Raimondo issues first veto, over ‘revenge porn’

gina raimondo

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo has issued the first veto of her tenure, rejecting a proposed ban on so-called “revenge porn” as unconstitutional due to First Amendment concerns, her office announced Tuesday.

The bill, which cleared the General Assembly last week, was backed by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Supporters said it was designed to punish individuals who distribute sexually explicit material without the consent of everyone involved.

But watchdog groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the New England First Amendment Coalition had urged Raimondo to veto the bill, describing it as unconstitutional, and in the end the governor agreed.

“The authors of this legislation are attempting to address a very real and serious issue,” Raimondo said in her veto message. But she went on to say lawmakers needed to “craft a more carefully worded law that specifically addresses the problem of revenge porn, without implicating other types of constitutionally protected speech.”

“We commend the governor for recognizing the serious First Amendment concerns raised by this legislation, and for the need to enact a more carefully-crafted law that will pass constitutional muster,” Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, said in a statement.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello quickly struck back, issuing a statement to say he was “extremely disappointed” by the governor’s veto and describing the revenge-porn bill as part of a broader package of domestic-violence measures.

“I am surprised because she never raised any concerns during the four months that it was under consideration by the House,” Mattiello said.

Kilmartin, in his own statement, disputed Raimondo’s analysis. “I am confident that after review by our criminal, civil, and appellate units, as well as by the General Assembly, that we could have easily and successfully defended the constitutionality of the bill if challenged,” he said.

Deb DeBare, longtime executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she continues to think the ban on revenge porn is needed, but accepted that the legislation that passed was “overly broad” and likely to be challenged in court.

“So while I’m disappointed in the sense that there isn’t a good solid piece of legislation that has now become law, I do have a commitment from the governor and her policy staff to work toward a more tightly crafted piece of legislation for next session,” DeBare told Eyewitness News.

DeBare said she was pleased the General Assembly was so active on domestic violence this year, particularly in creating a new funding stream for her group. She said the money will be used to provide grants for domestic-violence prevention efforts.

The veto may signal a new willingness by Raimondo in her second year to reject legislation passed by the General Assembly, after she declined to reject any measures that were enacted in 2015.

Dozens of bills that passed before the General Assembly finished its work for the year around dawn Saturday are now awaiting Raimondo’s decision on whether to sign, veto or allow them to become law without her signature.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

An earlier version of this story said the new funding stream for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence would come from a $46 surcharge on marriage licenses; the final version of the legislation that passed used a different source of funds.

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