August 28, 2015

Benefit Corporations Taking Root in Rhode Island

STATE HOUSE – On the last day of the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly enacted Rep. Teresa Tanzi’s bill allowing the establishment in Rhode Island of “benefit corporations,” companies that simultaneously pursue their commercial endeavors while also supporting social or environmental efforts.

Two years later, Rhode Island now has its first legally registered benefit corporations — or “B corps” — led by entrepreneurs who want their businesses to succeed not only in profitably making products, but also in helping the earth and the people on it.

Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) today hosted an event to draw attention to the first B corps in Rhode Island, their work for social and environmental advancement and the availability of this business designation to other entrepreneurs who wish to make a positive mark on the world.

“Rhode Island has this remarkably active and vibrant community of makers and innovators, and many in that community have wider ideals than personal advancement; they are focused on what their ideas can do for the world. I’m proud that we’ve been able to adapt Rhode Island’s laws to establish this middle ground between the corporate world and the nonprofit sector, because it gives people with great plans to use their innovations for the good of others the latitude they need to succeed. Their efforts can help our state and our economy as well as our communities, our environment and the world,” said Representative Tanzi, who added that she is interested in spreading the word that this designation exists so more corporations will consider it.

The event was held at Sachuest Beach in Middletown prior to a coastal cleanup hosted by Clean Ocean Access, an environmental initiative supported by Packaging 2.0, the first Rhode Island company to establish itself as a B corp under the new law.

 Packaging 2.0, headquartered in Providence, was founded in 2002 and primarily sells and markets thermoformed plastic packaging made from post-consumer recycled materials. The company seeks to bridge the worlds of plastics packaging design, manufacturing, reuse, recycling and sustainability, to raise levels of awareness about plastic packaging pollution and drastically increase recycling rates.

The company’s founder, Michael Brown, said he became aware of the idea of benefit corporations on a 2013 ocean expedition with the owners of Klean Kanteen, a certified benefit corporation that makes stainless steel reusable water bottles. He thought it sounded like the perfect way to meld his personal passion for the environment with the environmentally conscious bent that his company already had. He created a social mission arm for his company, Mission 2.Ocean, which supports a wide range of efforts and organizations on both the local and global levels that share its goals to reduce ocean plastic pollution. In addition to becoming the first B corp recognized under Rhode Island law, Packaging 2.0 also worked through a third-party certification organization to earn its separate designation as a “certified” B corp in 2014 as well.

 Through Mission 2.Ocean, his company supports Clean Ocean Access – which sponsors weekly beach cleanups around Newport, including the one after today’s event – and numerous other organizations connected to clean oceans, especially keeping plastic out of the ocean. Brown says he also pursues the company’s environmental mission by influencing his suppliers to make better environmental decisions, and by connecting the environmental activists he meets through his efforts to those in the industry, so they can better understand one another.

Brown said becoming a B corp not only better connected his company and his own environmental interests, but it also gave his company a designation that matters to the kind of environmentally conscious customers that seek his products. Among his customers is Whole Foods, which this year made Packaging 2.0 a preferred supplier, and will soon expand the use of its packaging from 100 Whole Foods stores to all Whole Foods locations.

“We offer an environmentally friendly product, so our customers are socially minded. They could buy their plastic packaging from anyone, but they value our socially conscious efforts. Being a benefit corporation helps us stand out in the pack and makes us more appealing to the customers who are in the market for our type of products,” said Brown.

At today’s event, in addition to presenting Clean Ocean Action with a $500 check, Brown presented a representative from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office with his company’s annual impact report, a requirement under the law establishing the B corp designation. The reportprovides a detailed analysis of the corporation’s impact on society and the environment over the course of its first year as a Rhode Island B corp.

The report lists the wide range of activities in which the company participated, from presentations at environmental solutions conferences to speaking with suppliers about taking a pledge to prevent spilling plastic pellets into the ocean to shoreline cleanups like today’s.

