Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property.

Asset Forfeiture Reform in Rhode Island: Summary of 2018 Legislation – H7640 and S2681

Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property. While many policymakers might assume that such laws are directed at criminals, in reality, simply being accused of a crime or violating a regulation may be sufficient for the state to take your property.

Rhode Island was recently graded at a D- in a national report by the Institute for Justice for its weak civil forfeiture laws, which, nationally, have led to some of the most egregious infringements of private property rights in the U.S. today. In the past 12 years, over $17 million of private property has been seized in our state.

While the original good intent of forfeiture laws cannot be disputed — removing the illegal gains, resources, and instruments of those committing crimes from their reach — decades of experience has made obvious the need for statutory reforms, long overdue if Rhode Island is to keep pace with criminal justice reforms being made in other states across America.

Current Law: Rhode Island law sets a very low bar on the front-end by allowing the government to seize property on the mere basis of criminal suspicion and for non-criminal regulatory violations. If you don’t hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit to reclaim your own property, you soon lose it. On the back-end, Rhode Island also sets a very high bar for innocent property owners to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Further, state law allows the government agency that seized your property to keep the majority of it as a means to supplement their own budgets, creating a perverse incentive to violate due process and property rights.

In its January 2018 report, Right To Earn a Living, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity advocated that civil asset forfeiture reforms would improve the State’s poorly ranked business climate, by raising the bar for asset forfeiture from businesses and individuals as well as to adopt better forfeiture administration. The Hopkins Center has researched best practices in the other states that have adopted reforms, and drafted language new criminal forfeiture law that every Rhode Island legislator could support.

Also supported by business groups, the RI ACLU, the RI Families Coalition, and civil society leaders, the bi-partisan legislation (H7640 & S2681) represents a total rewrite of existing statutes and which includes the following key features:

  1. Raised the bar for seizures: Avoids government taking for civil violations and from non-defendant property owners and co-owners, while also building-in legal protections before the state seizes property.
  2. Lowered the bar for due process: Provides less-burdensome, prompt, and streamlined legal procedures for innocent property owners to reclaim seized assets.
  3. Increased transparency: Greater transparency around forfeiture actions so that public officials and citizens have the data to provide appropriate oversight. The 4-pages of new reporting provisions include keeping track of and reporting how much the government seizes, whether property owners are ever convicted of a crime, and how much money comes in from those seizures, as opposed to the 4-lines of reporting in current law.
  4. Enhanced administration: Improves administration of forfeiture programs in order to increase the credibility of law enforcement as they conduct permitted seizures; including prohibition of sale of assets for any person’s gain and a streamlined process for returning property.
  5. Budget accountability: Unelected bureaucrats in state and local agencies should not be empowered to manage profits from asset forfeitures or be free from public accountability. Legitimately seized moneys go to the state’s general fund where duly elected officials decide if and how to redistribute them.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is the Ocean State’s leading voice against the wreckage caused by our state’s progressive agenda.

As the state’s leading research organization, advancing family and business friendly values… the mission of our Center is to make Rhode Island a better place to call home – to raise a family and to build a career.

While progressives value government-centric, taxpayer-funded dependency… our Center believes in the value of hard work and the free-enterprise system.

We understand that in order for more Rhode Island families to have a better quality of life, that more and better businesses are needed to create more and better jobs.

Your donation will help us fight the union-progressive movement and, instead, advocate for pro-family, pro-business policies and values.

Please make a generous, tax-deductible gift to support our Center today!

In response to a call from the Rhode Island Speaker of the House, and following the lead of the executive branch, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, in a new report, calls on lawmakers to enact regulatory reform to the state's overburdensome mandates.

Center to Testify for HAIR BRAIDER FREEDOM Against International Special-Interest Lobby

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 20, 2018

Hair Braiders Should Have the #RightToEarn a Living

National Hair Salon Chain Lobbies to Protect Profits

Providence, RI — A prominent local lobbyist has been hired by a national hair salon chain to preserve ridiculous protectionist laws that inhibit natural hair braiders from earning a living.

The Toni and Guy Hairdressing Academy, an international corporation with a location in Cranston, RI, has retained prominent area lobbyist, Andrew Annaldo, to maintain the myth that natural hair braiding provides some kind of public safety risk that requires thousands of hours of training and hundreds of dollars of fees to obtain permission from the government to work. Conversely, the RI Center for Freedom & prosperity believes every Rhode Islander should be afforded every opportunity to engage in gainful work.

“There are no chemicals or sharp tools involved in this twisting of hair art form,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center, who will testify at House and Senate hearings this week. Without any evidence of actual consumer harm, this licensing burden is prohibitive to many people who would prefer to start new careers and earn paychecks instead of receiving welfare checks. “It is clear that established hair salons are seeking to preserve crony policies that protect their profits by thwarting potential competition. Does anyone really think that this international chain is truly interested in protecting the safety of Rhode Islanders?”

