Rhode Island Legislators Decide To Introduce Some Random Dude's First Amendment-Threatening Legislation

from the have-you-tried-approaching-your-job-professionally dept

Today's most inexplicable legislative news comes to us from the state of Rhode Island, where legislators are apparently accepting (and submitting!) unsolicited pre-written bills from strangers on the street.

[Rep. Grace] Diaz told The Journal she introduced the legislation at the request of a man named Chris who approached her after a State House hearing, wearing what appeared to be a military uniform.

According to Diaz, Chris told her he had been “accused of something,″ and then found not guilty.

Diaz said the man told her the media reported the accusations, but not his acquittal, so he was left with a damaged reputation and no recourse. Diaz said the man gave her a copy of the bill, which appears to echo a bill filed in Mississippi.

Rep. Diaz asked Senator Sandra Cano to introduce the bill in the Senate, promising to do the same thing on the House side. Diaz did not do this and now Sen. Cano is trying to separate herself from a bill that openly threatens First Amendment protections while citing the enshrined right on its way to tarnishing it shortly thereafter.

The "Stop Guilt by Association Act" [PDF] threatens journalists with punishment if they don't report on the outcome of court cases, civil and criminal. The incredibly stupid act is pure cognitive dissonance that would fine newspapers up to $10,000 for "failing" to report on lawsuit dismissals and dropped charges -- supposedly with an eye on maintaining some bizarre level of "fairness" for subjects of news coverage.

In their legislation, the lawmakers acknowledge that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says the government “shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press.”

But they make this argument in their bill:

“The state has a compelling interest to compel the press to promote the objective truth for the sake of the viability of democracy and for the safety, health, and welfare of our communities and in keeping with the spirit of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and to stop the press from serving as a slander machine.”

For many reasons, legislators shouldn't accept pre-written bills handed to them by people outside the legislature. They especially shouldn't accept legislation written by this particular "Chris," no matter what he's wearing.

The man who spoke to Diaz was Chris Sevier, an anti-gay and anti-abortion activist who at one point was accused of stalking country music star John Rich.

This is the idiot behind multiple states' declarations that porn is a "public health crisis." This is the same man who once sued Apple because its products didn't prevent him from viewing porn. He has also previously talked Rhode Island legislators into introducing extremely questionable legislation, so perhaps someone should have called bullshit on this before tossing it into the Senate's inbox.

While it's understandable people might not recognize Sevier on sight, despite his insistence on thrusting himself uninvited into the legislative limelight, it's pretty much inexcusable to take a handful of paper from some rando on the street and ask other legislators to damage their own reputations by association.

Rep. Diaz at least appears to be properly horrified by this experience.

“My feeling is beyond what I can express,″ Diaz told The Journal on Thursday, after learning of Sevier’s history. “If I knew, I would run ten-thousand-million miles away from that guy.”

She said she sympathized with the issue Sevier raised in their very brief conversation, but regrets not doing more homework on him — and the legislation.

“I didn’t do my research,″ she said. “This is an experience that will teach me a lot for the future.”

But Senator Cano -- despite withdrawing the bill -- seems far too sympathetic to First Amendment-threatening legislation. Calling the lack of followup to indictments and lawsuits by journalists "fundamentally unfair," Cano says she sympathizes with the intent of the bill, even if she realizes it runs afoul of the First Amendment.

No legislator should feel sympathetic to Sevier or his word salad. His bill is an unedited letter to the editor -- one that makes its point about as skillfully and subtly as a Larry Klayman lawsuit.

“There has been a growing trend for individuals to abuse process and maliciously prosecute someone they disagree with ideologically by filing spurious cases and controversies in various government venues for ulterior motives, knowing that certain segments of the media that align with their ideology would serve as an accomplice by engaging in a form of defamation ... by selectively reporting on the facts of the original case but not on the actual outcome.”

TIL: reporting on facts is defamation if it doesn't include the facts someone might prefer to be highlighted. OK, then.

Fortunately, the bill is already dead. Unfortunately, this shows how little due diligence legislators do before submitting bills for consideration. A few minutes of Googling would have seen this headed to the trash receptacle, rather than the state legislature's permanent record. And even the most cursory glance at its contents would have made it clear the bill was unconstitutional. Better late than never, I guess. But in this case, never would have been the much better option.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, chris sevier, defamation, free speech, freedom of the press, grace diaz, rhode island, sandra cano, stop guilt by association


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 11:33am

    How about they have the cops and DAs stop holding press releases to describe all the horrible things that arrested people did (fine print: or maybe they didn't do—a court will decide)? There would still be public records, but this could help and would be obviously legal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 11:34am

    Pity

    You know this story perfectly shows how pitiful the state of our government really is when legislators are less willing to work with experts than with some rando in Rhode Island named Chris.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 11:49am

      Re: Pity

      They're so conditioned to auto-submit whatever anyone hands them due to all the years as paid gophers for various corporate interests.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 11:41am

    At least they are running from it..

    But isnt it interesting that Diaz, hadnt read and understood it before putting it into state congress??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2020 @ 7:50am

      Re: At least they are running from it..

      Well as Nancy says, you have to pass it before you know what's in it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Mar 2020 @ 4:11am

      Re: At least they are running from it..

      "But isnt it interesting that Diaz, hadnt read and understood it before putting it into state congress??"

      That's interesting, yes.

      What's even more interesting is that when facing the consequences of the mess she put herself in her focus was on the identity of the stranger. Not a single lesson learned, apparently that it might not be ideal to present random unread documents on the senate floor.

      Did she become a politician because she was underqualified for the job of being a potted plant, is what I'm wondering...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 12:12pm

    Reading is fundamental. Where have we heard that before?

