Rhode Island General Assembly Freedom Index

The first-annual General Assembly Freedom Index by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity scores Ocean State lawmakers on their level of support for principles of freedom as proven by their votes on the floors of the House and Senate.

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RI Medicaid Abuse Puts New Spin on “Laundering” Taxpayer Dollars

Unionized laundry workers at the Eleanor Slater Hospital, and throughout the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), routinely double or even triple their salaries to take home over $123,000 per year.

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Get Government Out of the Way; Tear down the legislative barriers to success

Get Government Out of the Way

To revive the Ocean State’s failing economy and to restore prosperity to our citizens, we recommend the state re-embrace free-enterprise principles and tear down the legislative barriers to success that have been erected over recent decades.

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Online Merger of The Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity announced today that its online journalism and commentary wing, The Ocean State Current, will be merging the content of Anchor Rising into a single location on The Current’s existing website and URL.
The co-branded joint venture, launched today at OceanStateCurrent.com, will now also feature content from an experienced team of Anchor Rising contributors who set the standard for conservative blogging in Rhode Island, including Andrew Morse, Marc Comtois, Monique Chartier, and Patrick Laverty.

Founded in 2004, Anchor Rising is Rhode Island’s most prominent blog for conservative news and commentary about politics and public policy. Justin Katz, one of Anchor Rising’s founding members, and editor of The Ocean State Current, also serves as the Center’s research director. “Moving the state forward toward less-waning waters’ is arguably no longer sufficient at a time when the keel appears to be scraping the bottom of the bay. We’ve reached the point of dredging, and that requires greater focus and greater unity of purpose”, said Katz.
RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse says, “With this new quality content, we feel the Current-Anchor website is now the premiere online opinion area for advancing free-market, small government views in the entire state.We also intend to continue producing hard-hitting investigative journalism pieces as with the recent stories about excessive overtime payments to government workers.”

Anchor Rising’s deep archives will remain in their original locations on the Internet, and readers can access the original archive site through the arvhive link on the new, combined page.

Public and Private Sector Compensation Comparison

State and local government workers enjoy significantly higher compensation levels than their private sector counterparts, according to data compiled for Rhode Island as part of a national study conducted by economists William Even, of Miami University, and David Macpherson, of Trinity University.

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Rhode Island Employment Snapshot, March 2013: Slipping

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate fell again, down to 9.1%. If that’s good news, however, then the state’s strategy must really be to get people to give up on ever finding work.

The first chart below shows that employment slid a little, creating a trend mainly of stagnation. But it appears that the bottom may be falling out from under the total labor force (those either employed or looking for work). But for the decrease in the number of people looking for work, Rhode Island still wouldn’t be able to claim to be out of the worst three states for unemployment.

The second chart shows that the Ocean State still has a long way to go to reach its January 2007 level of employment, and once again remains well behind Massachusetts and Connecticut, although Connecticut has been closing the gap through its own downslide.

Rhode Island Labor Force and Employment, January 2007 to March 2013

RI, MA, and CT Labor Force and Employment, March 2013 Percentage of January 2007

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

Background

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.

Recommendations

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.

Conclusion

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 ($)

$7.40

$7.75

$8.25

20 hours

7,696

8,060

8,580

34 hours

13,083

13,702

14,586

40 hours

15,392

16,120

17,160

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.