With the Supreme Court undermining abortion rights at the federal level in its Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, it is more important than ever that we stand up for reproductive choice here in Rhode Island.Our current state law still bans abortion from being covered by Medicaid or state-employee health insurance plans.
This creates barriers to abortion access for more than 300,000 women and disproportionately impacts low-income women and Black and Latino communities. The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) would overturn this ban and allow residents enrolled in Medicaid and state employees to use their health insurance to cover abortion. I’m proud to support the EACA and look forward to working with my colleagues to see that it becomes law and this economic barrier is removed in 2023.
Before July 12, 2016, law enforcement access to cell phone information in RI lacked the regulations needed to protect our privacy. My bill addressed this lack, while also including provisions for emergencies—it takes into account both law enforcement’s capacity to do its job and citizens’ right to privacy.
Every seven seconds our cell phones ping the nearest tower. Each ping results in the automatic recording of the data identifying where we are at that moment. The location information is accurate to within fifty meters. The only way to stop this flow of information is to turn off the phone, and cell providers can store this information indefinitely.
In 2013, a federal inquiry by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts determined that police requests for cell phone information had doubled over the previous five years. Verizon reported 30,000 requests for cell phone location information in one year, with more than 2,000 of those requests for cell tower dumps. (Dumps are reports of all of the phones that have pinged a tower, with the time and date of the ping.) In the same year, AT&T received more than 100,000 requests for historical or real time location information.
The information reveals a detailed map and timeline of our movements: where we are, what route we took to get there, how long we stay, whether we were there yesterday, who else is or has been with us, and more. Up until July, 2016, the sorts of requirements for search and seizure that pertain to our homes and property were nonexistent when it came to cell phones. That is why I introduced legislation to establish limits to the accessibility of cell phone information. After several years of effort the bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly and was signed into law on July 12, 2016, becoming effective immediately.
This law requires the police to obtain a warrant, except in emergency situations, before requiring the cell provider to turn over information. Judicial oversight provides assurance that the information has been requested for a proper purpose. The law includes a broad array of situations deemed urgent, therefore allowing exceptions to the warrant requirement so that police can find and protect us in emergencies.
The Lila Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act is another bill I’ve been working on which deals with personal privacy at the end of life. The act would allow a terminally ill patient to request of their doctor a prescription which when taken will allow the individual to end their life at the time of their choosing.
COMMON SENSE GUN SAFETY
In the 2021-2022 legislative term, I was glad to support four pieces of gun safety legislation that were enacted into law. These common-sense gun measures are aimed at preventing tragedies like suicide by gun, mass shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX, and the more common gun crimes with fewer victims.
The bills that became law will:
- Raise the legal age to purchase any firearm or ammunition in Rhode Island from 18 to 21, with exceptions for law enforcement and corrections officers and active duty military personnel.
- Ban the sale of the large-capacity magazines, which have been used in a number of recent mass shootings
- Prohibit the open-carry of loaded shotguns or rifles in public
- Prohibits firearms and other weapons on school grounds with appropriate exceptions for law enforcement personnel in the line of duty. The exemption for individuals with concealed carry permits has been removed
- A ‘red flag’ allows law enforcement officials to go before a judge to present evidence that an individual is a danger to him or herself or others. The judge is empowered to compel the surrender of the firearms.
There is more to do. We should ban the sale of assault style firearms.
ELECTIONS AND VOTING
The pandemic showed us we can ease voting requirements in Rhode Island without sacrificing election security.
We can now vote by mail without giving any reason for doing so. We no longer have to have our mail ballot envelope signed by two individuals or notarized. We mail our completed ballots, drop them in a drop box, deliver to a polling place or the Board of Elections. Soon we will be able to request our mall ballots online.