After many states have acted in recent years to remove similar licensing burdens for natural hair braiding, Rhode Island remains among the vast minority of states that still maintain such onerous laws; most likely because of special-interest lobbying by the hair salon industry.

The Center believes that every Rhode Islander has the #RightToEarn a living in a vocation of their choice, without undue interference from government. In a major report by the Center – The RIght to Earn a Living – issued in January, Rhode Island was cited as ranking as one of the 10 most onerously burdened states when it comes to occupational licensing. Additionally our state already suffers from bottom 10 rankings on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), overall business climate, and on Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI).

It is precisely because of heavy-handed licensing mandates, such as those imposed on natural hair braiders, that RI has such dismal national rankings. Recognizing this specific problem, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, in his remarks to open the 2018 General Assembly session, said that reducing regulatory burdens should be a priority this year. This legislation would advance the Speaker’s agenda.

In 2017 Rhode Island ranked low in ‘entrepreneurship’ according to the national Family Prosperity Index. Per the Center, 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.

House bill H7565 and Senate Bill S2323, which will be heard in the House Corporations and Senate Commerce committees, today (Tuesday) and this Thursday, respectively, would exempt natural hair braiders from the requirement to be licensed as hairdressers or cosmeticians, while also defining the safe practice of natural hair braiding.

The Janus case could provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

Janus Public Policy Backgrounder

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Backgrounder

F. Vincent Vernuccio and Patrick Wright

WHAT IS THE JANUS CASE?

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 is a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court filed by Mark Janus and two other Illinois state workers. If the justices rule in favor of Janus, the decision could:

  • Provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

BACKGROUND

All workers, whether they are in a right-to-work state or not, have the right to leave their union.

In non-right-to-work states like Rhode Island, however, employees can only opt out of paying the political portion of their dues, and many unions require them to submit paperwork to this effect annually. These workers are called “agency fee payers.”

Unions charge agency fee payers close to the same amount they charge regular members for dues. In California, for example, teachers are required to pay around 70 percent of their dues as agency fees, and in other states this amount can be even higher.

For most labor unions in Rhode Island, the amount of agency fees is left to each union and employer to negotiate, but they are often equal to dues. The exception to this contract-by-contract flexibility is for employees of the state, who are required by law to pay agency fees equal to dues even if they do not join their respective unions (RIGL 36-11-2). Rhode Island is one of only three states in the country that requires agency fees for state employees.

The right not to pay for a union’s political agenda through dues comes from the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector workers have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for union politics. Private sector workers are granted the same right through a different court decision.


Rhode Islanders need a credible alternative to the status quo and its destructive progressive ideas. You can help.

Click here to find out more >>>

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is the Ocean State’s leading voice against the wreckage caused by our state’s progressive agenda.

As the state’s leading research organization, advancing family and business friendly values… the mission of our Center is to make Rhode Island a better place to call home – to raise a family and to build a career.

While progressives value government-centric, taxpayer-funded dependency… our Center believes in the value of hard work and the free-enterprise system.

We understand that in order for more Rhode Island families to have a better quality of life, that more and better businesses are needed to create more and better jobs.

Your donation will help us fight the union-progressive movement and, instead, advocate for pro-family, pro-business policies and values.

Please make a generous, tax-deductible gift to support our Center today!

show less


Many states give government unions a monopoly over representation. The Abood case allowed unions to force all workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement to pay for the expenses incurred for representation, regardless of whether the employee wanted such representation or not. The argument in Abood was that, if workers were given a choice, an insufficient number of them would offer financial support to the union, making it difficult for the union to bargain effectively on their behalf.

As of 2018, workers in 27 states can exercise right-to-work rights and are not forced to pay dues or fees to the union organized in their workplace. In right-to-work states, however, only about 20 percent of unionized workers exercise these rights, meaning that unions in these states still have the financial support of about 80 percent of workers, on average. This suggests that the fears that rationalized the Abood decision were likely overstated.

Similar Rhode Island Case

In the Ocean State, five police officers in the town of Westerly sued the city over a requirement that they pay almost 15% of their salaries to the local union. The Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, a Rhode Island–based nonprofit legal entity, litigated this case to defend non-union reserve police officers from being forced to contribute $5.00 of their $35.00 hourly pay to the union local.

Hopkins Center chairman Giovanni Cicione writes: “This was foisted on them without their consent, and these good public servants, many of whom are part-timers and retirees, are being forced to subsidize an organization they do not support and from which they receive no benefits.”

MAIN ARGUMENTS OF JANUS

Mark Janus and the other plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Abood decision. They argue collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently political, and government unions devote more resources to their political agendas than just the small portion of dues that goes to directly support political candidates or causes.

On its Web page for a similar case covering teachers, the Center for Individual Rights explains, “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.” Therefore, the plaintiffs say that by being forced to fund collective bargaining, they are being forced to fund political activity they might not necessarily agree with.

