GA

Portsmouth Rep. Canario co-sponsors Ethics Commission legislation

16may11_canario.jpgPortsmouth Rep. Dennis Canario has co-sponsored legislation (H8189) sponsored by House Speaker Nick Mattiello (D-15, Cranston) to broaden the powers of the state’s Ethics Commission by eliminating legislative immunity from Ethics Commission oversight through a constitutional amendment.

“Accountability has been absent for far too long within the walls of the State House and I considered it my duty to the residents of District 71 to co-sponsor and support this important piece of legislation that states unequivocally that no legislator is above the law,” said Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton). “The Ethics Commission was created to ensure that no one within the State House breached the sacred line of public trust and I am pleased to say that this legislation once again reaffirms the powers of the Ethics Commission to protect the best interests of Rhode Island’s taxpayers.”

If passed by the House Committee on Judiciary and the House of Representatives, the proposal would place a referendum on the November ballot to remove legislative immunity from the state’s constitution. The proposal also includes additional changes to the Ethics Commission and Ethics Code. The legislation requires two-thirds of the commission members to change any rule or regulation of the commission. Individuals will also be prohibited from filing a complaint with the commission once the filing period begins for a given election in order to prevent frivolous complaints and the politicization of the Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission legislation is the latest of several reforms calling for more transparency at the legislature. Last year, the House of Representatives approved sweeping campaign finance reforms to increase disclosure of campaign account activity. Candidates and office holders are now required to file annual bank statements, maintain separate campaign accounts, and appoint a treasurer if annual account activity exceeds $10,000.

In 2014, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the removal of the “master lever,” which abolished the practice of one-line straight-party voting.

“The taxpayers of this state deserve nothing less than total accountability and transparency within their government and elected officials. The recent reforms passed by the House are a clear statement that we as legislators serve the people of Rhode Island and not the agendas of special interests,” added Canario.

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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Watch RI Rep suggest that proposing gun legislation be criminalized [update]

house_judiciary_roberts.pngThere was a lot of contentious talk at last night's RI House Judiciary hearing on gun safety bills, but one piece of testimony stuck out for me as being particularly chilling. One of the bills, H7199, proposed by Rep. Aaron Regunberg, would limit magazines to 10 rounds. Rep. Sherry Roberts (R-29 Coventry, West Greenwich) offered this response:

"This bill does nothing other than to seek to turn the law-abiding citizen who owns firearms into a criminal. First of all, when legislators take their oath of office, they take an oath to uphold the Constitution. If anything, what we really need is to criminalize those who seek to infringe on the Second Amendment rights guaranteed to individuals both by the US and Rhode Island Constitution, in my opinion. Perhaps it is time to demand that legislators who propose this type of legislation that would defy the Constitution, perhaps we should ask them to forfeit their seat instead."

Transcribed from Capitol TV: Visit the House Judiciary category, click on "House Committee on Judiciary 3-22-16 Part 2" (thumbnail is a guy with a yellow tie). Relevant clip is at 24:39. Or, in the clip below, scroll to 2:49.



Thanks to Steve Ahlquist for the video capture!

It's one thing to pack the state house to try to kill bills in committee. It's quite another thing, in my opinion, for a legislator to suggest that those who propose common-sense gun safety measures lose their seat and become subject to criminal penalties. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Full disclosure: I attended as much of last night's hearing as I could stay awake for as a supporter of the several gun safety bills on the agenda. I have also donated to Rep. Regunberg's campaign precisely because he proposes this kind of legislation. He is not, in my opinion, a criminal.

Update: Embedded video added.

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RI senate bills filed to protect domestic violence victims from armed abusers

With a report having been issued today from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence on the 54 domestic homicide victims in Rhode Island between 2006 and 2015, Senators Cynthia A. Coyne and Maryellen Goodwin will submit a package of legislation this afternoon to ban abusers from possession of a firearm. Both senators have been involved in working to protect victims of domestic violence.

