Are local, state, and federal governments over-reacting to the recent reports of vaping-related illnesses, and even deaths?

The Other Side of the Vaping Debate

Are local, state, and federal governments over-reacting to the recent reports of vaping-related illnesses, and even deaths?

Are the decisions by the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, for instance, to halt the sale of vaping products … which will destroy jobs and businesses … fueled by solid research, or inspired by politically-correct activism?

This week the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity co-signed a national letter urging the Trump administration’s FDA not to proceed with its proposed regulatory crack-down on what many see as a burgeoning and life-saving industry.

The excerpt below gives the primary argument against governmental over-reaction, while the letter itself strongly presents the other side of the vaping debate.

“Both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control now acknowledge that the recent deaths and respiratory and lung illnesses associated with vaping have largely been caused by the illicit marijuana and THC market. Instead of targeting legal nicotine products that have existed for a decade, the administration’s focus should be on cracking down on California drug dealers that are poisoning consumers with dangerous, unregulated, and counterfeit products sourced from places like China and Mexico.”

Sean Spicer to Keynote Center’s Annual Freedom Banquet; former White House Press Secretary is RI Native

2019 Freedom Banquet to Feature Sean Spicer

Annual Luncheon has Become Rhode Island’s Largest Gathering of Conservatives

Providence, RI Sean Spicer, the Rhode Island native and former White House Press Secretary, will be the keynote speaker the 3rd annual Freedom Banquet, a fundraising luncheon for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

The October 25 banquet, which has drawn over 200 people in its first two years, has become the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the Ocean State. 

Spicer, who is currently performing on the hit realty-TV series, Dancing With The Stars, will discuss his experiences as Communications Director for the Trump Administration in its turbulent first year. All attendees will receive an autographed copy of Spicer’s book, The Briefing

The luncheon will also feature the announcement of the winner of the Center’s 2019 “Pillar of Freedom” award. Past winners are Robert and Warren Galkin (2017) and Dr. Daniel Harrop (2018). 

Individual tickets can be purchased with a tax-deductible donation of $175 or a table of eight can be reserved for $1200. More information and registration can be found at www.RIFreedom.org/Events .

sean spicer
A new Freedom Index is here! The Freedom Index is a legislator scorecard that measures if Rhode Island lawmakers voted to preserve or erode our liberties.

Legislator Scorecard: Only 12 legislators score above zero in 2019 session

2019 Freedom Index Shows Massive Infringement on Rights

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2019 Freedom Index & Legislator Scorecard.

Representative Sherry Roberts scores highest. No Democrat lawmaker scores above zero.

Providence, RI — As has been the case throughout the world’s recent history, and as directly implied by its name, the more freedoms afforded to citizens, the more prosperity will result, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today released its 2019 Freedom Index & Legislator Scorecard.

The Freedom Index measures whether or not state lawmakers voted to preserve or erode our liberties on 95 pieces of legislation that received a floor vote in either chamber. 

Overall, 66 bills were rated negatively, with just 29 receiving a plus rating. The RI Senate, collectively, was the biggest violator of economic, individual, and constitutional liberties with a dismal score of (-47.98) while the House score of (-36.34) was almost as intrusive. 

“As further evidence as to why the Ocean State consistently ranks in the bottom-10 in so many critical national indexes that measure prosperity – and why so many of our family and friends are leaving for greener pastures – the 2019 General Assembly once again executed a legislative assault on the freedoms and liberties of Rhode Island families and businesses,” said the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse

Among party caucuses:

  • the 66 House Democrats scored a negative (-47.22) while their 9 GOP counterparts scored a positive (+44.61)
  • the 33 Senate Democrats scored a negative (-59.63) while their 5 GOP counterparts scored a positive (+28.90)

Individually, only 12 lawmakers, all Republicans, scored above zero on the index,  where individual scores could range from (+101) to (-101). Among the highest and lowest ranking lawmakers:

  • the highest freedom index score in the entire General Assembly was achieved by Representative Sherry Roberts (+66.5), followed by David Place (+61.0). Meanwhile Elaine Morgan (+53.5) was the highest ranking Senator, followed by Jessica DeLaCruz (+43)
  • the worst violator of liberty was Senator Erin Lynch (-71.0), followed closely by Senator Cynthia Coyne (-70.5). The worst defenders of freedom in the House were Representatives Gregg Amore and Robert Craven (-53.3)

On the 2019 Freedom Index web-page, the interactive tables and charts can be sorted or filtered, while multiple tabs present varying breakdowns of the data. By clicking on a lawmaker’s name, viewers can see his or her detailed voting record on the rated bills.

