledge economy,” it has paid precious little attention to the need to foster work ethic and experience in its youth. Meanwhile, lavish public-school funding and special deals toward government-approved economic development have been requiring increasingly high tax burdens — in the form of the incrementally broadening sales tax, of ballooning property taxes, and of expanding licensing requirements and fees.

Instead, Rhode Island’s emphasis should be on getting people, especially young people, back to work, regardless of their field or pay scale.


MEDIA RELEASE: July 24, 2012

A 28.3% teen unemployment rate is sinking career building opportunities for Ocean State youth according to a report released today by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. This unemployment rate has more than doubled in recent years to become the worst in New England, and demonstrating even further weakness in the teen sector, the report also highlights that the number of hours worked has dropped by over 40%.

“If our state is to rebound in the long term, we need our working-age youth to learn to become productive. As part of their transition into a career that fosters self-reliance, teens are looking for valuable workplace experience and resume building, in addition to a little pocket change”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Unfortunately our overly burdensome regulatory and tax structure, along with statewide minimum wage increases, are resulting in fewer opportunities for everyone and disproportionately harm our teens. This category would grade-out at yet another F for our state,” continued Stenhouse, referring to the Competitiveness Report Card published earlier this year by the Center.

According to the report, high minimum wage states had a 24.3% teen unemployment rate, compared with 21.7% for states at the federally mandated rate. Further, Rhode Island’s recent minimum wage hikes will cost almost 600 area teenagers a chance at an entry level job. Even for those young adults who were fortunate enough to find work, the average hours worked plummeted to 6.1 per week from 10.7.

As about 70% of working teens are hired in the retail or leisure/hospitality industries, the Center recommends two policy changes: lowering the state minimum wage rate to federal levels; and a phase-out the the state sales tax, which would not only reinvigorate the state’s economy, but would be especially favorable for the retail industry, creating new job opportunities for younger Rhode Islanders.

Today, July 24, is the National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage. “The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity categorically rejects this ill-informed policy push. A minimum wage hike is yet another regulation that strangles businesses; our report provides clear evidence of the negative, unintended consequences that meddling in complex economic issues can often bring about,” concluded Stenhouse.

The complete teen unemployment report can be downloaded from the Center’s website at .

Earlier this year, the Center published a policy brief detailing the negative effects of the state’s occupational licensing policies on opportunities for low income and entry level workers. Another report – Zero.Zero – detailed the positive economic effects of eliminating the state sales tax.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy think tank, is the state’s leading free-enterprise advocacy organization. With a credo that freedom is indispensable to citizens’ well-being and prosperity, the Center’s mission is to stimulate a rigorous exchange of ideas with the goal of restoring competitiveness to Rhode Island through the advancement of market-based reform solutions.

Why RI Should Opt Out of Exchanges and Medicaid Expansion

Quick Links: download a printable PDF of this brief here;   go to our Healthcare home page here ; read our policy brief about a Healthcare Freedom Act here;   

News Coverage: GoLocalProv article – good discussion in the comments section

High Cost of State Implementation

The federal government’s healthcare law — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — if fully implemented in Rhode Island, will impose a high cost for the Ocean State in terms of budgets, jobs, dependency, and privacy. In upholding the law as constitutional, the Supreme Court alleviated one very narrow area of uncertainty but did nothing to repair problems with the policy.

Rhode Island will experience multiple negative ramifications if a state-based exchange and the Medicaid expansion options are put into practice, including:

  • Unfunded budget costs that Rhode Island does not have the capacity to absorb
  • Job-killing employer mandates and penalties that would otherwise be avoided
  • Increased dependency on government for health care and other services
  • Government intrusion on privacy in the highly personal areas of healthcare and family finances

Despite its lofty claims, PPACA will not lower health care and insurance costs and will do nothing to increase the supply of quality healthcare services in our state. The law will also lead to new federal and state taxes and cost the economy even more jobs.

State officials are already envisioning the exchange as what might be termed a dependency portal. Using information that residents enter for the purpose of determining health program eligibility, the exchange will alert users to a menu of other benefits for which they qualify, expanding Rhode Island’s public welfare system to an unknowable degree.

Policy Recommendation

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends that the state of Rhode Island halt its headlong lunge into expensive and intrusive policy changes concocted in Washington, D.C., and join with other states that have taken a more skeptical view of the promises of the poorly vetted health care reform.