On average, 760 Americans were killed each year between 2006 and 2014 by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners, according to the Associated Press. In Rhode Island, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) report notes, 19 of the 54 domestic homicide victims were killed with a firearm.

About half of the perpetrators who committed intimate partner homicides had a previous domestic violence history, and 70 percent of those perpetrators had previously been convicted or pleaded nolo contendere in at least one domestic violence case.

The legislation being introduced in the Senate today seeks to protect potential victims by keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Coyne, prohibits persons convicted of felony domestic abuse, and those who plead nolo contendere to a felony domestic abuse charge, from purchasing, owning, carrying, transporting, possessing or controlling any firearm. Convicted abusers would be required to surrender their firearms within 24 hours to the state police, local police, or a federally licensed firearms dealer.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Goodwin, would allow a court to order defendants not to possess firearms while subject to a restraining order related to a complaint of domestic abuse, after they have had an opportunity to be heard at a court hearing. The bill also provides the mechanism for return of surrendered firearms upon expiration of a restraining order.

A third bill, sponsored by Sen. Coyne and more technical in nature, would place a similar prohibition against weapons possession upon individuals subject to a domestic abuse or domestic assault restraining order while serving a sentence under community confinement.

“During two decades working in law enforcement, I saw the terrible toll that domestic violence takes on its victims, who are disproportionately women,” said Sen. Coyne (D-32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), a retired state trooper. “The Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that, when a firearm is present in a domestic violence situation, the risk of homicide for women is five times greater than if there were no firearm present. By removing guns from potentially violent situations, the bills we are introducing today will help save lives.”

Sen. Goodwin (D-1, Providence), who sponsored the original legislation, enacted in 2005, enabling judges to remove firearms from abusers, said, “Far too many domestic violence survivors live lives that are dictated by fear – fear that their abuser will strike again and maybe this time it will end in death. The research presented today indicates that the victim’s perception of future danger is the single best predictor of assault. That is one reason why removing firearms from those subject to restraining orders is so important. This legislation will help domestic violence survivors put some of that fear behind them and actually live.”

Among the co-sponsors of the bills are Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-13, Newport, Jamestown), and Senators Donna Nesselbush (D-15, Pawtucket, North Providence), William Conley, Jr. (D-18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Harold Metts (D-6, Providence), Gayle Goldin (D-3, Providence) and Hanna Gallo (D-27, Cranston, West Warwick).

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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LTE: Senator urges restoration of Ethics Commission oversight

This letter to the editor from Sen. James Sheehan (D-36) was distributed for publication by the state house press office.

Dear Editor:

Last Sunday, the University of Rhode Island hosted a competition which pitted student teams against each other in defending their moral take on complex social, political and business issues. This inaugural event was called the Rhode Island High School Ethics Bowl. Coincidentally, the annual “State House Ethics Bowl,” restoring the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over the General Assembly, kicks off again this session at the state capitol.

The Ethics Commission was created to be the citizens’ watchdog over public officials and their actions, with specific authority over the General Assembly. As a result of a 2009 ruling, in a case involving former Senate President William V. Irons, the Ethics Commission’s oversight over the General Assembly was struck a severe blow. The ruling effectively exempted state lawmakers from scrutiny and prosecution by the state Ethics Commission for violations relating to their core legislative acts such as introducing and voting on legislation. Since then, a senator or representative can freely promote legislation wherein he or she has a clear conflict of interest without fear of being held accountable by the Ethics Commission. This “legislators’ loophole” must be closed.

The late Sen. J. Michael Lenihan took up the effort to restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission following the 2009 decision. I proudly took up the banner of ethics reform after Senator Lenihan retired in 2010. Further, at the behest of Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, I have worked to find a common ground compromise on ethics reform. Working with various stakeholders, including voices of good government watchdogs, the Senate, and the Ethics Commission, I believe we have forged a very reasonable ethics reform amendment. As with most compromises on contentious issues, no one was completely happy with the resulting text, but nearly everyone agreed that it represented a genuine opportunity to bring closure to this issue.

