Rhode Island Covid-19 Help

Rhode Island COVID-19 Crisis: 30 Public Policy Solutions to Restore Financial and Health Security

In these trying times, with over one-hundred thousand Rhode Islanders recently laid-off, and unemployment rates that could soon reach 30%, common-sense public state-based policy can help mitigate the destructive economic impact of the Rhode Island Covid-19 crisis … and can help restore a sense of normalcy and financial security.

See the list below for the Center’s policy suggestions.

In response to this health crisis that is impacting our lives in so many ways, our state government’s actions to shut down commerce across many industries is inevitably having a crushing impact on small businesses, jobs, and family budgets… creating anxiety and fears among our populace.

On top of the major disruptions to our daily lives, our individual and societal peace of mind has deteriorated, with many Rhode Islanders concerned not just about their health, but also worried about their financial well-being. 

However, leading national voices from across the political spectrum – The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Governor of New York, and the President of the United States – have raised awareness about the need to restore economic activity as part of our nation’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis. 

As the federal government considers various assistance programs, it is vital that Rhode Island’s political leaders also play a positive role in restoring prosperity. It is a historical fact that economic depressions kill people, too… we must not let our Ocean State’s circumstances come to that.

Governor Raimondo has asked the business community for more time and patience as our state’s health care system is strengthened, before the “temporary,” yet major, restrictions on the private sector are lifted. 

The public policy solutions recommended in this paper include a number of smaller, “temporary” solutions that can be implemented – beginning now, while the larger state mandates remain in place – and that should remain in place until our state’s economy is fully recovered.

While the governor asks for the public’s trust, state leaders, likewise, must place trust in the power of the American people – business innovation and individual consumerism, guided by the free-market system – to be the driving force in lifting Rhode Island out of this severe economic crisis.

Specifically, the General Assembly must find a way to convene and govern –  and to consider emergency rescue legislation that balances the need to address the state’s budget with the need to bolster the budgets of families and businesses.

Rhode Island COVID-19 Recovery by #GovernmentDistancing. To aid in Rhode Island’s economic survival and eventual recovery – and to restore confidence about our future among the populace – the Center suggests that there are many ways our state government can take important and symbolic actions in alleviating some of these concerns about our individual and overall financial security. 

The common-sense ‘crisis recovery’ policy ideas recommended in this paper are designed to free-up individuals and employers in the private sector to be able to speed back to the peak employment and income-levels that we saw before the COVID-19 crisis. These solutions are especially beneficial to a state economy that is suffering catastrophic job losses as we have seen in Rhode Island.

Many states across America are aggressively taking or considering similar steps, and Rhode Island must not lag behind. By temporarily suspending certain taxes and regulations that hold back economic growth, by practicing what we call “government distancing,” political leaders can separate unnecessary government burdens from those suffering the most distress … and help clear the way for rapid economic recovery.

In late March, our Center published 10 initial pro-active policy recommendations. The Center continues to add to its list of policies, and we’re now up to 30. The newest suggestions are in bold, and policies that have been implemented are italicized. Explanations of the policies follow the list.

Business operations

  • Eliminate any state or local inspections required before re-opening a business that was temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
  • Allow businesses to fully expense capital investments in machinery and equipment.
  • Extended deadlines for commerce-related licensing.
  • Temporarily extending the deadlines for businesses to remit collected sales taxes to the state.
  • Temporary suspension of the corporate minimum tax.

Consumer assistance

  • Repeal bans on single-use plastic bags.
  • Repeal the ban on flavored vaping products.
  • Temporarily suspending Internet sales taxes.
  • To allow alcoholic beverages to leave restaurants when sold with a food take-out order.

Regulatory reform & occupational licensing

  • Relax all state and local regulations, including zoning, that would interfere with the ability to operate businesses out of the home.
  • Institute temporary “reciprocal” occupational licensing.
  • Eliminate sales and hotel taxes on people who offer short-term rentals.

Labor

  • Implement a three-month moratorium on the deduction of government union dues, leaving more money in the pockets of state and local employees.
  • Temporarily suspend prevailing wage laws.
  • Temporarily reducing Rhode Island’s minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25 per hour (with a temporary increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Civic

  • Develop a forum for public education, debate, and study of the state and federal constitutions and the response of our state and local governments to the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps as a precursor to a state Constitutional Convention.
  • Temporarily limit legal liability for volunteers and charitable organizations.

Budget

  • Implement a state Savings Reward Programs to reward state employees for saving taxpayer money through innovative or reengineered government processes.
  • Freeze all government hiring, even in cases of retirement and resignation, reallocating employees where they are most needed.
  • Eliminate all government positions that were vacant for at least six months prior to the COVID-19 shut-down.
  • Freeze all taxes, state and municipal, at current levels.

Infrastructure (Legacy and Future-Ready)

  • Adopt “dig once” and “one-touch make ready” policies. Implementing policies that increase cooperation between Internet service providers (ISPs) and state and local construction planners would enable the Ocean State to expand broadband communications more cheaply and quickly.

Education

  • Begin the process of comparing and analyzing districts’ effectiveness in implementing remote learning in (in and out of Rhode Island) for the development of best practices and other lessons learned.
  • Review state and local budgets to determine what money has been saved by closing school buildings and limiting services in order to create a fund to assist families with education-related expenditures.

Healthcare

  • Expand access to telemedicine services.
  • End surprise billing for patients.
  • Expanded scope-of-practice allowances.
  • Remove insurance laws that discourage the sale of short-term health insurance plans.
  • Waive regulation to allow medical professionals licensed in other states to practice in RI.
  • Repeal certificate of need laws.

Explanations

Already in Rhode Island, one of the Center’s early common-sense recommendations has been enacted:

  • To allow alcoholic beverages to leave restaurants when sold with a food take-out order. This will help many restaurants to maintain cash flow and better serve their customers.

For small businesses and their employees, it will be important to get as many people back to work at their normal shifts as soon as possible. However, the ramp-up to normal business conditions, and the associated revenues, may not be as fast the shut-down was. Therefore, as a short-term measure, the Center suggests:

  • Eliminate any state or local inspections required before re-opening a business that was temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Whether the inspection would have been due or overdue anyway or is related to the pandemic, Rhode Island needs its existing businesses to get up to speed, while adapting to new realities, as quickly as possible. Red tape does not make the cut.
  • Allow businesses to fully expense capital investments in machinery and equipment as they seek to rebuild, providing them with potentially critical 2020 tax relief.
  • Extended deadlines for commerce-related licensing by the Department of Business Regulation and other state agencies that have a hand in stringing red tape for businesses would help ensure existing small businesses remain legally operational.
  • Temporarily extending the deadlines for businesses to remit collected sales taxes to the state. This option would give many businesses additional near-term cash flow when it comes to compensating their employees, paying their rent, or covering other vital overhead expenses.
  • Temporary suspension of the corporate minimum tax, which imposes one more burden on individual looking to start a new business, or maintain their existing small business – for instance, as sole proprietors or limited partnerships – even if the businesses loses money.

