For progressives, the best thing to come out of the 2012 legislative session will be the 2012 elections. Having lost – or merely having held the line – on all the major policy proposals they weighed in on, the best that can be hoped for is that the local electorate knows that the left was with them even if the powers that be were not.
Almost half of the House of Representatives signed onto a bill that would have raised more than $130 million in revenue by taxing the richest Rhode Islanders more and incentivized job creation. But legislative leadership prevented a plethora of proposals on the matter from even reaching a floor vote. Candidates for State House seats will surely mention during the campaign where legislators stood on this one – with the top 2 percent, or the other 98.
They’ll also bemoan the culture that protected predatory lending this session. A bill was killed that would have put interest rates on payday loans from approximately 270 percent back into line with what Massachusetts and Connecticut allow. One would think this would be a no-brainer – local poor people versus out-of-state loan sharks; especially given that Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras both lobbied for it, the two most popular pols in the state. But of course former House Speaker Bill Murphy lobbied against the legislation. It was a tough sell even for a reasonable fix.
Marriage equality, racial profiling and other such human rights stuff was fun to follow for a while, but everyone knew such stuff was pretty much dead-on-arrival. Even farm-to-table proposals didn’t pass – despite being near guaranteed to help the local economy and harm no one.
Instead, this session was a defensive one for progressives. The biggest victory by far was fending off Gov. Chafee’s proposals to help struggling cities, which did so by taking away bargaining rights from organized labor.
There were some small victories – a new public records law passed both Chambers and is awaiting Gov. Chafee’s signature, but it was watered down from what was originally proposed and never all that sharp-teethed in the first place.
The big winner this year was the cannabis caucus. A deal was struck that will allow the three medical marijuana compassion centers to finally start selling to patients, and less than an ounce of pot was decriminalized, punishable by a ticket rather than a criminal record.
While nice, there are certainly bigger fish to fry in Rhode Island than putting an end to reefer madness.