This common ground Ethics Amendment would re-establish the authority of the Ethics Commission over the core legislative acts of the General Assembly while preserving the venerated right of “free speech” for lawmakers on the floor or in committees of both houses. Further, the amendment would afford any person a trial by jury appeal for a violation of the Code of Ethics deemed criminal in nature at common law by the state's [high] court. Lastly, the proposed amendment would set the composition of the Ethics Commission into the constitution as well as balance the number of Ethics commissioners nominated by the House and Senate leaders.

Rhode Island citizens do not trust their government, especially the General Assembly. In a Fleming and Associates 2016 poll of what issues Rhode Island voters want the General Assembly to address this year, “Government corruption” was ranked second (behind creating jobs). Restoring the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly would represent a great step forward in rebuilding the people’s trust in government by deterring future instances of public corruption. The only question is whether Senate and House leaders will decide to act on Ethics Reform or will prefer to maintain a festering status quo.

Sen. James C. Sheehan

Senator Sheehan is a Democratic senator representing District 36, which includes Narragansett and North Kingstown. He is chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee. He resides in North Kingstown.

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Edwards offers bill to broaden campaign finance law

House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (D-70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) has introduced legislation that would increase the accountability of the campaign finance law by clarifying language. The bill will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

“The legislation would extend the power of campaign finance legislation by clarifying which people and groups are obliged to submit campaign finance reports,” said Representative Edwards. “It also extends those provisions to those who campaign for or against financial and charter change referendums.”

The bill (2016-H 7147) would clarify the definition of the term “entity” for purposes of campaign finance as it pertains to advocating for the approval or rejection of any question presented to voters at a financial town meeting, financial town referendum, or local election involving charter amendments. The act would include business entities, political action committees, persons and exempt nonprofits in the definition of an “entity.”

“We made some good advancement two years ago in campaign finance reform,” said Whip Edwards. “But we need to revisit this topic every year to review the laws and make whatever adjustments are necessary to hold all parties accountable. I think this bill is an important one to keep the campaigning of local issues fair for everyone involved.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Representatives Dennis Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton), Mary Duffy Messier (D-62, Pawtucket), Joy Hearn (D-66, Barrington, East Providence) and Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the rise of the House (about 4:30 p.m.) in Room 205 on the second floor of the State House.

Editorial note: Written from a general assembly news release.

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Linda Finn launches campaign for state rep

16jan08_finn_sm.jpgFormer Democratic state rep Linda Finn announced in a statement to local media today that she is running for State Representative in House District 72, including Middletown and Portsmouth, setting up a rematch against Republican State Rep. Dan Reilly.

“I am running for State Representative because Aquidneck Island needs more effective representation at the State House,” said Finn, who previously represented the district from 2012 to 2014 after years of leadership in community and neighborhood initiatives throughout Aquidneck Island. “Our community faces pressing issues. From securing a fair share of education funding for our schools to working for a competitive regulatory climate where our small businesses can grow and thrive, District 72 deserves an independent advocate who will fight hard for our interests every single day. I am excited to use my experience and passion to be that voice for our district.”

Known as a highly energetic and active legislator during her tenure, Finn advanced many economic development initiatives throughout her previous term. “As a former small business owner, I understand the critical importance of supporting job growth,” she said. “I was proud to work with my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass legislation increasing the size of the enterprise zone in Portsmouth, and I was excited to help establish the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Growth Program, which stimulates economic development through energy diversification.”

Finn also prioritized women’s issues in the State House. “Women remain a small minority in our legislature, and our voices are important,” she said. “As state representative, I worked hard to stand up for the safety and equality of all our citizens. I am proud to have passed legislation prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, and I am more inspired than ever to be a champion for pay equity in the House of Representatives. If we want independent voices in government, we need to elect independent perspectives that are willing to challenge the General Assembly’s old boys’ club.”