Rhode Island consumers have been cooped up inside, often without their regular income. The state should help our families be as active as possible while giving businesses the benefit of their commerce:

  • Repeal bans on single-use plastic bags and other items. The COVID-19 virus and other germs can live on re-usable bags for many days, Rhode Island should repeal all state and municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, straws, and other items. (Maine, New York, and New Hampshire have taken action to roll back similar laws.)
  • Repeal the ban on flavored vaping products to restore choice to Rhode Island adults and to help this industry hire back the workers it was forced to lay-off in 2019.
  • Temporarily suspending Internet Sales Taxes. In March of 2029, the Center published a policy brief with a policy idea that would provide a financial incentive for Ocean Staters to work, shop, and eat at home as much as possible, as the government has either mandated or recommended. To encourage online commerce as a form of social-distancing, the Center recommended this policy. Consideration should be given as to whether this suspension should only apply to in-state purchases and deliveries.
  • To allow alcoholic beverages to leave restaurants when sold with a food take-out order. This will help many restaurants to maintain cash flow and better serve their customers.

Regulatory Reform & Occupational Licensing. For entrepreneurs or individuals looking to start a new career, or to engage in the “gig” economy, and to encourage them to re-enter the workforce as quickly as possible, it is vital that our Ocean State be a welcoming state in support of their desire to engage in meaningful work:

  • Relax all state and local regulations, including zoning, that would interfere with the ability to operate businesses out of the home. Even in the best of times, we are skeptical about the justification for imposing restrictions on people who are trying to advance our economy, improve our society, and support their families. In a time of economic crisis, our tolerance for restrictions should go way down.
  • Institute temporary “reciprocal” occupational licensing, so that licensed professionals in another state, who may be moving to our state to help with the crisis or to establish a new career, can immediately and legally work in their licensed field of expertise.
  • Eliminate sales and hotel taxes on people who offer short-term rentals, independently or through online services like AirBnB. This will encourage home-owners to develop new revenue streams for their households and will make our Ocean State a less expensive tourism destination for many during the vitally important upcoming summer season.

Labor Reforms. To decrease pressure on municipal and state budgets and to lessen the urge to increase taxes on Covid-19 devastated families and businesses:

  • Implement a three-month moratorium on the deduction of government union dues, leaving more money in the pockets of state and local employees. However important labor unions were in helping workers gain some of the benefit of economic booms in the last century, they represent another layer of bureaucracy in our economy. At the same time, the public sector has to share some of the burden of the oncoming recession. At a minimum, removing the government’s implicit subsidy of automatic dues deduction would allow state and local employees to make their own decisions about how their income can best be utilized during these unprecedented times.
  • Temporarily suspend prevailing wage laws that artificially drive up the cost of contracted services by state and local governments by requiring open-shop vendors to pay labor rates significantly higher than they normally would.
  • Temporarily reducing Rhode Island’s minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25 per hour. Our state’s hourly wage mandate of $10.50 is scheduled to rise to $11.50 on October 1st. By providing employers with more flexibility in hiring back their workforce, more Rhode Islanders can more quickly be put on the road to economic recovery. Consideration should be given to limiting this wage-suspension to apply only to newly created or revived positions.
    • Additionally, with government assuming further responsibility for aiding low-income families as we recover from this crises, the state should temporarily increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

The experience of the pandemic, and officials’ response to it, have put a spotlight on just how profound the decisions are that our society must make. Therefore, the state should encourage increased civic participation and development of voluntary civic organizations so neighbors can help their neighbors through these difficult times.

  • Develop a forum for public education, debate, and study of the state and federal constitutions and the response of our state and local governments to the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps as a precursor to a state Constitutional Convention. An educated population with a direct line for debate that will actually make a difference in how our state is governed will give Rhode Islanders an opportunity to determine the direction of their own state, articulating the assumptions under which our government was set up and determining which may no longer apply or have fallen by the wayside.
  • Temporarily limit legal liability for volunteers and charitable organizations that may wish to provide a helping hand during this crisis.

Regarding the 2021 budget process, and given the unpredictability of how quickly our state economy and government tax receipts will recover, it is vital that government live within its means, without placing additional burdens on an already distressed private sector. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, recently stated … his state government is not going to be able to deliver all of the services and programs it did before the crisis, and can only begin to do as actual government “receipts” dictate.

  • Implement a state Savings Reward Programs to reward state employees for saving taxpayer money through innovative or reengineered government processes. We know our state government is filled with smart, dedicated people, and they are in the best position to see how things can be changed for the better. Unfortunately, our system as it stands creates incentive to resist change, not advocate for it. This incentive structure must be reversed.
  • Freeze all government hiring, even in cases of retirement and resignation, reallocating employees where they are most needed. The governor has already prepared Rhode Islanders for difficult decisions in the coming months and years. One broad decision that can be made now is to reduce the size of the government that taxpayers must support.
  • Eliminate all government positions that were vacant for at least six months prior to the COVID-19 shut-down. If Rhode Island was getting along without certain government positions in good times, we cannot afford them during bad times. For those tasks that are more necessary in a crisis than they were before, existing personnel should be repurposed.
  • Freeze all taxes, state and municipal, at current levels to ensure that families and businesses, who have faced major income cut-backs of their own, are not forced to shoulder the burden of non-essential government spending.

For people to be able to get back to work and to create an economy that will be more resilient the next time there is a crisis, Rhode Island needs to improve its infrastructure, both in the old sense of roads and bridges and in the emerging sense of digital connectivity.

  • Adopt “dig once” and “one-touch make ready” policies. Implementing policies that increase cooperation between Internet service providers (ISPs) and state and local construction planners would enable the Ocean State to expand broadband communications more cheaply and quickly. The Ocean State has no resources to spare. As we spend money repairing and modernizing our roads, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to advance the infrastructure of the future in a way that can adapt to changing technology.

With families’ learning the ins and outs of “distance learning,” our community has a new level of hands-on experience with education. We must take this opportunity to ensure that our struggling education system reforms to create an informed, job-ready, and resilient population.