“The opportunity for benefit corporations and social enterprise to effect real, lasting social change while engaging in productive commercial activity and job creation is remarkable,” said Secretary of State Gorbea. “I can’t think of a better place to leverage this new sector than right here in Rhode Island, with our rich legacy of entrepreneurship and world-class creative talent. The Rhode Island Department of State is ready to help Rhode Island businesses succeed and prosper.”

The B corp designation is completely voluntary, and gives the directors of corporations more leeway to pursue socially responsible initiatives. While regular corporations can pursue activities that have a social or environmental benefit, such as making donations to community organizations, these actions must always be in the long-term interest of profit, or shareholders could seek the removal of corporate leaders or sue the company.

 Under the law establishing B corps, businesses need the support of two-thirds of all classes of their shareholders to convert into (or out of) benefit corporation status. Once a company becomes a benefit corporation, its leaders are accountable to those shareholders both for making a profit and for pursuing its mission through every aspect of their decision-making process. Examples of well-known benefit corporations include Vermont-based King Arthur Flour Company, an employee-owned company committed to environmental sustainability and volunteerism, and California’s Patagonia, Inc., a high-end outdoor clothing outfitter that funds environmental causes.

While only 12 other states recognized the designation when Rhode Island passed the law in 2013, B corp status is now available in 31 states. The designation does not cost the state anything, because it does not provide any tax breaks and has no effect on traditional corporations.

“Allowing benefit corporations to incorporate in Rhode Island encourages business growth and investment in Rhode Island, helps us attract socially conscious entrepreneurs to the state, provides high-quality jobs and provides businesses with the freedom they need to help solve problems in society,” said Representative Tanzi.

There are currently four benefit corporations that have registered with the Secretary of State’s office in Rhode Island, in various stages of incorporation.

Increment Studios, also located in Providence, is another company that has incorporated as a B corp since the law was established. Founded by Cynthia Poon and Maeve Jopson, both 2013 Rhode Island School of Design graduates, its goal is to make toys for children with special needs that promote the inclusion of all children. The two set out to address problems they see with toys designed for kids with motor or vision impairments: they often look like utilitarian devices rather than fun playthings, and they tend to be very expensive. They wanted to create toys that would be attractive not only to kids with special needs, but also to their siblings and friends to promote play among them. Jopson and Poon worked closely with Meeting Street School and Sensation Station, a therapy center, to develop Increment’s first product, the “O-Rings,” large stuffed rings of various colors, textures, filling and weights to help with tactile stimulation, gross motor skills, spatial awareness and all types of open-ended play. That product is expected to launch this fall.

Increment’s social mission is to furnish schools, therapy centers, children’s museums and other places with some of its products to help children with and without disabilities play together.

Poon and Jopson, who both participated in several entrepreneur and social enterprise programs before starting Increment, said they were unaware of the concept of benefit corporations when they started, but knew they wanted their company have a positive social impact in addition to being profitable.

“From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to be more than just a business that creates products for kids. We design our business and our products for social change, for a shift in perception of disabilities, and for the advocacy of inclusion through play. Being a benefit corporation provides a clear direction for our company as we aim to do well as a business and have a positive social impact for kids of all abilities. We hope that the benefit corporation status sets a standard for more and, eventually, all businesses to come,” said Poon.