After the 2014 election, Linda Finn continued her advocacy as Vice President of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, leading statewide efforts to pass common sense gun reform. She has also engaged in many local efforts to build the community of Aquidneck Island, from serving on the board of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission to working as Board Chair of Baby Steps, an early education program for parents and young children. She was past President of the Women’s Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties, and a Troop Leader and Service Unit Manager for Girl Scouts of Rhode Island for 9 years.

For more information about the campaign or how to get involved visit ElectLindaFinn.com.

Editorial note: Written with exuberant gusto from a press release.

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Rep. Edwards to attend Ag Summit in Denver

House Majority Whip John G. Edwards (D-70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) will be attending the 2016 Legislative Agriculture Chairs Summit in Denver the weekend of January 9.

The summit, sponsored by State Agriculture and Rural Leaders, is designed for legislative leaders with an interest in agriculture and rural policy. The Summit is by invitation only and brings together state and provincial legislators that are passionate about rural communities and the people, the agriculture and the natural resources that fuel those communities.

“I am looking forward to meeting with legislators from other states to discuss and compare policies that address food production, natural resource management and rural development,” said Representative Edwards. “Agriculture continues to become more and more important to Rhode Island every year, and it’s important that our public policy addresses and reflects the latest issues.”

Since 2001, the LAC Summit has been providing a non-partisan educational opportunity for elected state and provincial officials with an interest in agriculture and rural communities to work together, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships.

In addition to meeting other legislators and hearing from the experts, Representative Edwards will have an opportunity to make site visits to get a glimpse of agricultural endeavors in Colorado. These site visits include a tour of marijuana production and processing facilities, which will give Representative Edwards an opportunity to see firsthand how marijuana production has had an impact on the economy and tax base of Colorado as well as the state’s culture.

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release

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Rep. Edwards tax relief bill for property development becomes law

edwards.jpgGov. Gina Raimondo has signed legislation introduced by House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (D-70 Portsmouth) that creates an exemption from taxation for certain residential property developments that are being built on speculation, according to a state house news release.

“This legislation will encourage economic activity in the construction industry,” said Rep. Edwards. “The economy is starting to turn around, the state’s unemployment rate has dipped below 6 percent, and that’s certainly good news; but things are still lagging in the construction industry, especially in the building of new homes. We’re not seeing the type of construction activity we associate with summer. This bill will be just the shot in the arm the construction industry needs to encourage growth.”

Under the legislation (H5044), new construction on development property would be exempt from the assessment of taxes as long as the owner files an affidavit claiming the exemption with the local tax assessor at the start of the project. The assessor would then determine if the property on which the new construction is located is development property. If the real property is development property, the assessor would exempt the new construction from the collection of taxes on improvements, until such time as the real property no longer qualifies as development property.

“Rhode Island has an inventory of old homes, many of them expensive and not energy efficient,” said Rep. Edwards. “And few market rate middle class homes are available or being built, compared to luxury or subsidized units. With the many fees already assessed to the building industry — impact fees, permit fees, review fees — it is no wonder that construction companies are disinclined to build homes on speculation or undertake rehab projects that are going to be a financial burden in the way of real property taxes until the properties can be sold.”

The law defines development property as “real property on which a single family residential dwelling or residential condominium is situated and said single family residential dwelling or residential condominium unit is not occupied, has never been occupied, is not under contract, and is on the market for sale.” It also includes improvements and/or rehabilitation of unoccupied single family residential dwellings or residential condominiums which the owner purchased out of a foreclosure sale, auction, or from a bank.

The legislation received the support of the Rhode Island Builders Association. In testimony presented to the House Committee on Municipal Government when the bill was heard, the RIBA cited an industry study, showing that a healthy construction industry would create $404 million in addition income for Rhode Island households, would generate $60.2 million in additional tax revenue for the state, could create more than 9,000 new jobs (thereby reducing the unemployment rate by two percent).