  • Begin the process of comparing and analyzing districts’ effectiveness in implementing remote learning in (in and out of Rhode Island) for the development of best practices and other lessons learned. It is not to early to start gathering information from the districts and analyzing it to understand what has worked and what hasn’t.
  • Review state and local budgets to determine what money has been saved by closing school buildings and limiting services in order to create a fund to assist families with education-related expenditures. Our emergency response in education has, on the one hand, created a large network of school and administrative buildings that are not being operated for use and, on the other hand, shifted a substantial amount of the burden for education onto families, themselves. Our state should work to move resources from where they are not being used to where they can make the difference between keeping up and falling behind.

On the health insurance front, many people who have lost their jobs may also have lost their private health care coverage. Currently, Rhode Island’s onerous insurance regulations makes it impossible for provider to offer “short term” insurance plans, either forcing newly uninsured people into much more expensive government-improved plans, onto Medicaid, or to risk living without insurance (and subsequently being penalizing with a fee.)

To help individuals who may be in employment transition during this crisis, Rhode Island should:

  • Expand access to tele-medicine services by having RI file an 1135 waiver with the federal Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) to allow Medicaid patients the same access to tele-health services as Medicare recipients
    • Repeal any existing regulations restricting access to tele-health services
  • End surprise billing for patients by enacting a Georgia-type reform that prohibits medical providers from using third-party collection agencies to collect medical debt that was not informed up-front to patients
  • Expand scope-of-practice allowances for nurses, pharmacists, medical technicians, medical students, and childcare providers … such that they can perform necessary medical testing or care in their field of expertise or for which they may have received training [FL]
  • Remove insurance laws that discourage the sale of short-term health insurance plans, so that patients can be offered lower-cost insurance options from a broader array of providers.

Other health related policy ideas include:

  • Waive regulation to allow medical professionals licensed in other states to be licensed to practice or conduct tele-health services in Rhode Island as was done in Missouri.
  • Repeal Certificate of Need laws that restrict healthcare providers from acquiring advanced technologies, such as medical imaging devices. Such protectionist-driven laws must not become a barrier to Rhode Islanders receiving the the quality care they deserve.
The Center urges legislative leaders to reconsider two bills that would provide Justice Reinvestment Initiative and occupational licensing reforms.

Center Joins Liberal Groups in Supporting Two Justice Reinvestment Bills that would Benefit Minority and Other Communities

Bi-Partisan Coalition Supports Right-to-Earn-a-Living for Nonviolent Criminals and Protecting Civil/Property Rights

Providence, RI – The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity urges legislative leaders to reconsider two bills that would provide Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and occupational licensing reforms, two areas consistently supported by the Center in recent years. 

Each bill has similarly been implemented in over dozens of other states in recent years. And each bill has earned broad bi-partisan support among grassroots activists and other lawmakers in Rhode Island following their respective committee hearings. It is only General Assembly leadership that is holding them back. 

H5863, which also provides occupational licensing reforms, would provide increased opportunities for people with minor criminal records to to earn a living for themselves and their families by removing unfair barriers and reducing burdens to obtain occupational licenses and certifications that are required in many industries. 

Rhode Island’s regulatory laws often effectively impose a ban against individuals with a record from obtaining many licenses to work. Even vague crimes of “moral turpitude” are subject to such unjust prohibitions. 

H5863 would remove many such unfair barriers and clarifies statues that make it overly difficult for prior criminal offenders to work in certain occupations. These changes would allow more individuals to re-enter society with the opportunity to live self-sufficient lives; in turn, improving the health of the state’s economy and reducing the recidivism rates and its associated costs.

“The more evolved view of America’s criminal justice system, by advocates on both the left and the right, is that after paying their debt to society, certain nonviolent offenders should be rehabilitated and trained to become a productive working member of society,” commented the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “But yet in Rhode Island, burdensome occupational licensing laws often make it impossible for these individuals to find gainful employment.”

The conservative Center joins with DARE, the RI-ACLU, and other liberal advocacy groups in supporting H5863.

The Center also supports H5721, a JRI bill that it crafted, which would completely re-write the Rhode Island’s “civil asset forfeiture” statutes, by which state and local government agencies may seize the property of suspected criminals or regulatory violators, many of whom are never charged or convicted. This legislation would help protect civil rights and the rights of property owners against overly-zealous government seizures, a phenomenon that disproportionately impacts low-income and minority communities.

The Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, testified at the March House Judiciary Committee hearing on H5721, which is also supported by the RI-ACLU, Occupy Providence, the Rhode Island Public Defenders Office, and the D.C. based Institute for Justice. There was no testimony opposing the legislation, yet legislative leaders are reluctant to move the legislation forward because of opposition from the law enforcement community, which benefits, sometimes unjustly, from the proceeds of seized assets.

A compelling video, research data, summary of the legislation, and copies of submitted testimony can be found on the Center’s home page for Asset Forfeiture reform

The Center issued a major report on the need for occupational licencing reforms in 2018, Right to Earn (a living). The Center also joined with Democrats to help push through a package of JRI reform legislation in 2017; as part of the Center’s Family Prosperity Initiative.

This week’s “Progressive Land of Make Believe Bad Bills of the Week” are the so-called Fair Employment Practices legislation; House bill 7427 and Senate bill 2475. The legislation that could impose the most extreme employment burdens on Rhode Island businesses than in any other state in the nation.

March, 2019 – the Bad Bill of the Week: So-Called Fair Employment Practices Legislation is Immoral

Once again, politically correct legislation is being advanced in the General Assembly based on a progressive-contrived myth; legislation (H5659 and S0509) that could impose the most extreme employment burdens on Rhode Island businesses than in any other state in the nation – all for an imagined problem that does not exist!

Mandating equal income outcomes by advancing political inequality is immoral and un-American. Watch this video for more discussion and why this legislation is also not necessary:

Progressive lawmakers and activists pretend that a multitude of state and federal protections against wage discrimination, enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), do not already exist.

Currently, Rhode Island law clearly prohibits wage discrimination for “equal work” on “the same operations”. Who can disagree with this? However, the proposed legislation would blur this clear language and change the standard to “comparable work” under “similar working conditions”.

These fuzzy and divisive new regulations would be harmful to businesses, leading to frivolous complaint after frivolous complaint filed by employees against employers. Already with one of the most hostile business climates in America, Rhode Island should not impose more burdens on its valued job-producers.

Without documenting any evidence of systematic discrimination, not covered by existing law, this #Unfair2Employers legislation would set new, highly subjective wage-discrimination standards that are wholly unfair to job-producers. With ridiculous new definitions of acceptable wage determination practices, severe employer penalties will be devised and meted out by unelected government bureaucrats at the Department of Labor and Training.

