Friday, August 22, 2014

New Laws Make Rhode Island Safer, More Secure

While there was widespread coverage of certain legislative initiatives this year, such as the master lever, NECAP graduation requirements, and, of course, naming calamari Rhode Island’s official appetizer, the General Assembly also passed several bills to make our neighborhoods safer and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

This session the General Assembly passed and Governor Lincoln Chafee signed 13 bills filed at my request to enhance the safety and security of elders and children, give prosecutors more tools to put violent gang members behind bars and update our Internet safety laws, among others.

Every person deserves to be treated with respect. Every person - no matter how young or old - deserves to be safe from those who live with them, care for them or come in day-to-day contact with them. 

Rhode Island now requires national criminal records checks for all persons applying to be a routine contact employee in a long term care facility or provider.  The law requires "rap back" technology, which automatically sends notification of a conviction for a disqualifying offense by providing continual monitoring of an individual's criminal history, therefore, providing greater protection to seniors and patients

Another law allows for the reporting of elder abuse to law enforcement personnel and the Division of Elderly Affairs.   Victims in these cases are often vulnerable with a myriad of health challenges that inhibit their participation in investigations. Moreover, the perpetrator of elder abuse is often known to the victim, making it less likely for the victim to report. 

Financial exploitation of elders is one of the most challenging crimes to prosecute.  We increased the statute of limitations for elder exploitation to ten years. This recognizes the complexities of financial crimes and the challenges of protecting a population that may have physical and mental limitations. Now, law enforcement has reasonable time to investigate a case in preparation for charging and prosecution.

Gang violence is a reality for our urban neighborhoods. It creates nuisances in our neighborhoods and puts innocent people at risk due to the high levels of violence and retaliation, which creates innocent victims.  With the new gang law, enhancing penalties up to 10 additional years for felonies committed for the benefit of or at the direction of a gang, we will be able to reduce gang-related violence and hopefully deter vulnerable youth from joining criminal gangs.

We must provide a safe environment for children who are at their most vulnerable and parents have an expectation that their child is safe at camps, playgrounds, community pools and all places that operate primarily for children.  Rhode Island’s new law establishing “Child Safe Zones” will give parents peace of mind knowing their children are safer by prohibiting any facility that provides programs or services intended primarily for minors from employing a registered sex offender.

Just as we protected our children where they learn and play, we closed a gaping hole in the state’s Internet safety and child protection laws.  It is now a felony to electronically disseminate sexually explicit images to minors, including photos and videos, as well as live sex acts transmitted via webcam. 

Sending sexually explicit images and video to children is, among other things, a way for predators to “groom” children to build a relationship that can lead to exploitation and further victimization.

At my request, the General Assembly passed legislation that prohibits “online impersonation,” making it a felony to use the name or persona of another person in various online formats without that person’s express consent and expressly prohibits using the name or persona of another person without consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any person.

While this new law got a lot of attention for two highly publicized instances involving elected officials, the real intent of the law is to protect children from online bullying by others and to protect consumers from being a victim of identity theft or fraud. 

These are just a handful of more than a dozen measures passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Chafee. It is important to recognize the good work the men and women who serve in the Legislature have done to enhance the safety and security of Rhode Islanders, young and old. 

I applaud the General Assembly for their willingness to work with my Office and to pass laws that will make Rhode Island a safer place to live and work.