Editorial note: Written from a state house news release.

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Miller, Edwards op-ed: Safer medicines will protect Rhode Islanders and save money

By Senator Joshua Miller & Representative John Edwards

It has often been said that Rhode Island is like one big family.   Because Rhode Island is a close-knit community, there are few of us who haven’t seen a family member, neighbor, or friend touched by the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
 
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in our state.  In fact “prescription medications are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12- to 13-year-olds because they are so easy for kids to access, often in the medicine cabinet,” according to Marcia Lee Taylor from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The partnership goes on to say their “...research shows two-thirds of teens who abused pain relievers say they got them from family and friends.”  Prescription drug abuse affects every community, economic class, race, and age. Simply put, it is just not an inner city problem but a statewide issue.  Every year opioids abuse costs Rhode Islanders $108 million in health care costs.  In fighting this epidemic, we must look at every available solution.  

As lawmakers, we must step up to the challenge and identify practical solutions to keep another family from the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Simultaneously, we must acknowledge that there is a legitimate use for opioid pain medications, and not block access for patients in need of pain relief due to their individual medical situations.   That is why we have introduced legislation this session that helps to strike that balance by increasing access to opioid pain medicine with abuse deterrent formulations (ADFs). 

ADFs are manufactured in a manner that makes it difficult for them to be crushed, cooked or altered  —which is what drug addicts do to these pills in order to snort or inject them for an immediate high.  In a recent hearing, it was demonstrated just how different these new medications are—in some cases, that they are nearly unbreakable.  Despite efforts with a hammer, the ADF pills could not be crushed, in contrast to the traditional medications that smash easily and are therefore easily abused.  It was not difficult to see why someone looking to alter medications for a high would have difficulty achieving this with ADF pills. 

Simply put, ADF medications have the ability to stop addicts from their abusive methods. The opioid market is flooded with cheap, non-abuse-deterrent opioids.  Only two-percent of prescribed opioids have any abuse-deterrence.  And every day, hundreds of prescriptions for abuse-deterrent formulations are being switched for the non-abuse-deterrent.  We have to do better and this legislation enables us to do just that.  

Our legislation would ensure that patients get the medicine that their doctors prescribe.  Our legislation also guarantees insurance parity to ADF medications, so that no additional out of pocket costs would be required by those patients who need them to manage their chronic pain.  This would mean that doctors won’t have to take a patient’s financial situation into account when prescribing pain medication. Rather, the most appropriate and safe medication can be given, based on the doctor’s medical opinion.

The FDA continues to approve more and more of these safer medications and ADF medications will become more accessible for consumers, but only if we can keep the doctor/patient relationship primary in care delivery.   We have introduced House bill 5219 and Senate bill 167 to make certain that Rhode Islanders benefit from this advancement in medicine formulation.  We want to make sure that ADFs are available and affordable to patients for their treatment and care and to make it clear that we have to take every precaution to minimize this problem of prescription opioid abuse.  We would be naïve to think that this problem has one solution.  In talking to counselors and drug treatment experts in our state who deal with substance abuse issues every day, we know that the issue of prescription drug addiction is multi-faceted.  As a community, we need to put every available option on the table to start to chip away at the problem.  We urge our fellow lawmakers to join us in supporting this legislation and take one step forward in curbing the prescription.

Sen. Miller is the Democratic State Senator from District 28, Cranston, Warwick. Now serving his fifth term, he is Chair of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and is a member of the Senate Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government. Rep. Edwards is the Democratic State Representative from District 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth. The House Majority Whip, he is serving his fourth term and is a member of the House Committee on Labor, the House Committee on Judiciary, the House Committee on Oversight and the House Committee on Small Business.)

Editorial note: written from a state house news release.