Supporters of the legislation also pretends this is a “women’s rights” issue, when in fact a whole litany of politically-correct groups, favored by progressive politicians, are included in the new definitions. Existing laws cover these groups as well.

In the real world Rhode Island does not need more job-killing regulation … we simply need more education and better enforcement of existing laws.

Similarly, earlier versions of the bill in 2018 were named “Progressive Land of Make Believe Bad Bills of the Week” are the so-called Fair Employment Practices legislation; House bill 7427 and Senate bill 2475.

The Rhode Island business community is comprised not just of good business people, but also generous and fair employers. However, in the progressive land of make believe, Ocean State employers regularly practice discriminatory and bigoted compensatory practices against women and other politically-protected groups.

Rhode Island's already dismal business climate will take yet another hit if progressive-extremists are once again successful in advancing anti-employer equal pay legislation based on a false narrative.

MEDIA RELEASE: Modified “Equal Pay” Legislation Still Harmful and Unnecessary

Practice of Watering Down Bad Bills Must End

False progressive narrative once again drives legislative agenda with new #Unfair2Employers mandates.

Providence, RI– Rhode Island’s already dismal business climate will take yet another hit if progressive-extremists are once again successful in advancing anti-employer legislation based on a false narrative.

Dubbed earlier this year by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity as its Bad Bill of the Week, the Center maintains the equal pay legislation is unfair to small businesses.

Without providing any evidence that Rhode Island employers are systematically discriminatory and bigoted in their compensatory practices, and without presenting any argument why existing state and federal equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws are not sufficient, the House will, nonetheless, vote tonight on a watered-down version of equal pay legislation that has already passed the Senate.

“It is alarming that lawmakers will change state law based on a myth; that a politically-correct narrative derived from fake news can rule the day; and that business associations are complicit in passing legislation that will be harmful to their own members,” exclaimed Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “This practice of passing watered-down versions of bad bills, just to appease the progressive-left, must end.”

Almost exactly similar to the process that saw the anti-business ‘paid time off’ legislation passed last year, the House worked with business groups such as the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the RI Hospitality Association, and RIPEC to produce a watered-down version (H7427-subA) that removes some of the especially hostile provisions of earlier House and Senate versions. However, the Center maintains that no version of this legislation is actually needed; and that any version of this legislation will lead to new legal dangers for job-producers by creating vague and unfair new mandates for how employers should determine wages for workers.

“Businesses are at the tipping point – and jobs are at stake – if our state imposes more burdens and legal peril on the private sector. This progressive vision of equal outcomes for everyone could actually backfire, as businesses may end up hiring fewer women and minorities to avoid legal action,” said Stenhouse earlier this year. “Incredibly, this legislation assumes the guilt of hard-working employers in our state; it is a dream-come-true for law-suit minded lawyers, but will be a nightmare for the business community.”

The Center’s prior post on the legislation includes a video commentary from Stenhouse on the equal pay legislation as well as a link to a Prager U. video that discusses U.S. Department of Labor data, which debunks the 77 cents on the dollar gender-wage-gap myth.

Other Bad Bills: An interactive table of other progressive bad bill candidates, as well as posts and video commentary on previously tabbed “progressive bad bills of the week” can be found at RIFreedom.org/Bills.

Rhode Island lawmakers - female and male - experienced first-hand the safety and fun of natural hair braiding at a cultural exhibition yesterday at the State House.

Center Calls on Senate to Act after House Unanimously Passes Hair-Braider Freedom Bill

Will Senate Continue to Block This No-Brainer Legislation?

Second year in-a-row Legislation receives unanimous House vote!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 15, 2018

Providence, RI – For the second straight year, the Senate is on the spot to act on hair-braider freedom legislation passed unanimously by the House. In 2017, they failed. The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity calls on the Senate to remove the unfair regulations that prevent low-income families from legally earning additional income – or a living – through the practice of the safe craft of natural hair-braiding.

In a 69-0 vote yesterday, H7565 was passed in the House. An identical bill appears again to be stalled in the Senate. The legislation would exempt natural hair-braiders from the onerous cosmetology licensing mandates that demand thousands of hours of unrelated training and tens of thousands of dollars worth of irrelevant classes.

It is unknown why the Senate is blocking such common-sense legislation, especially given that many other states have recently removed similar protectionist and burdensome measures.

Unlike in 2017, however, there is a Senate companion bill this year, S2323, sponsored by Senator Dawn Euer, who is actively working to overcome the inexplicable hold-up in her chamber. In May, many Senators enjoyed a free and fun natural hair-braid outside their chamber on RI Freedom Braiders Lobbying Day.

“We thank the House for recognizing the obvious and we appreciate the work that Senator Euer continues to invest in attempting to move this no-brainer legislation in the Senate,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The March Senate Commerce Committee hearing produced no credible opposition to the legislation, but did bring out many current cosmetologists who want to selfishly protect their industry from new competition.”

Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on cars, cash, and other private property by government today.  According to the Institute for Justice, the Ocean State received a D- for its asset forfeiture laws. Please watch the new asset forfeiture video from the Center now.

Why Rhode Island Needs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

“It is absolutely mind-boggling… that people that feed you, in one of the most historical oldest industries in this country, can’t go to sea and land that fish that feeds you without being treated like criminals,” said Richard Fuka, President of RI Fishermen’s Alliance

Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on cars, cash, and other private property by government today.  According to the Institute for Justice, which produces a state-by-state report card, the Ocean State received a D- for its asset forfeiture laws. Please watch the new asset forfeiture video from the Center now.

Contradicting the testimony of officials from the Attorney General's office on forfeiture reform legislation, a new report shows that over 93% of all cash and property seized by civil asset forfeiture to the government from 2015-2016 were for low dollar amounts.

Asset Forfeiture Reform: State Data Contradicts Opposition from AG and Law Enforcement Agencies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2018

Asset Seizures in Rhode Island Overwhelmingly Involve Smaller Dollar and Property Values

AG and other law enforcement agencies over-emphasize larger criminal enterprises as basis for their opposition

Providence, RI — Contradicting the testimony of officials from the Attorney General’s office and other state and local law enforcement agencies, a new report from the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights using the State’s own data, shows that over 93% of all cash and property forfeited to the government from 2015-2016 were for low dollar amounts; not the higher-valued assets typical of ‘major criminal enterprises’, as is the basis of law enforcement’s opposition to proposed civil asset forfeiture reform legislation.