Methodology and prior years’ scorecards and indexes can be viewed on the Center’s Freedom Index home page at RIFreedom.org/FreedomIndex.

NEW REPORT: Collective Bargaining Gives Incentive to Providence Teachers NOT to Work for 37 Days

37 Days: Paid for Not Working in Providence Schools

Collective-bargaining contracts provide a disincentive to teach

Providence, RI –– The collective-bargaining agreement between the Providence Teachers Union and the government of Providence may explain why chronic teacher absences are one of the major problems contributing to the dismal K-12 educational conditions in the capital city. 

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today released a report – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – that highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers. About a quarter of all Providence teachers are being paid for missing 10% (18 days) or more of their vital class time with students. As the union contract actually allows for up to 37 days of paid-time-off per year per teacher, the teacher absentee problem could be twice as bad.

“It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “We should be thankful that more teachers are not taking full advantage of the numerous and counter-productive leave provisions that unions demand.”

The Center’s new report, an expansion of its Taxpayer Ripoff #1 Ghost Workers report in May, discusses the financial and societal costs of these excessive leave provisions and includes a table listing the many ways and days teachers are allowed to not teach and, in most cases, to be paid for not working. 

In the spring of 2019, the Center published a major report – Public Union Excesses – detailing the $888 million per year in excessive costs paid by taxpayers due to overly generous collective bargaining provisions in government union contracts at the state and local levels. With two-thirds of these costs absorbed by municipal taxpayers, property taxes could be lowered by as much as 25% if government services were contracted at normal market rates.

PAID FOR NOT WORKING, COLLECTIVE-BARGAINING TAXPAYER RIPOFF #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence

It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer … Mike Stenhouse

In the spring of 2019, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity published a major report — Public Union Excesses — detailing the $888 million per year in excessive costs paid by taxpayers due to overly generous collective bargaining provisions in government union contracts at the state and local levels. With two-thirds of these costs absorbed by municipal taxpayers, property taxes could be lowered by as much as 25% if government services were contracted at normal market rates.

Societal Costs. The excessive financial costs to taxpayers may not be as troubling as the social costs resulting from government worker unionization in our state. Union officials have propagated a culture in which extracting every possible dime from taxpayers and dues-payers, regardless of the impact on the quality of the services rendered, appears to be the objective, a culture that inevitably has creeped into the workplace. 

Educational Failures. Perhaps no area of government service exemplifies this negative value proposition more clearly than public education. In November 2018, the state released the RICAS student assessment scores, which highlighted the Ocean State’s dismal performance of schools within its public educational system. Furthermore, a July 2018 report showed that Rhode Island schools also suffered from the third-highest teacher absentee rate in the nation.

Connecting the dots, Public Union Excesses clearly lays out the many union contract provisions that provide a disincentive for teachers and other public employees to actually show up for work or perform the vital public services they were hired to conduct at peak levels. 

Teacher Attendance. With a national spotlight shining on the government-run Providence public school system for operating what some have characterized as among the worst schools in the country, the lack of consistent and reliable teacher attendance has been in the news.  Boston Globe journalist Dan McGowan reports that 500 of the city’s teachers (more than one-quarter) were absent at least 18 times, which is 10% of the school year.  That percentage is subtracted from teachers’ 181-day work-year, which is already 21% shorter than the approximate private-sector average work-year of 230.

Parents and interested Rhode Islanders might wonder how this is possible, so the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity took a look at the Providence Teachers Union contract.  Our results are shown in the table below.

In summary, in a standard year, teachers are contractually allowed to take up to 26 days off for a variety of reasons, from sick leave (15 days) to “purposes connected with the welfare of the school and/or community” (2 days).  Unlike in the private sector, unused sick days for teachers are allowed to roll over — in full — from year to year, up to 150 days.  A teacher can use up to 135 paid days off in one year before facing any consequences.

Common life events like weddings and deaths can add more time to the annual total — 11 days for a year with one of each.  Additionally, all teachers are eligible for up to another 11 days for union activities on a rotating and limited basis.  Additionally, a union professional development/mentoring coordinator is relieved of teaching duties for one-fifth of the school year, while the union president is relieved for two-fifths; that’s the equivalent of 36 and 72 days each.  Adding in the other days off available to all teachers, the union president would be able to not do any actual teaching for the equivalent of 101 of the work year’s 181 days.  The Center reported on such absences in our May 2019 “Ghost Workers” report.

On top of this are longer-term and more-rare absences like sabbaticals, quarantine, or job-related-injury leave, which can go for a year or more with pay.  Teachers can also take a year at a time off without pay for a number of reasons.

Of course, when a regular teacher is away for a day or for an extended period of time, a substitute teacher must often be hired at additional expense; in Providence it is estimated that substitute teachers cost taxpayers and extra $7 million per year.