    We know that legislators don't always read the bills they vote on (sometimes aren't allowed to) but not reading bills submitted is a whole other thing. Doing something does not mean 'to be seen as doing something', but actually doing something that addresses an issue within the bounds laid out by the basic rules, i.e. the Constitution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 1:03pm

    Oh the irony/hypocrisy...

    This is the same man who once sued Apple because its products didn't prevent him from viewing porn.

    Man who refused to take personal responsibility for his own actions tries to get law passed that forces newspapers to have a new responsibility that they will be punished for not meeting.

    You just can't make this stuff up...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 1:10pm

    "“If I knew, I would run ten-thousand-million miles away from that guy.”"

    But instead a took a fully written bill, did no research on it, the person behind it, the fact it clearly violates the 1st amendment & tried to sucker someone else into running it because someone in a uniform (of some variety) handed it to me and told me a sob story.

    Perhaps it is time to demand better from elected officials, force them to care about the details rather than getting a feather in their cap for helping a poor soul in a uniform, of some variety, getting them a good soundbite to parade around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 2:29pm

      Re:

      Some good old fashioned public mockery might get the point across. Have people in a variety of outfits(bonus points if you can get a full Village People group together) waiting outside the building to hand those leaving papers with absurd/unconstitutional suggestions, with a few people in back with cameras to capture the whole thing.

      For added humor and as a safety measure randomly slip in a clause in each 'suggestion' that would negatively impact local politicians, like mandating that they have their pay reduced to minimum wage, are immediately removed from office if they show up late, or something equally harsh.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 9 Mar 2020 @ 2:56am

        Re: Re:

        When can we start?

        A) it'd make a great Candid Camera-style show
        B) it'd teach those twerps to do a bit of due dilligence prior to bringing bills to the floor.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 1:37pm

    I'm so angry that i feel like filing a controversy in a government venue!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 6 Mar 2020 @ 1:52pm

    Rhode Island

    Rhode island isn't even an island and you're expecting them to have laws that make sense? Oh please...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:16pm

    The man who spoke to Diaz was Chris Sevier, an anti-gay and anti-abortion activist who at one point was accused of stalking country music star John Rich.
    That's hilarious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    laminar flow (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 9:14pm

    "“There has been a growing trend for individuals to abuse process and maliciously prosecute someone they disagree with ideologically by filing spurious cases and controversies in various government venues for ulterior motives, knowing that certain segments of the media that align with their ideology would serve as an accomplice by engaging in a form of defamation ... by selectively reporting on the facts of the original case but not on the actual outcome.”

    I wonder if he knows Devin Nunes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Reynold S. Number, 7 Mar 2020 @ 4:24am

    " I wonder if he knows Devin Nunes."

    Perhaps he's hoping to gain the moniker EL Sevier

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 8 Mar 2020 @ 8:51am

    Whatever you say...

    “ My feeling is beyond what I can express”
    You could start with- “Duuuuuuh...”

    “If I knew, I would run ten-thousand-million miles away from that guy.”
    That’s not a real number, but would you have really?

    “I didn’t do my research...″
    Ya think?

    “This is an experience that will teach me a lot for the future.”
    No... You have learned nothing.

    Did she really just except a proposal for a bill from a random guy on the street?
    Is that really how we will be writing our laws now?
    Would she have been equally fooled by someone in a nun, farmer or superhero costume?
    I think there is more to this story, but at this point who cares, there are far more important things to worry about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Mar 2020 @ 4:06am

      Re: Whatever you say...

      "Did she really just except a proposal for a bill from a random guy on the street?"

      Apparently so, and she still sees nothing wrong with THAT part of the mess.

      "Is that really how we will be writing our laws now?"

      No, as the story shows we will apparently have our laws written for us by whatever unidentified stranger feels compelled to write some and push them onto the nearest elected representative...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ReallyOGS, 8 Mar 2020 @ 9:49am

    Lol

    Please stop me from jacking off when I see nubile legal aged Philipinas jacking off online!

    What a jack off.

    (no, this is NOT a confession!!!!!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 9 Mar 2020 @ 7:27am

    Diaz said the man told her the media reported the accusations, but not his acquittal, so he was left with a damaged reputation and no recourse. Diaz said the man gave her a copy of the bill, which appears to echo a bill filed in Mississippi.

    Maybe Rep. Diaz should instead support a law that would post the acquittals on the court docket instead of always requiring FOIA lawsuits to get to the outcomes of "public" court documents. Then with Google indexing the court dockets and the decisions, (and maybe some emphasis by the Google algorithms) the final decisions would automatically be available to the general public without multi-year lawsuits being the "norm".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Mar 2020 @ 4:04am

    The elephant in the room, doubled down on.

    "My feeling is beyond what I can express,″ Diaz told The Journal on Thursday, after learning of Sevier’s history. “If I knew, I would run ten-thousand-million miles away from that guy."

    Having been confronted by the facts what Diaz takes away is all about the specific identity of the stranger who handed her the document she then saw fit to introduce as a bill. Unread.

    Hanlon's razor states that you should never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence.
    Grey's Law states that any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from actual malice.

    That any person sees fit to introduce, as potential legislation, unread documents handed to them by a stranger is so disturbing literally ANY explanation, including mind control or bribery, would be preferable...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2020 @ 3:20pm

    He's anti-gay. How long before we find out he blows rent boys for cash?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bunkoman, 17 Mar 2020 @ 4:35am

    I like how the ad hominem is thrown in there as further "proof" that the legislation was bad. Would it be less bad if the Dalai Lama handed it to her?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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