Seeking to lead the way for civil rights and responsible government, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is seeking to advance 2018 legislation that would completely re-write the state’s asset seizure and forfeiture laws. The House bill, H7640, and the Senate bill, S2681, were heard in their respective Judiciary Committees in recent weeks. The legislation is a continuation of last year’s successful package of Justice Reinvestment Initiative reforms, which were passed and signed into state law.

“Today’s report from the Hopkins Center clearly supports our claim and directly refutes law enforcement’s argument,” said Mike Stenhouse. CEO for the Center, which has been long-time defenders of private property rights.

Unlike the “wealthy drug lords” and other “big fish” that were the focus of law enforcement’s opposition testimony, a report published earlier this year by the Center suggested that it may actually be low-income and minority communities – the “little fish” – who suffer disparate impacts from poorly written state forfeiture laws. The report also cited Rhode Island’s D minus grade in a recent Institute for Justice report for its weak civil forfeiture laws as a basis for completely re-writing this section of state law.

One such “little fish” victim in Rhode Island, as fully described in the written testimony by Michael DiLauro, Assistant Public Defender, was Domingo Grullon, who had about $2,000 seized by the government and, despite charges being dropped, was never able to successfully reclaim his cash because of the overly-complex burden placed on innocent property owners by current state law. The reform legislation requires a conviction before the government can maintain permanent possession of seized assets.

The legislation, co-written by the Center and the Hopkins Center, would reform Rhode Island’s asset forfeiture statutes and would:

  • Raise the bar for when government may seize property in the first place
  • Lower the bar by which innocent citizens can reclaim their property
  • Increase transparency so that public officials and citizens can provide appropriate oversight
  • Enhance administration to increase the credibility of law enforcement
  • Increase budget accountability to remove perverse incentives for seizure

The Center’s report, as well as additional related information, can be found on the Center’s website, here.

New brief from the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights summarizes data regarding asset forfeitures that directly contradicts recent testimony of the office of the Attorney General made in opposition to House Bill 7640 and Senate Bill 2681, An Act Relating To Criminal Procedure – Asset Forfeiture.

Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights: Media Release & Report on Rhode Island Asset Forfeiture

For Immediate Release:
May 29, 2018

Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights Releases Data Brief Responding to Testimony of Office of Attorney General Kilmartin

Report of General Treasurer Showing Average forfeiture of only $1,524.00 Contradicts Rhode Island Attorney General’s Testimony Opposing Asset Forfeiture Reform Legislation

Providence – Giovanni D. Cicione, Esq., Chairman of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, a non-profit legal advocacy group, today released a data brief which has been transmitted to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. This brief summarizes data regarding asset forfeitures that directly contradicts recent testimony of the office of the Attorney General made in opposition to House Bill 7640 and Senate Bill 2681, An Act Relating To Criminal Procedure – Asset Forfeiture.

Rhode Island’s civil asset forfeiture law has received a grade of “D-“ from the Institute for Justice, who produces a state by state report card on the topic. As the law works today, law enforcement can seize and keep property and cash from individuals even when they haven’t been convicted of any crime. For property to be returned, owners must prove by a preponderance of evidence that their property is not forfeitable, which is a huge burden especially for those without means to pursue such claims. Over the years, a number of states have reformed their forfeiture laws to better protect innocent individuals, while Rhode Island has lagged behind. Legislation is before the General Assembly which aims to change that.

Joe Lindbeck, lobbyist for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, testified at both the House and Senate Judiciary committee hearings in opposition to legislation which would require a criminal conviction before seized assets may be forfeited. Ms. Lindbeck asserted in both hearings that the proposed reforms would serve only to protect drug cartels and drug kingpins.

The Hopkins Center reviewed data collected by the Rhode Island General Treasurer on forfeiture cases in in 2015 and 2016, which was provided to us and requested under the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act. The Center then aggregated and analyzed that data in order to assess the realities of how the law is currently being used. The results are clear – the majority of forfeitures were for small dollar amounts, not the type of cash or property “wealthy drug lords” have on hand.

“The data speaks for itself,” noted Chairman Cicione, “but it is worth emphasizing that the median value of all 2016 forfeitures—cash and property—was less than $1,600. Over 85% of cash forfeitures involved $5,000 or less, and only 11 out of 241 cash forfeiture cases involved $10,000 or more, whereas 23 forfeitures were for $500 or less.” “The smallest amount of cash forfeited was $116, and we don’t even know if this person was convicted of any crime before his or her cash was forfeited”, continued Cicione.

“We would ask Attorney General Kilmartin to reconsider his opposition to these reforms given the hard realities of the data and their previously discussed disparate impact on communities of color,” concluded Cicione.
The mission of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights is to protect the rights that Americans recognize as fundamental. The Hopkins Center litigates in areas of fiscal responsibility and transparency, school choice, free speech, and property rights to assist individuals the government has harmed, and ensure all Rhode islanders enjoy their constitutional rights.

Seeking to lead the way for civil rights and responsible government, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity published a new report today ahead of a hearing this afternoon on its legislation that would protect citizens against unjust governmental seizure of their private property.

Asset Forfeiture Reform: New Report, Broad Coalition Expected at Hearing today

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 15, 2018

Asset Forfeiture Reform: Leading the Way for Civil Rights and Responsible Government

Continuation of Successful 2017 Justice Reinvestment Reforms

Providence, RI — Seeking to lead the way for civil rights and responsible government, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity published a new report today ahead of a hearing this afternoon on its legislation that would protect citizens against unjust governmental seizure of their private property.

The House bill, H7640, will be heard today in Room 101 in the Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill, S2681, was heard last month.

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.

“Last year, our Center was proud to join the coalition that saw passage into law of a package of Justice Reinvestment reforms,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “This year, this asset forfeiture legislation is a continuation of that bi-partisan initiative.”

The report features research indicating that low-income and minority communities suffer a disparate impacts from poorly written state forfeiture laws. One such victim in Rhode Island, as fully described in the written testimony by Michael DiLauro, Assistant Public Defender, was Domingo Grullon, who had over $2,000 seized by the government and, despite charges being dropped, was never able to successfully reclaim his cash because of the overly-complex burden placed on innocent property owners. The reform legislation requires a conviction before the government can maintain permanent possession of seized assets. In many cases, “hardships are visited upon those who have done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law,” wrote DiLauro.

Long-time defenders of private property rights, the Center cited Rhode Island’s D- grade in a recent Institute for Justice report for its weak civil forfeiture laws as a basis for completely re-writing this section of state law.