  1. Repeal the executive order creating RI’s health benefit exchange and replace it with patient-centered, market-based reforms, as described in the Center’s Healthcare Freedom Act policy brief.
  2. Opt out of the Medicaid expansion program, declining partial federal funding that would increase dependency on publicly financed health care and lead to increased budget deficits.

The Health Care End Game

Within two hours of the Supreme Court’s determination that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is constitutional, three Rhode Island public officials held a related press conference. Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts has made health care a focus of her time in office; Secretary Steven Costantino heads the Executive Office of Health & Human Services; and Christine Ferguson is the newly appointed director of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange.

During the conference, the trio promoted the inchoate exchange as more than a Web site for comparing products. Rather, they described what small-government advocates might see as a dependency portal. Based on information that users provide in order to determine eligibility for health premium subsidies, the site would also offer other forms of public assistance and subsidies that they could claim.

The prudence of government’s promoting its services as if they were private-sector products is a matter of legitimate debate. But the idea of a dependency portal does highlight one critical fact: The exchange, and PPACA generally, will expand the size, cost, and scope of state government.

Compounding Government Costs

Much has been made of the federal government’s 100% coverage of direct expenses for expanding Medicaid under PPACA. All childless, able-bodied residents with household income below 133% of the federal poverty level (i.e., individuals below $14,856 in 2012) will for the first time be eligible for health care through Medicaid.

Under the assumption that the state and federal governments will be somewhat aggressive in promoting enrollment, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that these new Medicaid recipients in Rhode Island will cost an additional $1.8 billion from 2014 to 2019, or about $301 million per year. However, costs will not be evenly distributed across those years, with increasing participation as time goes on. In 2019, the total cost for these newly eligible Medicaid recipients will be approximately $414.0 million.

The federal aid covering the Medicaid expansion will have phased down from 100% in 2014 to 90% in 2020. Therefore, in the unlikely event that total Medicaid spending does not increase from 2019 to 2020, the annual cost to Rhode Island taxpayers that year will be about $41.4 million. (The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity inferred this annual total using the ratio of total state and federal spending in 2019 to total state and federal spending for 2014-2019, as provided in Table 4 on page 38 of the Kaiser report.)

But that total doesn’t account for the “woodwork” effect, which suggests that people who are currently eligible for Medicaid but have not applied will do so as implementation of the reform draws attention to the program. In Rhode Island, this population includes:

  • All children under 19 and pregnant women in house-holds at 250% of the poverty level, as well as all parents with children under 18 and household income below 175% of the poverty level.
  • Seniors (over 65) and disabled adults who qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or have income below the federal poverty level and have limited resources.

The federal government will assist with this new spending at its standard rate, which Kaiser estimates at 53-1/8% for Rhode Island over the six years, leaving the state to cover $30 million of the $64 million tab. (Note that the latest RI Executive Office of Health and Human Services Annual Medicaid Expenditure Report puts the federal contribution “typically” at 52.47%.)

Again, this spending will not be evenly distributed by year. With the same assumptions for 2020 as above, the annual cost to the state at the end of the examined period will be $6.9 million. In total, therefore, the Medicaid expansion portion of PPACA will represent new annual service costs to the Rhode Island taxpayer in the neighborhood of $48.3 million.

A third cost component that must be added to the total is administration. A 2010 Heritage Foundation study found that “administrative expenses add an average of 5.5 percent in addition to total (federal and state) benefit costs, and that, on average, the federal government pays 55 percent of total administrative costs.”

Taking all of these factors into account, the push for expanded enrollment will result in around $452.3 million in annual Medicaid spending. Of that, the State of Rhode Island will be responsible for $58.9 million in 2020. At that time, about one in four Rhode Islanders will be directly dependent on the Medi-caid program for health care.

The good news, from the Supreme Court’s ruling, is that states cannot be forced to participate in the expansion through the threatened loss of all federal Medicaid assistance.

Exchanges: More Costs

Where Medicaid leaves off, at 133% of the federal poverty level, subsidized premiums through the health care exchange will pick up, providing public money to families up to 400% of the poverty level. That’s $92,200 for a family of four, in 2012. The subsidies will come via advance federal tax credits, but there are five major cost factors of concern at the state level.