August 6, 2015

Town officials continue to push for salt shed removal

Narragansett Town Councilors and a General Assembly representative continue to advocate for a new location and additional landscaping for the salt storage shed that abuts Route 1 and the Dillon Rotary.
Town Council President Pro-Tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno said she toured the site Monday with Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34) of Narragansett, Peace Dale and Wakefield, and state Department of Transportation officials. Cicilline Buonanno and Tanzi said a resolution was not secured. As a result, the Council voted 5-0 to issue a letter to DOT officials and Governor Raimondo. Buonanno and President Matthew Mannix requested the item be placed on Monday’s agenda.
Tanzi said she had asked DOT for a list of state-owned land between Charlestown and Wickford, which she considered a significant enough range to still provide salt to the area.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a place that has a 360-degree view. It just isn’t a necessary site,” Tanzi said of the shed’s location near the rotary. “They’re going to look into the costs of replacing that and get back to us.”
According to information shared by Narragansett Community Development Director Michael DeLuca at a July 20 Town Council meeting, and the letter approved by the council Monday, the town was not given a copy of the landscaping plan until days before construction began, despite consistent requests and a promise from then-DOT director Michael Lewis that the town would have input.
The letter is addressed to Raimondo, DOT director Peter Alviti, Tanzi, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33) of Narragansett and South Kingstown, and senators Mark Watkins Gee (R-Dist. 35) of East Greenwich, Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown, and James Sheehan (D-Dist. 36) of Narragansett and North Kingstown.
“In closing, I want to emphasize that we are overwhelmed at the unwillingness of the people involved in this project to accommodate local needs,” the letter reads. “We ask for your assistance to convince the RIDOT staff to expend whatever funds are necessary to save the trees, redesign the landscaping and work with National Grid to make accommodations that will serve our community.”
At issue are two large, older trees near the rear of the salt shed, which block some of the view from the Narragansett-South Kingstown town line. Tanzi said in her conversations with DOT and National Grid, she learned the trees would have to come down once the National Grid electrical substation that will service the Deepwater Wind transmission line went live.
“Susan and I pleaded with them today to at least leave the trees there as long as possible,” Tanzi said. “Honestly, even a dead tree is more visually appealing than that salt shed right now. It’s hard to put lipstick on it, but dead trees are preferable.”
Tanzi pledged to continue to call for compromise on landscaping and for the shed’s eventual relocation.

“I want to thank you for your advocacy on that project,” Cicilline Buonanno said. “I hope we’ll keep that pressure on until the very end, until it’s gone.”

July 22, 2015

Governor signs law phasing out cesspools in Rhode Island

STATE HOUSE — Legislation sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi that will eventually phase out cesspools in Rhode Island was signed today by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo at the Save the Bay Center. (H 5668 and S 369)

 “This legislation not only protects our environment, but gets Rhode Islanders in the building trades back to work updating and modernizing our wastewater treatment systems,” said Governor Raimondo. “By setting us on a path to remove cesspools from yards and other property across the state, we will be taking important steps towards improving the water quality of Narragansett Bay, our beaches, and our drinking water.”

Many Rhode Island homes have outdated underground wastewater systems. These systems, often cesspools, are inefficient and ineffective and contribute to public health and environmental hazards. This legislation replaces outdated systems at the point of sale and improves neighborhoods and local infrastructure.

“Cesspools are an outdated form of handling wastewater; for this reason, the state banned the installation of new cesspools over 40 years ago,” said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham). “The main advantage of the using point-of-sale approach for cesspool phase-out is that the cost of replacing a cesspool can be taken into account in the selling price of the home and/or the financing of the home.”

Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) added, “With this new law, we are taking a crucial step toward reducing pollution and contamination of one of our state's most precious natural resources: our water. We are the Ocean State, and because water never stops traveling, every community must be engaged in protecting our resources. I'm proud that this law will set the wheels in motion for the eventual removal of all remaining cesspools, and in doing so eliminating a threat to the health of our marine economy, our environment and the public.”

Janet Coit, director of the Department of Environmental Management, said, “Rhode Island is a national leader in advanced septic technology, yet there are still about 25,000 cesspools throughout the state. Now is the time to eliminate these antiquated and substandard systems and move forward with modern solutions. Great strides have been made over the past decades to reduce the discharge of pollutants into our waters, including a dramatic improvement in our wastewater treatment efforts. I laud the passage of the new point-of-sale requirement and will continue our important efforts to clean up, restore and safeguard Rhode Island's precious water resources.”