At the Senate hearing, as has been the case in the many other state where similar legislation has been passed, a broad and bi-partisan coalition came together in support of the recommended reforms. The RI ACLU, the RI Public Defender’s Office, and Occupy Providence, all center or left leaning organizations, joined with the center-right Center and the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights. Additionally, the bi-partisan RI Families Coalition supports the reforms.

Last month, the Center published a one-page overview of the legislation, which includes a statement of need. 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.

The legislation, co-written by the Center and the Hopkins Center, would reform Rhode Island’s asset forfeiture statutes and would:

  • Raise the bar for when government may seize property in the first place
  • Lower the bar by which innocent citizens can reclaim their property
  • Increase transparency so that public officials and citizens can provide appropriate oversight
  • Enhance administration to increase the credibility of law enforcement
  • Increase budget accountability to remove perverse incentives for seizure
Asset forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property by government today. While many might assume that these laws are directed at criminals, in reality simply being suspected or accused of a crime is sufficient for a state to take your property. Rhode Island is no different.

Asset Forfeiture Reform in Rhode Island

An Opportunity for Rhode Island to Lead the Way for Civil Rights, Responsible Government, and Conscientious Budgeting

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OVERVIEW

Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on cars, cash, and other private property by government today.  While many policymakers and citizens might assume that these laws are directed at criminals, in reality simply being suspected or accused of a crime is sufficient for a state to take your property.  Rhode Island is no different.

The Attorney General’s description of our state laws provides some sense of perspective and context:

The Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit (NOCU) is “responsible for processing all narcotics, gambling, and racketeering-related asset forfeitures.  Proceeds from the sale of forfeited assets represent an important source of ongoing drug and crime suppression efforts of state and local police.  In 2016, the Unit opened 284 new forfeiture cases and disposed of 277 cases.  In total, the Unit seized $1,682,426 in cash and property and processed $979,700 in total cash and property forfeited.  Under Rhode Island General Law, assets obtained through illegal drug operations are forfeited and distributed among state and local police, the Office of Attorney General, and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals (BHDDH). As prescribed by statute, 20 percent of seized proceeds shall be provided to the Office of Attorney General to be used for further drug-related investigations and prosecutions, 70 percent is divided among the state and local police departments proportionately based upon their contribution to the investigation, and 10 percent provided to BHDDH to support substance abuse treatment programs.  Last year [2016], $449,206 in “cash” was distributed to the Rhode Island State Police and local police departments, $64,172 to BHDDH, and $128,344 to the Office of Attorney General. Another $283,380 worth of forfeited property was distributed to state and local law enforcement agencies for use or auction.” [i]

While the original good intent of such forfeiture laws cannot be disputed — removing the ill-gotten gains, resources, and instruments of those committing crimes from their reach — the experience of many years has drawn attention to needed reform in the authorizing statutes.  Since 2014, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed forfeiture reforms. [ii]  Reform for Rhode Island is long overdue.

General Recommendations
  • Improve administration of forfeiture programs in order to increase the credibility of law enforcement as they conduct permitted seizures.
  • Build in transparency around asset forfeiture actions so that elected officials and citizens have the data necessary to provide oversight and improve the processes. This includes keeping track of how much the state seizes, whether the citizens are ever convicted of a crime, and how much money comes in from those seizures.
  • Local governments should not profit from asset forfeiture and should be held accountable if they abuse the process.
  • We should avoid seizures from innocent property owners and co-owners and build in legal protections before the state takes final title to property.
  • Most importantly, we must raise the bar and provide prompt and streamlined legal procedures to protect the property rights of innocent owners.
INTRODUCTION

This paper is intended to provide a detailed analysis of legislation proposed in the 2018 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly that would significantly reform those provisions of Rhode Island law which allow law enforcement agencies to seize money and property from criminal suspects and retain those monies for their own purposes.

Current Rhode Island law lets the state take your property on the basis of no more than suspicion.  If you don’t hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit against your own property, you soon lose it.  Worst of all, Rhode Island allows the law enforcement agency that seized your property to keep the majority of it to supplement their own budgets, creating a perverse incentive to violate your due process rights.

By way of example, and as noted in recent Senate Judiciary Committee testimony by Assistant Public Defender Michael A. DeLauro:

A leading Rhode Island Supreme Court decision amply illustrates the need for reform. In State v. Grullon, 783 A.2d 928, 929 (R.I. 2001) the defendant was arrested for and charged with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. At the time of his arrest he was in possession of $2183.00 that was to be used in moving his family from New York City to Providence. Immediately after his arrest the state initiated successful forfeiture proceedings. After a jury waived trial in which the defendant was found “not guilty” of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance he sought to undo the forfeiture. In denying the request both the Superior and Supreme Courts relied on technical grounds holding that 1) it was not within the province of the court to do so and 2) the forfeiture did not violate due process and the Eighth Amendment’s protection against the imposition of excessive fines.[iii]

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity is leading a coalition to raise the bar for asset forfeiture and adopt better practices.  As a part of that effort the Hopkins Center has researched model legislation and best practices in the other states that have adopted reforms, including those adopted by our fellow New England State of New Hampshire.

FORFEITURE 101: GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT

At its most basic level, asset forfeiture is a trade-off between the demands of policing and the civil rights of citizens. [iv]  No one objects to taking weapons from criminals caught in the act, seizing the stolen goods they hold unjustly, or making them pay restitution for the harms inflicted as they absconded with their ill-gotten gains.  At the same time, no one would question the right of innocent owners to be secure in their property.  The idea that the government cannot seize your assets on a whim — that “due process” is required — is a bedrock principle of our constitutional democracy.  Asset forfeiture lives in a grey area between those competing ideals, and from time to time, the pendulum of freedom swings a bit wide.

Pirates, Prohibition, and Scarface: The Birth of a Problem

Chip Mellor gives an excellent summary of the origins of asset forfeiture laws in American law: [v]

American forfeiture law arose from the British Navigation Acts of the mid-17th century. Passed during England’s vast expansion as a maritime power, the Acts required that any ships importing or exporting goods from British ports fly under the British flag. If the Acts were violated, the ships or the cargo could be seized and forfeited to the crown regardless of the guilt or innocence of the owner. The British laws focused on seizing the assets because they could punish violations of the law even when they could not capture the violators. Using the British statutes as a model, the first U.S. Congress passed forfeiture statutes to aid in the collection of customs duties, which provided up to 90 percent of the finances for the federal government during that time.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld early forfeiture statutes. Most important to understanding these early cases is the underlying rationale for permitting civil forfeiture even against innocent property owners. The Court reasoned that civil forfeiture was closely tied to the practical necessities of enforcing admiralty, piracy and customs laws. Such forfeiture permitted courts to obtain jurisdiction over property when it was virtually impossible to obtain jurisdiction over the persons guilty of violating maritime law. Justice Joseph Story wrote that the “vessel which commits the aggression is treated as the offender, as the guilty instrument or thing to which the forfeiture attachés, without any reference whatsoever to the character or conduct of the owner.” Justice Story justified these forfeitures “from the necessity of the case, as the only adequate means of suppressing the offense or wrong, or insuring an indemnity to the injured party.”

