A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Faith & Freedom Friday: At the State House

Lawyers, bikers, and other citizens in the House Lounge hallway

Until 5:30 yesterday, I’d planned to write about Enos Hitchcock, Revolutionary War chaplain. But after an hour and a half in the State House hallway, I decided there was interesting material right in front of me.

This was the first time I had ever been to the State House to testify on behalf of a piece of legislation. The House Judiciary Committee hearing originally scheduled for last Thursday was cancelled, and moved to Thursday, May 9. On the agenda for the committee chaired by Representative Edith Ajello (D-3rd District)   were two dozen bills. I was there to represent the Historical Society in support of  H5828, the Museum Property Act. Legislation like this exists in every other New England state, and in 38 of 50 of the United States. It will be a great help to all collecting organizations.

Along with blue- and grey-suited lawyers and museum professionals were people willing to wait four, five, and even six hours (we testified at about 10 PM, and we were bill 17 of 24) to present their views in support of various bills, including numerous members of a variety of motorcycle clubs. The gentlemen in leather were arrayed on either side of a new piece of helmet legislation, H6007. Some were for helmet choice, and some were for mandatory helmet use. They chose opposite sides of the hallway.

That’s a pit bull service dog heading to the sign in table.

The dog was present on behalf of people testifying in support of H5671, that “No city or town may enact any rule, regulation or ordinance specific to any breed of dog, cat or other animal in the exercise of its power to further control and regulate dogs, cats or other animals as authorized by this chapter.” The pit bull trained as a service dog proved a silent, and eventually somnolent, witness as the evening stretched on.

In true Rhode Island fashion, one witness called to testify against bill H5826, on Public Use of Private Lands, was someone I know in a completely different context; we stared at each other, but not until he was called by name did I realize how I knew him.

Pro-helmet motorcyclist lobbies people present for H5671

I found it fascinating to listen to the testimony and questions, and an excellent demonstration of the basic openness of our system of government. For  most bills, several people testified. While some bills had only supporters (H5828, for example) other bills brought people with passionate, but opposing, views to the lectern.

To learn more, you can visit the Rhode Island Legislative websites and discover how a bill becomes a law.

You can even watch the House Judiciary hearings, and many more, here, on Capitol TV.

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections

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