These added costs, combined with the reduced quality of education, are one reason why Providence public schools are performing so poorly.

“PAID FOR NOT WORKING” – COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED, ALLOWED TEACHER ABSENCES IN PROVIDENCE

Number of Days Contract Citation
Standard Year
Sick leave 15 4-1
Personal 2 5-1.4
Superintendent-approved personal 3 5-1.5
Religious observance 3 5-1.2
"Welfare of the school and/or community" 2 5-1.6
Visiting other schools (in or out of district) 1 5-1.7
Subtotal 26
Life Events1
Wedding 2 5-1.1
Bereavement (immediate family) 5 5-2
Bereavement (in-laws) 3 5-2
Bereavement (extended) 1 5-2
Subtotal 11
Union Activities (Limited Number of Teachers)
Delegate to AFL-CIO or other union meetings 5 5-1.3
Negotiating Committee2 1 16-2.2
Union professional development/mentoring attendance 5 8-30-2
Subtotal 11
Total available to any given teacher each year 48
Special Union Positions3
Union professional development/mentoring coordinator4 36 8-30-1
Total available to coordinator 65
Union president5 72 5-6
Total available to union president 101
Other Events
Sabbatical 91 5-3
Compulsory Reserve or National Guard 20 5-7.2
Injured on the job 90 6-1
Assault and/or battery on the job 181 6-2
Government tests & examinations Unlimited 5-8
Court service Unlimited 5-9
Quarantine Unlimited 5-10
Without Pay
Personal 181 5-5.1
Union service 181 5-6
Military leave 181 5-7
Parental/adoption leave 181 5-11
Notes:
1 The “life events” subtotal assumes one of each in a given year.
2 We estimate an average of one day per year in total negotiating time for each teacher on the negotiating committee. Some years, this would be zero, and other years, it could be much higher than 1.
3 The union coordinator and president totals adjust the days available for all teachers so as not to double count their lighter work schedules.
4 The number of days off for the coordinator is the one-fifth schedule reduction applied to the full school year.
5 The number of days off for the president is the two-fifth schedule reduction applied to the full school year.
The Center refutes the unsubstantiated & off-target NEA-RI claims made by two government union officials in publicly responding to our Union Excess Report.

Center Assigns Blame, Calls for Bankruptcy to Help Solve Providence K-12 Disaster

The Government-Union Alliance Has Failed Students
Collective-bargaining savings and immediate private school options are vital

Providence, RI –– The dismal public school system in Providence is clearly the result of a failed and costly government-union alliance, with misplaced priorities, that likely will require new perspectives and city bankruptcy as part of the solution. A state takeover would only be more of the same.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperitymaintains that whatever reforms are eventually implemented from whatever public review process is put in place will not help the tens of thousands of Providence students currently in their critical learning years. 

The Center refutes the unsubstantiated & off-target NEA-RI claims made by two government union officials in publicly responding to our Union Excess Report.

“These kids need a new and better learning environment now, today. They cannot wait,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “In order to provide Providence and all Rhode Island students with a better chance at a brighter future, new players must have a seat at the table and new thinking is required as part of the solution. This dire situation cannot be turned around if the same people that caused the problem – local and state government and teachers union officials – are in charge of developing solutions.”

Historically, faint-hearted politicians and their teacher union allies have blocked educational reform ideas that have been successful in other states. However, if political leaders are honest and serious about their proclamations that all options must now be considered, and are willing to break those historical ties, the Center offers two practical and significant reform items that can have immediate impact:

1. More Educational Choices for Families. Recognizing that the larger school system reform process will take many, many years – if ever – to take positive effect, the Center suggests that thousands of Providence families can be provided with an an immediate escape-hatch from the drowning Providence school system. Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), first introduced in Rhode Island by the Center in 2014, would empower parents with the freedom and funding to select a private school educational path for their children. Extensive research by the Center showed that an ESA program can be immediately implemented – at no additional cost to state or local taxpayers!

Learn more about the Center’s Bright Today Scholarship program at www.RIFreedom.org/EdChoiceRI or read our mini-report here.

2. Bankruptcy & Collective Bargaining Savings to Repair Schools. The top priority of any public school system must be about educating kids, not enriching adults. Decrepit and rat-infested school buildings can be repaired with savings from reworked overly-generous contracts with the teacher and all Providence unions. The Center’s May 2019 Public Union Excesses report estimated that the city of  Providence is paying $110 million per year above and beyond private-sector rates for collectively-bargained services. This amount of annual money could easily fund the physical repair and upgrade of school buildings in Providence in just a few years. 