Cesspool elimination bill signed into law

video

Jennifer Quinn; with reporting by Chantee Lans
ROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Governor Gina Raimondo signed a piece of legislation into law Wednesday aimed at protecting public health and the environment.
The law looks to eliminate the remaining 25,000 house cesspools in the state. It was first proposed five years ago by several lawmakers, including House Representative Teresa Tanzi.
“I think it’s a really important day. I think that there’s so many different ways that we’re going to benefit as a state. Without getting too graphic, just consider all of the raw sewage, all of the untreated sewage from your home would leave the home and enter a colander and remain untreated,” said Tanzi.
The new law requires homeowners to replace the cesspool with either a septic tank or hooking up to their municipality’s sewage system less than one year after they sell their home.
Representative Tanzi says replacing a cesspool with a septic tank typically costs between $12,000-$15,000. Homeowners who choose to attach to their municipality’s sewage system pay around $7,000. Two percent loans are available for those who qualify.
Officials estimate that nearly 400 homeowners a year will be removing cesspools, a plan that will help bring out jobs.
“This legislation not only protects our environment, but gets Rhode Islanders in the building trades back to work updating and modernizing our wastewater treatment systems,” said Raimondo. “By setting us on a path to remove cesspools from yards and other property across the state, we will be taking important steps towards improving the water quality of Narragansett Bay, our beaches, and our drinking water.”
An official bill signing ceremony took place at the Save The Bay Center Wednesday morning.

July 15, 2015

Governor signs legislation phasing out cesspools

STATE HOUSE – Legislation that provides for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state has been signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

The Senate bill (2015-S 0369A), introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and the House version (2015-H 5668A) introduced by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) amend the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007, including replacing individual sewage disposal systems with onsite wastewater treatment systems and would require cesspool removal or replacement upon the transfer of the property where the cesspool is located under certain circumstances.

The old law required the phase-out of cesspools located within 200 feet of a shoreline, wetland or drinking water supply. The new law provides for the eventual removal of all cesspools beyond these 200 foot boundaries.

“Cesspools are an outdated form of handling wastewater; for this reason, the state banned the installation of new cesspools over 40 years ago,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The main advantage of the using point-of-sale approach for cesspool phase-out is that the cost of replacing a cesspool can be taken into account in the selling price of the home and/or the financing of the home.”

An onsite wastewater treatment system is any system of piping, tanks, disposal areas, alternative toilets or other facilities designed to function as a unit to convey, store, treat and/or dispose of sanitary sewage by means other than discharge into a public sewer system.

The legislation provides flexibility when it comes to the responsibility of replacing the cesspool at the point of sale, leaving it to agreement whether it will be the responsibility of the buyer or the seller.

“Cesspools are not sewage treatment and they just dump untreated waste into the ground. We’ve recognized the hazards they present to the environment for so long that it’s now been nearly 50 years since our state even allowed new construction of them,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “We’ve made slow progress toward eliminating them, but we need to go further and recognize that nowhere in Rhode Island is an acceptable place for a cesspool.”

Representative Tanzi said the cost to homeowners, which averages $12,000, has long been the sticking point that has prevented the state from eliminating all cesspools in the past, but making the requirement triggered by the transfer of property provides more financing opportunities.

The Clean Water Finance Agency also has two low-interest financing programs to assist homeowners: the Community Septic System Loan Program to replace the cesspool and the Sewer Tie-in Loan Fund for connecting to sewers.

“This is not only a good move for the environment,” said Representative Tanzi. “It is also excellent for jobs and the economy. There are still 25,000 cesspools in our state, and with about 400 of them being eliminated annually under this bill, this is going to put people to work.”

June 24, 2015

Legislation phasing out cesspools passes both houses of General Assembly

STATE HOUSE – Legislation that would provide for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state has passed both legislative chambers of the General Assembly and now moves to the governor’s office.

The Senate bill (2015-S 0369A), introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and the House version (2015-H 5668A) introduced by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) amend the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007, including replacing individual sewage disposal systems with onsite wastewater treatment systems and would require cesspool removal or replacement upon the transfer of the property where the cesspool is located under certain circumstances.

The current law requires the phase-out of cesspools located within 200 feet of a shoreline, wetland or drinking water supply. This bill provides for the eventual removal of all cesspools beyond these 200 foot boundaries.