MAIN POINTS

  • Government workers would still be able to remain in their unions, and those unions would still be able to collectively bargain. Janus would simply give workers a choice and prevent them from being fired for not paying a union.
  • Giving workers a choice can make unions stronger. Unions would need to prove their worth to their membership, giving members better representation and more-responsive leadership.
  • All collective bargaining by government unions is inherently political. Workers have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for political spending they disagree with. Therefore, workers should not be forced to support government unions.
  • Unions should not have the power to get workers fired for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  • While the case would essentially mean right-to-work for public employees across the country, practically it would only apply to the 22 states in which government workers are not already right-to-work and paying agency fees.
  • Only about 20 percent of workers in right-to-work states exercise their rights, so the practical effect of the case will likely only affect about 20 percent of government workers in the 22 states that do not already provide these rights to workers.

KEY DATES

February 26, 2018 — The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Friedrichs case

End of June 2018 — Likely decision by the court

About the Authors

F. Vincent Vernuccio is Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Patrick Wright is the Mackinac Center’s Vice President for Legal Affairs Affairs and authored the Center’s two briefs in the Friedrichs case.
The Mackinac Center is located in Midland,
Michigan.

 

The Center questions how many people Mr. Sabitoni would say died because of dog-grooming? Responding to statements from a prominent union leader about if the Center wants to see workers die, we defends the professionally researched policy brief it published last week and decries the knee-jerk, childish reactions from its critics. We call on Sabitoni to make a retraction of his statement.

Center Calls for Retraction of “Fatalities” Statement by Prominent Public Official in Response to its Regulatory Reform Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

February 13, 2018

Serious Debate Encouraged – Not Fear-mongering – When it Comes to Easing Regulatory Burdens on Workers and Employers

Center Calls on Sabitoni to Retract Outrageous Statement

Providence, RI — Responding to statements from a prominent union leader about whether or not the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity wants to see workers die, the Center defends the professionally researched policy brief it published last week and decries the knee-jerk, childish reactions from its critics.

In its February 13 story on the Center’s RIght To Earn a Living policy brief, the Providence Journal cites a number of quotes from Michale Sabitoni, president of the RI Building & Construction Trades Council, who directly implied that the Center would want to see more industry fatalities.

“It is our Center’s goal to engage in collaborative and thoughtful debate on this important business and economic issue; not to resort to combative and mindless attacks,” advised Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Mr. Sabitoni should be careful when it comes to blatant fear-mongering, as Speaker Mattiello and Congressmen Cicilline themselves support regulatory reform. Does Mr. Sabitoni believe they, too, want workers to die? I challenge him to retract his outrageous statement.”


Rhode Islanders need a credible alternative to the status quo and its destructive progressive ideas. You can help.

Click here to find out more >>>

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is the Ocean State’s leading voice against the wreckage caused by our state’s progressive agenda.

As the state’s leading research organization, advancing family and business friendly values… the mission of our Center is to make Rhode Island a better place to call home – to raise a family and to build a career.

While progressives value government-centric, taxpayer-funded dependency… our Center believes in the value of hard work and the free-enterprise system.

We understand that in order for more Rhode Island families to have a better quality of life, that more and better businesses are needed to create more and better jobs.

Your donation will help us fight the union-progressive movement and, instead, advocate for pro-family, pro-business policies and values.

Please make a generous, tax-deductible gift to support our Center today!

show less


The Speaker of the House has publicly called for reforms to business regulstions. Also, Congressman Cicilline was quoted in the policy brief as averring that over-licensing “is nothing short of the weaponization of safety requirements against the economic security of working American families.”

The Center questions how many people Mr. Sabitoni would say died because of dog-grooming? Responding to statements from a prominent union leader about if the Center wants to see workers die, we defends the professionally researched policy brief it published last week and decries the knee-jerk, childish reactions from its critics. We call on Sabitoni to make a retraction of his statement.

The Center further questions how many people Mr. Sabitoni would say died because of hairbraider, dog-grooming, or sign-language interpreter accidents… which were the kinds of occupations the report focused on? National research indicates that licensing mandates often mainly serve to protect established businesses from competition, and less so to protect the safety of workers and consumers.

The RIght To Earn a Living report, which provides a philosophical overview of proper and improper occupational licensing practices, also:

  • Highlights the often dubious motives behind specific regulatory mandates
  • Makes a connection to our state’s poor ranking on the Family Prosperity Index
  • Describes many specific examples of over-regulation
  • Includes is a sortable table of Rhode Island’s rank in 102 low-to-moderate-income licensed occupations
  • Summarizes the positive steps that ORR is taking
  • Recommends a number of broad and specific legislative solutions

Additional links to compelling videos and other pertinent information about regulatory reform can be found on the Center’s home page for the occupational licensing issue: RIFreedom.org/RIghtToEarn.