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What I said to the RI House Judiciary committee about guns in schools

Thursday night, the RI House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on two pieces of gun legislation, H5861, which would close the loophole allowing concealed-carry permit holders to carry on school premises, and H5190, which would make permit renewal automatic without any requirement for requalification. Both measures were "held for further study," which is usually the way bills are quietly killed.

My 15-year-old son and I had signed up to testify, but at 7pm, with more than 30 people still on the list ahead of us, we had to leave. He made an argument, from a student perspective, about the hypocrisy of zero-tolerance for weapons (to the point of censoring t-shirts and language) while adults in the building could be armed. This morning, we both sent our testimony to all the members of the Judiciary Committee. Here's what I said...

I’m John McDaid, from Portsmouth, and I’m here as a parent and a member of the Humanists of Rhode Island to support bill H5861 and oppose H5190.

Here’s my nightmare. Imagine you’re picking up your kid at school. As you get buzzed in by the office, a guy standing in the lobby with you holds open the door for you. His jacket opens slightly and you see the distinctive slide of a Glock G42, what the NRA’s magazine calls an “an easy-to-carry, close-range defensive tool,” tucked into his waistband. He notices your gaze and says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a permit.” What could you do or say? Right now, in Rhode Island, the answer is “nothing.” You can ask him, “Are you a good guy with a gun or a bad guy with a gun?” You can see if he reminds you of Adam Lanza or Seung-Hui Cho, but in those tenths of a second you have to make a decision, how do you tell a friendly neighbor from a sociopath? You’re standing there, and a guy with a gun is about to enter your child’s school. What do you do?

Fortunately, the General Assembly, in its wisdom, understood the challenges of this situation when they wisely crafted 11-47-60 to ban concealed weapons on school grounds. All H5861 would do is reconcile the language of this existing legislation with the possibly conflicting language in 11-47-9 and 11-47-18.

There are two reasons I feel concealed carry is a problem on school property.

First, the mere presence of a loaded weapon creates the possibility for potentially fatal accidents and incidents. According to the CDC, in 2013, the last year for which data is available, there were 16,864 reportable unintentional gunshot injuries. That’s 46 firearm accidents every day. To pick a recent data point: just this Easter Sunday, a man in Altoona, PA shot himself in the leg during Mass when the trigger of his pistol caught in his pocket. Concealed weapons present a constant unmitigateable risk of unintended discharge. If this were to take place in a classroom, the results could be catastrophic. And the possibility of a child — either innocently or maliciously — using an improperly secured weapon is equally grim. These are unforced errors that can be avoided by maintaining gun-free schools.

My wife lost her 12-year-old cousin in a shooting accident — a couple of innocent kids looking at guns in a friend’s house. When our son was younger, we were reluctant to have him play at a friend’s house where we knew there were guns, because kids are curious and accidents do happen. Without H5861, parents are forced to send their children into a school environment with the same potential dangers.

Second, relying on permit holders be able to protect students and staff in a school shooting situation is, to put it bluntly, delusional. To get a concealed carry permit in Rhode Island, applicants only need to demonstrate minimum accuracy on a range (putting 30 rounds in a 14-inch target at 25 yards) every four years (It should go without saying that reducing the qualification requirement, as H5190 does, is a step in the wrong direction). There is no requirement that a permit holder have training in decision-making, real-world tactical scenarios, or even drawing from concealment. Nor, more to the point, how to de-escalate dangerous situations. In short, there is no evidence that permit holders would have *any* of the requisite training to deal with the complex, high-stress situation of an active shooter. Attached is a link to a video done by ABC News showing how average armed citizens were able to respond in a simulated school shooting situation. Spoiler: they all would have died.

If the General Assembly wants to do something to address school safety in crisis situations, I’d encourage you to investigate the ALICE program being used in Massachusetts and some Rhode Island communities. More guns is not the answer. I respectfully urge the committee to close this loophole and support H5861. Thank you for your consideration.

References
CDC data
ABC News video
Easter church gun accident
ALICE

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