“Cesspools are an outdated form of handling wastewater; for this reason, the state banned the installation of new cesspools over 40 years ago,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The main advantage of the using point-of-sale approach for cesspool phase-out is that the cost of replacing a cesspool can be taken into account in the selling price of the home and/or the financing of the home.”

An onsite wastewater treatment system is any system of piping, tanks, disposal areas, alternative toilets or other facilities designed to function as a unit to convey, store, treat and/or dispose of sanitary sewage by means other than discharge into a public sewer system.

The legislation provides flexibility when it comes to the responsibility of replacing the cesspool at the point of sale, leaving it to agreement whether it will be the responsibility of the buyer or the seller.

“Cesspools are not sewage treatment and they just dump untreated waste into the ground. We’ve recognized the hazards they present to the environment for so long that it’s now been nearly 50 years since our state even allowed new construction of them,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “We’ve made slow progress toward eliminating them, but we need to go further and recognize that nowhere in Rhode Island is an acceptable place for a cesspool.”

Representative Tanzi said the cost to homeowners, which averages $12,000, has long been the sticking point that has prevented the state from eliminating all cesspools in the past, but making the requirement triggered by the transfer of property provides more financing opportunities.

The Clean Water Finance Agency also has two low-interest financing programs to assist homeowners: the Community Septic System Loan Program to replace the cesspool and the Sewer Tie-in Loan Fund for connecting to sewers.

“This is not only a good move for the environment,” said Representative Tanzi. “It is also excellent for jobs and the economy. There are still 25,000 cesspools in our state, and with about 400 of them being eliminated annually under this bill, this is going to put people to work.”

June 23, 2015

State Action on cesspools is welcome

Construction of cesspools has been prohibited in Rhode Island since 1968. It took until 2015, but the state finally is poised to phase them out for good.
Last week, the House joined the Senate in approving legislation (H5668A and S0396A, respectively) that would provide for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state. The chambers will swap bills, which are expected to be approved this week, and send the legislation to Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is expected to sign it into law.
The Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007 already requires the removal of cesspools within 200 feet of coastal waters, surface waters and drinking water supplies. The legislation would expand that to require any cesspool in the state to be replaced within one year of the sale or transfer of the property. The state Department of Environmental Management estimates there are 25,000 cesspools-all which are more than 45 years old-in the stare.
This is one of the last major steps in the comprehensive approach to water pollution that the state and individual municipalities have spent a lot of time, effort and money to address. 
Cesspools have been linked to swimming bans at the ocean beaches, ponds, and lakes throughout the state. They are a threat to the water quality and ecological heath of aquifers, coastal ponds, rivers, and the bays, according to environmental officials who have pushed for the expansion of the phaseout act.
Groundwater adjacent cesspools contain up to 77,000 ties the amount of fecal material as ground water adjacent conventional septic systems, according to Save the Bay, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. That’s because a cesspool, which basically is a hole in the ground,  does not provide for treatment of sewage.
The bill would require replacement of individual sewage disposal systems, or cesspools, with onsite wastewater treatment systems, or septic systems, within 12 months of the date of sale or transfer of the property. 
Importantly, the legislation also provides for the connection o properties serviced by the cesspools to available sewer lines and identifies sources of funding for both sewer tie-ins and installation of new septic systems.
The legislation would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, providing time for a public awareness campaign and for all cities and towns o update their municipal wastewater plans. There is no reason it should not be swiftly approved and signed into law.
We applaud the lawmakers who submitted the bills, Rep. Terresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, and environmental advocates who have worked so hard for the past few years to complete the cesspool phase out.
As Save the Bay put it in an email on Friday announcing that the legislation passed the House: “This is a great victory for Narragansett Bay and all local waters.”
-The Newport Daily News

June 18, 2015

House passes Tanzi bill phasing out cesspools

STATE HOUSE – The House today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Teresa Tanzi to provide for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state.

