BURRILLVILLE, R.I. (WJAR) — The Burrillville Town Council became the first town to formally approve a formal document against Gov. Gina Raimondo's restrictions and executive orders in the response to the coronavirus.
By a 5-2 vote, the council passed a resolution to become a First Amendment Sanctuary Town.
The resolution calls out several of Raimondo's executive orders related to the virus, citing the stay at home orders and the "cumbersome restrictions" relating to phase one and phase two.
"Never in the history of this country, that I can see, have we ever restricted the free movement and First Amendment rights of healthy people. I'm surprise there has not been any challenges to the constitutionality of this," said Councilman Jeremy Bailey.
According to the resolution, the council asks for the support of the Burrillville Police Department to use discretion to "not enforce unconstitutional executive orders."
It adds that the town council will not appropriate town money to fund the executive orders.
"When these executive orders infringe on the constitutional rights of the people of Burrillville, I believe the Town Council has a right to protect them and should not fund those executive orders," said Councilman Donald Fox.
Two points of contention was the financial impact the restrictions are having on local businesses and the inconsistencies with enforcement.
"Our local businesses, many of them are being crushed by this," said Councilman Stephen Rawson. He added one of his favorite restaurants in Greenville closed after 23 years "solely" due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
"If it's important to people to attend church services, if it's important for people to attend a planning board meeting or a town council meeting, if it's important enough for people to attend a Fourth of July parade, then they should be able to make that decision as thousands, maybe millions of people have made over the last two or three weeks to protest a wrong that everyone agrees with," said Councilman Raymond Trinque.
The council raised concerns with the legality of the governor relying on executive orders to pass restrictions without the input of the General Assembly.
"I do believe that the governor's love affair with her new executive powers in some way needs to be called out and the General Assembly needs to be called out for being AWOL," said Councilman Dennis Anderson.
Council members said they don't want them protecting their First Amendment rights to be misconstrued that they are not taking the virus seriously. They noted they have implemented delivery services for the town's most vulnerable population and are not necessarily against social distancing measures.
"We want people to do whatever is best for our fellow mankind," said Bailey. "We continue to try to do our best to protect our most vulnerable."
The passing of the resolution comes after Narragansett proposed a similar measure. The measure was removed before a vote.
Fox said that the resolution will now be sent to all other cities and towns in the state, the governor, the General Assembly, including Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.
"I know it'll make a statement to Providence. We were the first one to pass the Second Amendment one also, so it'll draw attention, so perhaps other towns will follow suit and agree with us," emphasized Rawson.
A spokesperson for Gov. Raimondo issued the below statement:
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor’s number one priority has been protecting the health and safety of all Rhode Islanders, particularly those who are most vulnerable to this disease. The measures we’ve taken—which are fully constitutional—have drastically slowed the spread of the virus, saved lives, and allowed for the gradual reopening of our economy. We expect all Rhode Islanders to comply with our guidance in order to avoid the devastating consequences of a second wave that we’re now seeing in states across the country.”