First, federal assistance toward start-up and operation expenditures for exchanges will end after 2014. Stan Dorn, of the Urban Institute, notes that states will thereafter have to come up with some reliable funding source — perhaps “surcharging insurance premiums; assessing health plans, employers, or individuals; appropriating state General Fund dollars; or otherwise.”

In Massachusetts, as part of its recent state-based health care reform, the exchange charges participating insurers a fee equivalent to 3% of premiums. Writes Dorn, “The insurers then pass on this cost to purchasers of coverage.”

Second, Rhode Island taxpayers will have to subsidize costs, through the exchange, associated with benefits that the state requires plans to offer beyond federally designated “essential benefits.” According to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, Rhode Island leads the nation in health care mandates.

Third, state-based exchanges will be the mechanism for imposing penalties against “large” businesses (those with 50 or more employees) that either do not offer health benefits or that require employees to share more than a federally designated maximum amount of their cost.

Consider a business with 50 employees who work at least 30 hours per week, but that is unable to provide health care benefits beyond its other compensation. If a single employee acquires a subsidy through a state-based health benefit exchange, the employer will be responsible for $40,000 in annual penalties. For many, that will be substantially higher than the costs of hiring an additional employee.

Fourth, PPACA imposes tighter “community rating” standards on the individual and small group markets, within and outside of exchanges. Broadly speaking, in the “small group” market (employers with 100 or fewer employees), Rhode Island’s already-restrictive statutes forbid insurers from varying their premium costs by more than four times. That is, one family plan covering a spouse and children cannot differ by more than four times another such plan. PPACA reduces the differential to three times and limits family types to “individual” and “family.”

Plainly put, community rating lowers prices for plan members who actuarially should pay higher premiums by increasing them on those who should pay lower premiums.

This relates to the exchanges because, if Rhode Island decides to open its exchange to large groups, then the community rating scheme will apply to all such plans in the state for the first time ever. This rule apparently applies even if no insurers utilize the exchange for this purpose.

Finally, state officials’ vision of an expanded dependency portal will produce an unknowable increase in recipients of food stamps, cash payments, and other forms of public welfare whom the exchanges rope in as a bonus feature. These costs will span multiple layers of government and will be compounded to the extent that they require additional expenses to administer and maintain.

None of these five cost drivers applies if the state does not initiate and maintain a health benefit exchange.*

Danger Cubed: More Regulation, Less Freedom, Lost Privacy

Arguably more substantial than the direct financial costs of the Medicaid expansion and health benefits exchange is the danger created through the new authority that PPACA grants to the state and federal governments.

That danger comes first through dependency. Under the Medicaid expansion, 25% of Rhode Islanders will be direct wards of the state, when it comes to health care. Under the state exchange, up to 57% of Rhode Islanders will be eligible for health care handouts. And the expanded menu of the dependency portal will deepen families’ reliance on the state.

The danger comes second through a new ease of regulation. As health benefit exchanges absorb a greater percentage of the industry, local and national bureaucrats will be able to introduce new mandates and requirements not as legislation passed by duly elected members of the General Assembly or Congress, but simply as new requirements in order for plans to qualify for the exchange. Alternatives will be increasingly diffi-cult to procure, and costs will be forced upwards.

The danger comes third through the loss of privacy and financial intrusion. In order to qualify for Medicaid coverage and health care subsidies, Rhode Islanders will regularly have to inform the state about minute details of their lives. Indeed, it is likely that even families that receive no assistance at all will be faced with the same standardized application process.

In this way, two of the most intimate aspects of a person’s life — finances and health — will be collected through a single agency in a single location for the great majority of Rhode Islanders.


For all of this expense and intrusion, the state will not likely experience any reduction in the overall cost of health care, and Rhode Islanders will likely see the quality and availability of the care that they receive worsening. A Beacon Hill Institute study of Massachusetts’ health care reform, after which much of PPACA was modeled, found cost increases across the board — in and out of government, in an out of public assistance programs, and across tiers of government.

The reason, according to the researchers, was that the reform increased the demand for health care services without increasing the supply. The most alarming manifestation of this dynamic appeared in the state’s emergency rooms.