The bill would amend the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007, which required the phase-out of cesspools located within 200 feet of a shoreline, wetland or drinking water supply. This bill (2015-H 5668A), which takes effect Jan. 1, provides for the eventual removal of all cesspools beyond the previously set boundaries. It would require that any cesspool be replaced upon the sale or transfer of the property where the cesspool is located.

“Cesspools are not sewage treatment and they just dump untreated waste into the ground. We’ve recognized the hazards they present to the environment for so long that it’s now been nearly 50 years since our state even allowed new construction of them,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “We’ve made slow progress toward eliminating them, but we need to go further and recognize that nowhere in Rhode Island is an acceptable place for a cesspool.”

The legislation would require that when a property with a cesspool is sold or otherwise transferred (other than between immediate family members) the cesspool must be replaced with an onsite water treatment system (typically a septic system) or a connection to a sewer system.

Representative Tanzi said the cost to homeowners, which averages $12,000, has long been the sticking point that has prevented the state from eliminating all cesspools in the past, but making the requirement triggered by the transfer of property provides more financing opportunities.

The legislation provides allows when it comes to the responsibility of replacing the cesspool at the point of sale, leaving it up to the buyer and the seller to negotiate which will be responsible, or whether they will share the cost in some manner.

The Clean Water Finance Agency also has two low-interest financing programs to assist homeowners: the Community Septic System Loan Program to replace the cesspool and the Sewer Tie-in Loan Fund for connecting to sewers.

“While it will still be many years before the last cesspool is eliminated in Rhode Island, this is an important step toward that goal,” said Representative Tanzi.

“This is not only a good move for the environment, it is also excellent for jobs and the economy. There are still 25,000 cesspools in our state, and with about 400 of them being eliminated annually under this bill, this is going to put people to work.”

The bill will now advance to the Senate, which passed identical legislation (2015-S 0369A) sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) May 27. 

June 16, 2015

In R.I. domestic-violence cases, suspects often keep guns


A review of all domestic violence restraining orders issued in Rhode Island for the past two years found that judges rarely require suspects to turn in their firearms, even when the alleged victims say there are firearms present or that they've been threatened with a gun.

