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POLITICS AS USUAL (By Jim Baron) How many legislators have been arrested now?

April 8, 2012

I’m going to be watching the House and Senate Finance committee hearings to see if any more money is being funneled into the ACI kitchen budget. I figure that, at the rate senators and representatives are running afoul of the law these days, legislators are going to have a vested interest in improving the quality of prison food.
To my recollection, only former Sen. Christopher Maselli is currently enjoying hoosegow cuisine, and he is a tenant of the federal government. But it’s difficult to keep track. The General Assembly arrest record being what it is, it’s getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard.
Any civilian who gets popped for DUI will tell you it is a long, grueling and very expensive — the lawyer’s fees are more punishing than whatever fine you get — process, even for a first offense.
But whaddya know, Joe, Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio pleaded out to refusing a chemical test, got the DUI dropped and was back in his seat near the back door of the Senate Chamber in jig time. Within a couple of news cycles, the senator had largely put his legal troubles behind him. As far as his publicity and political problems, we’ll have to wait and see, but if you made me bet with my own money, I would put it on Ruggerio being re-elected handily.
Now, if you or I happened to be with a buddy who got popped for DUI and we tried to interfere with the field sobriety test or started giving the cop a lot of guff about his pension while thumbing through our cellphone contacts trying to call someone with enough clout to get us off the hook, as Providence Sen. Frank Ciccone is said to have done, our butt would be placed squarely (but politely) in the back seat of the cruiser and we would be telling it to the judge about obstructing a police officer. I can guaran-damn-tee you that the judge would do more to us than take away some committee chairmanship.
I sincerely believe that the Statehouse culture is so insulated, and the people there have their heads so far up their own backsides, that most of them really think it was a significant punishment for President Teresa Paiva Weed to strip Providence Sen. Frank Ciccone of his chairmanship of the Government Oversight Committee for his contributions on that Barrington evening. (That particular penalty may have been unfair, actually, because we know Ciccone was seeing to his oversight duties 24/7. After all, he was busily overseeing the job Barrington cops were doing well after midnight on the day in question.)
As one of my colleagues in the Statehouse press corps noted while we waited on the third floor for Paiva Weed’s statement on Ciccone, Ruggerio is the one who is coming out of this looking good, even though he was the one charged by police.
You didn’t see Ruggerio losing his majority leader post, or getting any sort of sanction from his Senate colleagues. Different spanks for different ranks, I guess.
I guess the great Barrington DUI incident is now over and done with, a fleeting blip on the political radar screen and we will now go back to, not to put too fine a point on it, politics as usual.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Providence and State Police.
You might recall that, a couple of weeks ago, there was a news report about a two-man cop team working undercover in Olneyville Square. They weren’t casting a net for murders or rapists, muggers or drug pushers. No, this undercover team was on the lookout for a different kind of scofflaw: fiends driving their automobiles without having their seatbelts buckled.
Yes, really. On that night, they were the seatbelt police. One plainclothes guy peeked into passing car windows and, if he spotted someone not buckled up, he alerted his partner who whacked the luckless motorist with an $85 ticket.
The reason we owe them a debt of gratitude is that their assignment was so ridiculous, such an egregious waste of valuable police manpower, and such an in-your-face assault against common sense, that it laid bare for all to see what a disagreeable piece of governmental mischief the mandatory seatbelt law is. Did anybody read that report and not shake their head at the utter silliness of the overkill being applied to a non-problem?
Finally we have the glowing, impossible-to-ignore example that might motivate the electorate — at least those among them with a driver’s license, which is suddenly very important for them to have — to get their elected officials to reverse this fiasco of a law.
Let’s hope that time is here, because there is now a mechanism for those folks to make themselves heard. WPRO-AM’s evening talk show host Matt Allen has a petition on the station’s website to get this silly law repealed. Go to 630WPRO.com and click on Matt Allen, you will see a link to his petition, which, as this is being written, has more than 1,000 signatures already. Add your name and stop this corrupt madness.
Despite the protestation of the police to the contrary, that undercover caper stripped away all pretense that this awful law is anything more than a backhanded tax. It is one of life’s truisms that whenever anybody says “It’s not about the money,” it’s about the money. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is very much about the money.
Statistics show that four of every five Rhode Island drivers already wear their seatbelts regularly.
The only reason the General Assembly passed the law was to get money from the federal government that would have been denied to them otherwise. And the only reason police are sent out to enforce the law is to extract 85 bucks from everyone who happens to get caught. It’s ALL about the money.
But, hey, you can’t say they are raising taxes. No, no, no!
What’s going to happen the next time plainclothes cop spots a guy not wearing a seatbelt and radios his partner to stop him, but he doesn’t know that the guy has a trunk filled with cocaine and a loaded sawed-off shotgun across his lap? When the state trooper pulls him over, the driver will have no way of knowing that it is just for a chickenbleep seatbelt offense.
How many $85 tickets will it take to make that worthwhile?

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