Although asset forfeiture law saw increased use during the Civil War and then again during Prohibition, it wasn’t until the 1980s and the heyday of the war on drugs that forfeiture became such a powerful weapon in the government’s arsenal. The fear of drug lords in mansions with pet tigers and machine guns ran rampant, and as with many erosions of civil rights, fear led to calls for more authority and more discretion to be placed in the hands of law enforcement.  And as with most such erosions, time has tended to demonstrate that, once in hand, the government will take such power and discretion to its limit.

RHODE ISLAND STATUTES: A FAILING GRADE FOR JUSTICE

The data in Rhode Island demonstrates that maxim fairly clearly.  According to the Institute for Justice, which produces a state-by-state report card on the topic, “Rhode Island has awful civil forfeiture laws.” [vi]  That blunt assessment and the D- grade award our state is reflective of at least three important factors in the existing law:

  1. Law enforcement need only show probable cause to seize property, but for property to be returned in Rhode Island, it is up to owners to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their property is not forfeitable. (“Guilty until proven innocent,” as it were.)
  2. Innocent owners making claims also bear the burden of proving that they had no involvement in the illegal use of their property in order to recover it.
  3. Rhode Island law enforcement agencies retain 90% of all forfeiture proceeds, a generous incentive to aggressively wield their forfeiture powers.[vii]

Social Injustice

Another unfortunate feature of asset forfeiture schemes generally is that they have disparate impacts with regard to race and income.  Using data collected by Lucy Parsons Labs, a Chicago non-profit that focuses on police accountability, the Reason Foundation mapped the addresses where asset seizures took place in Cook County, Illinois.  The results were not surprising.

“This data shows what we already know, that the seizures tried by CCSAO overwhelming steal the possessions of poor people,” Lucy Parsons Labs said in a statement to Reason. “The data shows that the seizures are clumped in the South and West side, overwhelmingly African-American neighborhoods.”[viii]  (Emphasis added.)

Law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island are required to report their forfeitures to the state treasurer and attorney general, who then aggregate the data and provide annual reports to the legislature.  Disappointingly, these reports are not available online.  Law enforcement agencies reportedly seized more than $8.3 million through asset forfeiture proceedings between 2009 and 2014, averaging almost $1.4 million per calendar year.

The current asset forfeiture structure in Rhode Island not only demeans the law and our judicial system, it demeans the profession for all of law enforcement.  Our laws are bad for good cops.

A SOLUTION: THE ASSET FORFEITURE PROCESS AND PROPERTY RIGHT PRESERVATION ACT

The reform act now pending before the Rhode island General Assembly was drafted with three key goals in mind:

  1. Add well-defined structure to the administration of forfeiture programs in order to increase the credibility of law enforcement as it undertakes permitted seizures
  2. Avoid seizures from innocent property owners and remove financial incentives that would encourage overreach in this area
  3. Make the seizure process transparent so that elected officials and citizens have the data necessary to provide oversight and improve
    the processes
Key Provisions

Restore Revenue Oversight to the General Assembly

Current Rhode Island law has none of the 10 national best practices for accounting for forfeiture fund spending. [ix]  This means that we have the lowest possible rating for accountability for spending of seized funds.  While many states are adding oversight requirements for local departments, horror stories of uncontrolled spending abound.  The Institute for Justice compiled a list of the six “craziest” expenditures that can be viewed on YouTube[x] but bear summarizing here:

#6  Steak, booze, and CeeLo Green tickets

#5    Tequila, rum, kegs of beer, and a margarita machine

#4  A six-day law conference (junket) in Hawaii

#3  A $90,000 Dodge Viper

#2  A $35,000 inmate-built “party house”

#1  $40,000 for drugs and prostitutes

Revenue from seizures is in part paid directly to the local law enforcement agencies conducting the seizures.  While reasonable as a means of rewarding good policing, this system also carries the risk of creating a financial incentive to abuse the process.  The reform act would direct all funds seized under state law to the general treasury, eliminating one of the last vestiges of what is generally referred to as a “restricted receipt” account system, consistent with broad state reform efforts undertaken on this front in the past.  Essentially, the move away from restricted receipt accounts returns budgeting authority to the General Assembly, rather than creating slush funds with little or no accountability.

These off-budget accounts lead to waste in the worst cases, but even in the best cases, they end-run the authority of the legislature and leave the spending decisions to the whims of local agencies.  A more-conscientious approach not only retains the checks and balances of legislative oversight of budgeting, but also helps avoid the egregious and embarrassing expenditures that so often make the news and demean the reputations of law enforcement agencies everywhere.

Protect Innocent Property Owners

Under the current system, innocent Rhode Islanders must live in fear of losing their cars or their homes because little Johnny was caught selling pot to his friends in the family minivan or his bedroom.  Reforming the financial incentives as noted above reduces the risk of such overreach by law enforcement and leaves the spending discretion that our forfeiture program provides squarely in the hands of the legislature.

This shift in incentives, coupled with procedural protections omitted from early asset forfeiture laws, creates a strong set of defenses for innocent property owners.  The legal process is spelled out clearly, deadlines and timing are addressed in detail, and innocent owners promptly get to make their cases to the court.

The model case for why these rights need to be enshrined in law is that of Anthonia Nwaorie.  As recently reported by the Washington Post, Ms. Nwaorie, a 59-year-old registered nurse, was traveling to Nigeria to open a medical clinic and had $41,000 in cash she had saved for that purpose seized for no reason other the fact that she was carrying a large amount of cash.  Six months later she has yet to get it back, in part because law enforcement demanded that she first sign a legal release protecting them from lawsuits. [xi]

Data Collection and Transparency

The reform act is not intended to weaken this valuable law enforcement tool.  In order to ensure that it is being used properly and judiciously and to further allow the legislature to monitor its effects and reach over the years to come, the act provides detailed data collection and reporting guidelines.

