Rhode Island makes history
Legislation removes barriers for survivors and children, as we focus on more progress ahead
Now that the 2019 Rhode Island legislative session has ended, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) is celebrating the passage of bills that ensure the rights of domestic violence survivors and the safety of children. As we applaud the legislative victories that created needed change and strengthened protections for survivors, we know there are many challenges survivors and their families still face. Several bills did not pass that would have helped us address financial insecurities in our communities that disproportionately affect women and people of color. Other legislation did not pass that would have helped us better understand how trauma affects children in R.I. We will continue our work to ensure all children who witness domestic violence are properly protected. There is only one direction to move in our mission to end domestic violence in Rhode Island: Forward.
Positive outcomes from this session:
PASSED: A bill that protects children through restraining orders, regardless of their relationship with abusers
Our top priority bill passed, and was signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo! The law allows survivors to include any of their minor children in a Family Court restraining order, regardless of whether or not the children are related to an abuser by blood or marriage. Before the bill’s passage, survivors filed for separate, expensive juvenile restraining orders, known as “J-orders,” to protect all their children. Abusers who violated “J-orders” could not be arrested - leaving children vulnerable to further abuse. Thanks to this new law, survivors can eliminate additional paperwork, court dates, expenses, and stress in their efforts to seek protection.
The members of SOAR (Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships) brought this issue into the spotlight, and worked tirelessly to get this legislation passed the first year it was introduced. This is the true power of grassroots work! Powerful testimony and impactful conversations between SOAR members, advocates, volunteers, and lawmakers led to this bill’s passage. We thank SOAR members for their passion and hard work. We also thank our legislative champions, Sen. Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Chris Blazejewski, who fiercely advocated for this change and continued their leadership in domestic violence prevention in Rhode Island. We extend our gratitude to the R.I. Family Court and Chief Judge Michael Forte for their support throughout this process.
PASSED: Continued funding for domestic violence prevention work
The Deborah DeBare Domestic Violence Prevention Fund (DVPF) dedicated to community programs aiming to prevent domestic violence in Rhode Island received level funding this session. We thank the General Assembly for continuing to invest in the future. Since its passage in 2016, the Deborah DeBare DVPF, formerly known as the Domestic Violence Prevention Fund , has awarded 14 grants to nonprofits to establish domestic violence and dating violence prevention programs within their communities. We need these initiatives to work toward ending domestic violence, which is why we’re working to increase funding for prevention during the next legislative session.
PASSED: Legislation securing reproductive rights for Rhode Islanders
Rhode Island made history with the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act, which secures the rights established in Roe v. Wade into state law. As a member of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, RICADV has advocated for this legislation the past several years. This bill marks enormous progress for gender equality and women’s rights.
PASSED: A resolution keeping confidential healthcare information safe from abusers
We were proud to make progress in protecting confidential healthcare information from abusers. The R.I. Senate passed an important resolution, S580 SUB A, allowing the R.I. Department of Health to create rules that protect communication of medical information when insurance companies send out billing statements, or “explanations of benefits” (EOBs). The goal of this resolution is to ensure all patients - including survivors of family violence and sexual assault - do not have private health information exposed to abusive or hostile family members (spouses, partners, or parents) through insurance statements mailed home. Now, we will work with our partners and the R.I. Department of Health to help create rules giving patients the right to choose whether or not this information is mailed, and where it is sent. We want to thank the R.I. Health and Privacy Alliance for their leadership on this issue, and we are proud to be members of the alliance.
PASSED: A bill protecting household pets in domestic abuse situations.
This legislation helps survivors keep beloved family pets safe from threats and violence at the hands of an abuser by allowing survivors to include pets in restraining orders. Rhode Island joins over 30 states in allowing this protection for family pets to be included in domestic violence restraining orders.
Missed opportunities from this session:
Three pieces of legislation that would have an enormous positive impact on survivors of domestic violence and their families were not passed yet again this session. These were priority bills for the RICADV, and we will continue pushing for the passage of this type of legislation to promote a future free from domestic violence, and racial and gender-based oppression.
NOT PASSED: A bill to create a special commission to study long-term impacts of trauma on children exposed to violence
Rhode Island once again missed an opportunity to understand and address trauma in the lives of children exposed to violence. This bill would have allowed legislators to study the effects of violence on Rhode Island children and create sensible recommendations to stem the tide of violence in our state.
NOT PASSED: The “Fight for $15” minimum wage increase bill
Similar versions of this bill have now passed in our neighboring state of Massachusetts and most recently, Connecticut, leaving Rhode Island behind and without a path to a fair, livable wage. The passage of the bill would have led to reduced poverty in Rhode Island, improved quality of life for children and families, and reduced barriers for leaving an abusive relationship.
NOT PASSED: A fair pay act to help close the wage gap faced by women and people of color
This bill would have helped close the wage gap in Rhode Island, in which women are paid 84 cents for every $1 paid to men – with the pay gap being even worse for women of color. This legislation would have helped survivors, as poverty and income inequality are root causes of domestic violence. The bill would have prevented wage discrimination based on gender, race, and other protected classes, and increased economic stability for R.I. families.
Thank you to all our friends and allies for your support over the course of this legislative session, especially the courageous SOAR members, advocates from our network of member agencies, Ten Men members, volunteers, and students who came to the State House to advocate for safety and equality for survivors and children who witness domestic violence. We could not have made all of this progress without you! There is still more work to do; we have strength in our unity and solidarity toward a beloved community free from violence, oppression, and division.
Director of Policy