Newberry: Big changes to gun, marijuana and abortion laws in RI unlikely this year

Burrillville council talks to state legislators about top issues

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BURRILLVILLE – After five terms in the Rhode Island legislature, Rep. Brian Newberry, a Republican representing North Smithfield and part of Burrillville, says he’s gotten pretty good at predicting whether or not a bill will pass.

And while he notes that you can never be 100 percent certain, Newberry said that major changes to state laws regarding issues such as recreational marijuana and reproductive rights are not likely to get the votes needed to become law in 2019.

“What the Democratic leadership is trying to do is put together a bill that would truly codify Roe versus Wade, but would not change the law,” the representative said.

More “extreme” legislation, like bills that would legalize partial birth abortion or alternatively, protect the right to life at fertilization, are “not going anywhere,” according to Newberry.

The discussion of hot button issues including abortion and gun law came during a visit to Burrillville by the town’s three-member delegation to the General Assembly. Legislators, in town to hear a wish list of reforms from members of town government, also discussed some of Rhode Island’s more controversial bills that have been the focus of news headlines in recent weeks.

Councilor Dennis Anderson asked about the likelihood that the state would pass a law legalizing recreational marijuana.

“I think the leadership in both chambers is against it,” said Newberry, noting that there’s pressure to act because a bill passed in neighboring Massachusetts.

Gov. Gina Raimondo recently proposed a plan that would add dispensaries in the state while restricting home growing.

“Her proposal is not very well put together,” said Rep. David Place, who is serving his first term at the State House following a two term stint on the Town Council.

“I wouldn’t bet on it passing,” said Newberry.

On the issue of anti-gun legislation, Councilor Donald Fox noted that the state body will soon be facing a “slew” of bills.

“The constituents that you represent – we’re all going to be opposing any of that,” said Fox. “I would certainly ask you to let us know so we can join you in opposition to these bills.” 

“Never say never, but for purely political reasons, in the House, I don’t see that going anywhere this year,” said Newberry.

Councilors also brought up Mayor Jorge Elorza’s assertion that Providence is a sanctuary city – an indication that law enforcement there will not act at the behest of federal immigration officials.

“If Providence is letting criminals out on the street, they’re coming here,” said Councilor Raymond Trinque.

Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, a Republican also serving her first term on Smith Hill, questioned if Burrillville has seen an increase in crime since the move, noting that a jump has been noted in North Smithfield.

Trinque warned against relying too heavily on such reports, which make things look much worse than they are by representing the increase in percentages, when the actual figures are quite low.

Still, Fox said, “I would imagine there is a correlation between crime and a sanctuary city or state.” 

But the larger focus of the Monday night meeting was to address more minor potential changes to state law: revisions to things such as tax policy, collective bargaining, and funding for schools and hospitals that Town Manager Michael Wood said can make a big difference in a town with a small budget.

To learn more about localized proposals to address these issues and the status of legislation of local interest, visit NRI NOW later this week.

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