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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  1. 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.

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