2013 was supposed to be the year America breathed a big sigh of relief from electoral politics, but there is no escape from the ever-turning wheel of democracy. Aside from a number of scheduled off-year elections, there are three upcoming special elections to fill vacated Congressional and Senate seats, in South Carolina, Missouri, and Massachusetts. One special election already occurred in Illinois in April, resulting in a win for Robin Kelly (D-Ill.)
After a prolonged legislative battle, Rhode Island has officially become the 10th state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage. Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who made marriage equality a central tenet of his inaugural speech in 2011, signed the bill on the steps of the State House this past Thursday. He was joined by Speaker of the House Gordon Fox (D-Providence), the first openly gay Speaker of a U.S. state legislature; Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), the only openly gay member of the Rhode Island Senate; Rhode Island’s entire federal delegation; and many other guests.
In April, the town of Coventry, Rhode Island, agreed to loan the Coventry Fire District $300,000 in order to keep it operational for three more weeks after it was ordered to close due to insufficient funds. Three of the district’s five fire stations have already closed. The fate of the fire district was contingent upon the possibility of tax reform, which was put to a vote in March. After taxpayers overwhelmingly struck down a proposed increase in fire taxes, the court felt there was no other option than to mandate that the fire district be liquidated. Forty-five firefighters and the fire chief will lose their jobs.
With Congress expected to unveil its plan for immigration reform soon, the country can look forward to another high-profile debate between Democrats and Republicans about another divisive issue. But there is one piece of the legislation that is attracting relatively little attention: border control. Of course, border control measures are to be anticipated in any immigration reform bill, but what the Senate’s Gang of Eight is considering is out of the ordinary.
In a 26-12 vote Wednesday, the Rhode Island Senate passed SB-38, a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enjoy the full rights of marriage in the Ocean State. The vote was cast after a lengthy floor debate that lasted over an hour and a half and saw senators on both sides of the same-sex marriage aisle give impassioned speeches for and against. In the end, though, the supporters of same sex marriage were able to pull out enough votes in the more conservative General Assembly chamber for a resounding Senate victory.
Tuesday night, former congressman and libertarian proponent Dr. Ron Paul spoke to a crowd of Brown students in Salomon Hall. Paul used the event, hosted by the Brown Lecture Board, as an opportunity to introduce students to various case studies and examples of government overreach and encroachments on individual liberty.
During a packed press conference last week at the Rhode Island State House, a package of nine gun safety laws was proposed for passage by the General Assembly. Drafted in response to December’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the bills are designed to tackle a wide variety of firearms issues, including criminal penalties for illegal possession, background checks, and mental health concerns.
The prosecution of two male high school students in Steubenville, Ohio, for the rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl further heated tensions in recent conversations about rape and sexual assault in the U.S. The Steubenville case joins a series of recent occurrences centered around rape, including the appearance of Zerlina Maxwell on Sean Hannity’s television show, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) statements to military officials about their handling of sexual assault cases in the armed forces at the Senate Committee Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearings. It does not take very much to realize that this country has a rape problem.
Last week at the White House, President Barack Obama stood before a group of mothers whose children had died in shootings and renewed his call for reforms to U.S. gun laws. “I haven’t forgotten about those kids” who died at Sandy Hook three months ago, the president said. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting primed an issue normally left out of the national spotlight. The shooting was the second deadliest school shooting in American history, just behind the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. The number of casualties in the Sandy Hook shooting nearly doubled that of the Columbine High School massacre. And unlike those shootings, the victims of Sandy Hook weren’t young adults or teenagers: The children were all first graders.
For the most part, the stance of our political parties on issues changes incrementally. Positions shift slowly, if at all. Yet, in less than a decade, we have seen remarkable movement on an issue dramatically illustrated by Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) recent filibuster: civil rights vis-a-vis what was formerly named the War on Terror.