However, given the newly enacted “evergreen contracts” law, it is only through bankruptcy proceedings, with a capable receiver, that these excessive collectively- bargained funds can be freed up for use in Providence. This is a Providence problem that must be solved with Providence money. It would be unfair for the state to mandate that taxpayers in other cities and towns to be forced to pay for the capitol city’s incompetence.

A House bill that would dramatically expand the State's eminent domain powers was delayed for at least one day, after we raised concerns prior to vote.

Center Forces Delay of Bill that Would Dramatically Expand Government’s Eminent Domain Powers

Unconstitutionally Expands Eminent Domain Powers?Government Would be Allowed to Intrude-upon, Dig, and Seize Property

Providence, RI –– A House bill that would dramatically expand the State’s eminent domain powers was delayed for at least one day, after the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity raised concerns just prior to yesterday’s scheduled House Committee on Finance vote.

The Center, long known as an avid defender of private property rights, categorized this bill as RhodeMapRI-style legislation that places some vague and arbitrary notion of economic development above the constitutional rights of property owners.

Derived directly from the 2018 legislative language to keep the Pawtucket Red Sox in Pawtucket, the current legislation targets property owners and would give the city of Pawtucket and governments across the state unprecedented access to intrude upon, test, and ultimately seize private property. Other provisions of the bill deny due process and would even force property owners to be evicted or pay penalties and attorneys fees to defend and keep their land. 

Yesterday’s vote on H6153 was delayed with the official status, “Proposed Substitute”, but is expected to be re-considered as soon as today. The Senate version of the bill, S0673, was passed by the Senate Finance Committee on June 18. 

The two pieces of legislation, with both lead sponsors from Pawtucket, Representative Tobon and Senator Cano, were also co-sponsored primarily by Pawtucket Reps and Senators. 

“Everyone wants to see the city of Pawtucket succeed, but infringing on private property rights is not the way to go. If enacted, this legislation would constitute the largest expansion of the government’s eminent domain powers in Rhode Island history,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Perhaps unconstitutionally, it would expand the powers of redevelopment agencies to take private property for private economic development purposes instead of for “public” purposes or helping to remediate blighted and substandard areas.”

On the one year JANUS Anniversary: Center Launches $30,000 Phase-2 of Campaign to Inform Public Employees of their Rights

JANUS Anniversary: Center Launches $30,000 Phase-2 of Campaign to Inform Public Employees of their Rights

MyPayMySay Campaign to Spend $30,000 in Phase-2
Phase-1 Led to Doubling of State Worker Opt-Outs

Providence, RI –– In recognition of tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court Janus v AFSCME ruling the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity announced today that it has launched phase-2 of its MyPayMySayRI.comcampaign to inform government workers of their restored first-Amendment rights.

“After hearing last summer from dozens of workers, frustrated that their unions were not adequately informing them of their rights following the Janus decision, our Center quickly launched, with little funding, our MyPayMySaycampaign, in conjunction with our national partner, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. 

Phase-1 of the campaign has already achieved significant results. According to a Providence Journal article, the percentage of state workers choosing not to become a union member has doubled from about 3% to 6% in less than one year. Also, 26% of the professional staff at the University of Rhode Island have left their NEA-RI union. 

JANUS Anniversary

Yet, a recent national survey shows that 83% of K-12 teachers don’t fully understand their rights, while half of all teachers still don’t know they can leave their union without being required to pay fees and without losing any of their pay, health insurance, tenure, or seniority or other benefits.

Phase-2 of the Center’s campaign, following a more sustained fundraising outreach, began in late May and will end in July. Overall, approximately $30,000 is being spent to inform workers of their options through social media and web advertising, as well as mail pieces to union households.

The June 27 anniversary coincides with action this month by state lawmakers to side-step the rights of public employees by advancing bills that are a clear contrast to the decision made by the nation’s highest court. The legislation gives government unions special access to workers and allows unions to charge certain fees to those who choose not to pay for membership. The Center will monitor these actions from a legal standpoint.

Government unions themselves were exposed in the news last year when the NEA-RI issued a misleading and coercive letter to its local Bristol-Warren members.

State government officials also have been complicit in attempting to deny public employees the unbiased information they need to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Last summer, Governor Raimondo issued a directive to deny state-worker information to groups seeking to inform workers of their rights. And, more disturbingly, shortly after the Center’s campaign was launched, former Attorney General Kilmartin issued a public statement that misled public workers about their Janus rights; legal experts rightly called out this failure of leadership.

In many other states, where similar post-Janus or Right-To-Work informational campaigns have been initiated, up to 20%-30% of public employees have freely chosen to leave their government-designated unions.

Public employees can learn the full truth at www.MyPayMySayRI.com.