These data points will allow us to compare Rhode Island to other states that are collecting similar data and to assure ourselves that these tools are being used, but not abused.  Transparency, particularly in the realm of law enforcement, is vital toward establishing trust in government and a feeling withing communities that all are being treated fairly.  The law should be blind, but the legislature should not. [xii]

Outline

An outline and brief description of each substantive sections of the model legislation is provided in Appendix A.

CONCLUSION

The criminal justice system today looks little like that of its predecessors in the common law or even the system created at the time of the birth of our country.  It is larger, more expansive, more expensive, and covers more conduct and more citizens than ever before.

But that does not mean that the fundamental aspects of criminal justice that serve to ensure a fair and just system for all citizens should be ignored.  In fact, quite the opposite.  A robust criminal justice system demands robust protections for innocent citizens, to ensure they are not unfairly caught up in the system.

Asset forfeiture reform would prevent unjust seizures from innocent citizens. It would protect citizens from overzealous law enforcement action and provide peace of mind for those taking part in wholly innocent and blameless — even admirable — behavior.  It would empower the legislature by restoring its right and proper budgetary authority over seized funds.  It would also make great strides toward building in protections for law enforcement that ensure their reputations, their professionalism, and their community support remain as solid as possible.

APPENDIX A: SECTION OUTLINE OF MODEL LEGISLATION

This outline is intended to serve as a handy guide to the substantive sections of the legislation and is not comprehensive or a complete list of provisions.

Section I

Chapter 1:  Title.

Chapter 2:  Definitions.

Chapter 3:  Purpose.

Chapter 4:  Property Subject to Criminal Forfeiture.

Chapter 5:  Exemption for cars of modest value.

Chapter 6:  Conviction and proof to a defined legal standard are required for seizure and forfeiture of assets.

Chapter 7:  Substitution of assets of the accused criminal trying to avoid forfeiture is allowed if the assets that would otherwise be subject are out of reach.

Chapter 8:  These laws provide the exclusive process for forfeiture in Rhode Island.

Chapter 9:  There is no joint and several liability in forfeiture that would allow a third party to have property seized.

Chapter 10: Seizure must generally be by court order.

Chapter 11: If the police are concerned about losing access to the property that should be seized, they can do so without a court order so as to avoid removal or destruction of the property by the suspect.

Chapter 12: Seizer of real property (a house) must be done by court order.

Chapter 13: Record keeping requirements are outlined.

Chapter 14: Government can’t force an innocent property owner to give up due process rights in order to get property back.

Chapter 15: The property owner can secure a bond or substitute property of equal value to get seized property back while waiting for trial.  This is particularly important for innocent owners who have business assets seized and would otherwise be prevented from earning a living.

Chapter 16: Provides a pre-trial hearing process in order to determine that a seizure was done legally.

Chapter 17: Details rules for discovery and trial procedure.

Chapter 18: Outlines trial procedure and requires the state to promptly give its reasons and justifications for seizure and forfeiture and provides clear proced-ural steps for the government to follow in order to complete the forfeiture.

Chapter 19: Allows a property owner to argue that the value of a seizure is disproportionate to the crime of which he or she was accused.

Chapter 20: Protects banks and other secured parties to the extent of their interests in seized property (for example, mortgages and car loans.)

Chapter 21: Protects innocent owners.

Chapter 22: Outlines appeal procedures.

Chapter 23: Describes the process for disposition of proceeds from forfeitures,
including restitution of victims, costs of police investigations, and the costs of the prosecution.

Chapter 24: Provides limits on retention or sale of property by law enforcement agencies.

Chapter 25: Places requirements for the prompt and complete return of the property of innocent owners.

Chapter 26: Limits the ability of law enforcement to end-run state due process protections by turning over seized property to the federal government.

Chapter 27: Allows innocent owners the right to recover attorney’s fees spent in fighting to get property back.

Chapter 28: Creates a process for returning the property of otherwise innocent owners who have been deported, and a process for abandonment of that property if no interested party can be identified.

Chapter 29: Creates penalties for violations of these laws.

Chapter 30: Makes clear that these laws preempt and local laws, rules, procedures, or practices.

Chapter 31: Severability of any provision found invalid.

Section II

Strikes the existing laws relating to asset forfeiture in Rhode Island, which have been replaced by the laws in Section I.

Section III

Provides that the legislation would take effect upon passage.


[i] Office of the Attorney General. 2016 Annual Report. Available at: www.riag.ri.gov/documents/2016AnnualReport.pdf (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[ii] Institute for Justice. “Civil Forfeiture Reforms on the State Level.” Available at: ij.org/activism/legislation/civil-forfeiture-legislative-highlights (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[iii] DeLauro, “Michael A. Written Testimony of Michael A DeLauro, Assistant Public Defender, Director of Training and Legislative Liaison, addressed to Senator Erin Lynch Prate, Chairwoman, Senate Judiciary Committee.” April 26, 2018.

[iv] This summary draws heavily from the “Policing for Profit” report published by the Institute for Justice, authored by Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D., Lisa Knepper, Angela C. Erickson and Jennifer McDonald, with contributions from Wesley Hottot and Keith Diggs. Available at: http://ij.org/report/policing-for-profit (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[v] Mellor, Chip. “Civil Forfeiture Laws and the Continued Assault on Private Property.” Forbes. June 8, 2011. Available at: www.forbes.com/2011/06/08/property-civil-forfeiture.html (Accessed: 5/14/18.)

[vi] Institute for Justice. “Rhode Island earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws.” Available at: ij.org/pfp-state-pages/pfp-Rhode-Island (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ciaramella, C.J. “Poor Neighborhoods Hit Hardest by Asset Forfeiture in Chicago, Data Shows.” June 13, 2017 Available at: reason.com/blog/2017/06/13/poor-neighborhoods-hit-hardest-by-asset (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[ix] Erickson, Angela C., Jennifer McDonald and Mindy Menjou. “Forfeiture Transparency & Accountability: Rhode Island Report Card.” Available at: ij.org/report/forfeiture-transparency-accountability/?state=US-RI (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[x] Institute for Justice. “The Top 6 Craziest Things Cops Spent Forfeiture Money On.” YouTube. January 31, 2014. Available at: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=n2iJ7UBODw8 (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[xi] Flynn, Meaghan. “She saved thousands to open a medical clinic in Nigeria. U.S. Customs took all of it at the airport.” Washington Post. May 9, 2018. Available at: www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/05/09/she-saved-thousands-to-open-a-medical-clinic-in-nigeria-u-s-customs-took-all-of-it-at-the-airport/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.55b319966e78 (Accessed 5/14/18.)

[xii] Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896): “In view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”