Across the country, there has been a noticeable decline in enthusiasm for exchanges among states that had begun work on them shortly after PPACA passed Congress. North Dakota, New Hampshire, Idaho, and South Carolina are among the states resisting the federal timetable to implement these insurance “marketplaces.” Kaiser Health News reports that, by the end of June, “only 14 states and the District of Columbia have so far passed legislation authorizing the exchanges.”

At Rhode Island Lt. Governor Roberts’s June 28 press conference, the three public officials made the familiar point that the availability of preventative, regular care might reduce the utilization of more-expensive emergency services. To the contrary, with wait times likely to increase for family physicians, and with greater portions of the population accessing subsidies for premiums and other expenses, the savings for which Rhode Islanders are being asked to sacrifice privacy and self-reliance may never materialize.


* Whether employer penalties ultimately depend on state-initiated exchanges is likely to be the subject of political dispute and litigation. However, the penalties are triggered by employees’ receipt of premium assistance, and PPACA Sec. 1401, which creates those subsidies, refers to “an Exchange established by the State under 1311.” Sec. 1311 describes state-initiated exchanges, but not federally initiated exchanges. It is Sec. 1321 that empowers the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a federal exchange for use in a state.

Minimum Wage Hike Will Cause Loss of 200 Teen Jobs in RI

Watch this video by to see how increasing the minimum wage increases unemployment among low-skilled workers

On the heels of a national report that painted a bleak employment picture for teens, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity issued a policy note today that shows that the Rhode Island General Assembly has made the teen jobs situation even worse in the Ocean State when it raised the state minimum wage by 35 cents to $7.75.

 According to updated data made available to the Center from an earlier study(i) by nationally recognized economists, Rhode Island teens are projected to see 200 fewer jobs this year as a result of the minimum wage hike. This loss, 1% of teens employed in 2011, will hit especially hard on those who do not have high school degrees; this group is expected to suffer 75% of the anticipated loss.

Rhode Island’s teen unemployment rate in 2011 (28.3%) is already 3.4 percentage points higher than the national average of 24.9%. The minimum wage increase will make this discrepancy even worse.

The data, which will be part of a more comprehensive teen employment report the Center plans to release in July, is “yet another example of the death-by-a-thousand-cuts syndrome that is depressing our state’s growth,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. Continual small increases in taxes and regulations are often implemented for compassionate reasons, but it is the contention of the Center that the cumulative effect of these polices has been devastating for area businesses, for the state’s economy, and especially for those seeking work.

“Imagine that because of this minimum wage increase two hundred more Rhode Island teens are not going to have the chance to earn a paycheck, to learn important business skills, or to build their personal résumés,” concluded Stenhouse.

(i) “Update of Evan and Macpherson, 2010.” Economists David Macpherson (Trinity University) and William Even (Miami University) released a study in 2010 that examined the impact of the federal minimum wage increase between 2007 and 2009. 
Media Coverage:
6/19/2012: Prov. Business News, Minimum Wage Bump Will Cost 200 Jobs
6/19/2012: GoLocalProv, Minimum Wage Hike Will Cost 200 Teen Jobs, Group Says

RI Needs a Criminal Intent Rule to Protect Innocent Citizens

Criminal Penalties Should be Levied only on those with a Guilty Mind


Download the full Policy Brief here …

No person should be convicted of a crime without the government proving that he or she intended to violate a law or knew that his or her conduct was unlawful. Generally, criminal offenses under Rhode Island law include such specific standards, but if they don’t, then a default requirement should apply. The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity supports state efforts to protect citizens from unjust punishment because of ambiguous and poorly-drafted criminal offenses.

There are myriad factors required to ensure a fair and just criminal justice system: both the United States’ and Rhode Island’s Constitutions protect the rights of the accused to counsel, speedy trials, and due process, among other guarantees. But those constitutional protections exclude one notable aspect of a fair criminal justice system, which may be so fundamental that it escaped constitutional inclusion in the heady days of constitution writing.

Our full Policy Brief discusses these issues in greater detail.

According the Report Card on Rhode Island Competitiveness, our state grades out at an “F” in the categories of State Lawsuit Climate and in Domestic Migration. Passage of the protections recommended in this Policy Brief would help ensure that a high profile legal case based on some obscure law might not further deter people and businesses from remaining in or moving to the Ocean State.

Our Policy Brief was published on the RIGHT ON CRIME website …