By Amanda Milkovits

Providence Journal Staff Writer


PROVIDENCE, R.I.  — A review of all domestic violence restraining orders issued in Rhode Island for the past two years found that judges rarely require suspects to turn in their firearms, even when the alleged victims say there are firearms present or that they've been threatened with a gun.
Of the 1,609 protective orders granted from 2012 to 2014, Rhode Island judges ordered the suspects to surrender firearms in just 5 percent of the cases. The results varied from court to court, with Kent County District Court and Washington County District Court judges ordering guns surrendered at far higher rates than judges in the remaining six district and family courts.
The research comes from Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that has lobbied for gun-control bills now languishing at the General Assembly, including legislation that would require people convicted of domestic violence crimes and subject to restraining orders to surrender their firearms. Everytown released the research and its data to The Journal first.
While federal law prohibits people under domestic violence protective orders from buying or possessing guns, there's no provision for how the guns are surrendered, and in Rhode Island, the matter is left to a judge's discretion. Everytown wanted to see how that discretion is applied, said its research director, Ted Alcorn.
What they found, Alcorn said, was a "wake-up call." 
Visiting each courthouse, the researchers collected the 1,609 final protective orders, totaling more than 22,000 pages. They reviewed all of the handwritten complaints and the judges' final orders, looking for key points, Alcorn said. Did the person seeking the order mention the presence of guns, threats against themselves or their children, or ask the court to remove the guns? When the judge granted the restraining order, was the suspect also told to surrender any firearms?
"When you see the narratives, they tell a powerful story," Alcorn said. 
One was a Providence woman with young children, who wrote that her estranged husband broke into her home and said he was going back to his truck to get his guns. In another, a woman said the man threatened to "blow my head off" and made her lay on the floor of his apartment with a gun to her head and "said he could put a bullet in my head and leave me there." In both cases, the judges granted restraining orders but didn't require the men to surrender their firearms.
The findings
Firearms were mentioned in 23 percent of all cases, Alcorn said. Judges ordered guns surrendered in 13 percent of cases when told the suspect had access to a gun or threatened to get a gun to hurt the complainant. Overall, judges ordered firearms removed in 5 percent of cases, according to the research.
Everytown lawyer Luke Entelis said the findings were striking. "These people are prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms, and Rhode Island courts are allowed to order them to turn in their guns," Luke said.
But they don't. "It just doesn't make sense why the decision would be left in the hands of the court," Luke Entelis said.
The Journal shared Everytown's initial report with Craig Berke, spokesman for the Rhode Island Judiciary, who cautioned that the numbers don't reveal all. While Everytown collected the documents, the group didn't listen to the recordings of the hearings, when Berke said evidence would have been presented. A "mention" or "indication" of firearms in the narrative of a complaint isn't evidence, he said, it's just an allegation.  
Every case is different and has its own unique set of facts," Berke said. "Our judges have to weigh evidence and apply the law, and apply it evenly on both sides. These numbers get your attention, but they don't tell the whole story."
As for why different courts show different results, Berke said, "not only is every single case different, every judge is different."
The legislation
The Rhode Island Judiciary is not taking a position on the bills sponsored by South Kingstown Rep. Teresa Tanzi and Barrington Sen. Cynthia Coyne that would prohibit gun possession by people convicted of domestic violence and those subject to protective orders, during the length of the order. The legislation requires the state courts to order the surrender of firearms in those cases.  The legislative session is waning, and the two bills — House Bill 5655 and Senate Bill 503 — haven't advanced since they were heard in April. There's little indication that the legislation will move forward.
Gun rights advocates came out by the dozens to oppose these bills and other legislation that targeted firearms, calling them "overly broad." For Tanzi, the Everytown report helped build a strong case for the bills. "It was a relief to finally have quality information, because people on both sides of the issue are very passionate, so it gives me more confidence to move forward based on facts," Tanzi said. 
Tanzi said she understands the data doesn't show the complexity of the cases. However, 15 other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have closed the loophole left by federal law. Why not Rhode Island?  
"People tend to view this as a gun bill. To me, it's a domestic violence bill," Tanzi said. "When we get people to see this isn't a Second Amendment right, this is about a right for families to feel safe, then I think we do have a strong chance. Letting convicted abusers stay armed doesn't make sense."
The Journal shared the study with Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who said she was "astounded" by the findings. "I feel that it's the legal system's responsibility to provide blanket protection to make sure firearms are removed," she said Monday.
 amilkovi@providencejournal.com
(401) 277-7213
On Twitter: @AmandaMilkovits

May 26, 2015

Media Advisory: Tanzi, Sosnowski to host ‘Tar Wars’ fifth graders Students will present posters promoting tobacco-free living

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) will host fifth graders from around the state tomorrow at a State House event promoting tobacco-free living.

The event, which will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, May 27, at 3:45 p.m. in the State House rotunda, is being presented by Tobacco Free Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Academy of Family Physicians in celebration of World No Tobacco Week, May 24 through 31. The legislators will also recognize the children and the program on the floors of their respective chambers during the legislative sessions following the event.

Also expected to participate are Department of Health Director Nicole Everline Alexander-Scott and Rhode Island Academy of Family Physicians President Keith Callahan.

During the event, the fifth graders will present to government leaders the posters they designed to promote tobacco-free living as part of the “Tar Wars” program promoting children’s health. Tar Wars is an education program for fourth- and fifth-graders from the American Academy of Family Physicians designed to help reduce the number of youth using tobacco products and to empower young people to advocate for their own health, talk to their family and friends about not smoking and resist advertising messages and peer pressure.

The Rhode Island Academy of Family Physicians leads the efforts in Rhode Island annually, including the call for poster designs to engage students in the Tar Wars education effort. This is the first time the posters will be showcased at the State House. Winners of the poster design contest usually visit the Rhode Island congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.