Low-number license plates are famously – or perhaps infamously – prized in Rhode Island. So, too, are the special plates available to some public officials, such as members of the General Assembly.
That such status symbols are coveted is not unique to the Ocean State, of course. But in such a closely-knit place – one where seemingly everyone is connected in one way or another – they can carry outsized importance and visibility.
Amid the flurry of bills introduced on Smith Hill since the legislature’s current session opened last month is a proposal aimed at stemming that dynamic, at least in one small way. And while it is well intentioned, we find ourselves questioning its wisdom.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Anastasia Williams of Providence, would carve out new exemptions in the state’s law banning tinted windows on vehicles. Specifically, it would allow lawmakers, judges, police officers and firefighters to tint their windows beyond the law’s current restrictions, which require that no less than 70 percent of light be transmittable through vehicle windows.
Williams has framed the proposal as motivated by concerns over safety in an increasingly charged political environment. She has cited last year’s debate over an abortion bill, as well as threats to judges, as examples of public officials fearing for their safety.
Allowing for people in prominent or precarious positions to tint their vehicle’s windows, Williams argues, will provide at least some sense of anonymity – and, potentially, help stave off threats to their well being.
“Better safe than sorry,” she told the Providence Journal recently. “When we are in our cars and on our private time, we should still be able to have that feeling of, ‘I am OK, because that person that is following me may not know it is me.’”
We can relate to the representative’s sentiment and concerns. After all, like politicians, members of the media are increasingly the targets of animus – and worse – from some corners of society. And we certainly understand the impulse to provide additional protections for first responders who deal with extremely difficult and dangerous situations on a daily basis.
We wonder, though, whether the proposed legislation would have the opposite of its intended effect – potentially making vehicles and their occupants more easily identifiable to those who would do harm. The tinting, after all, would be optional for those with access to the new exemption, just as the specialty plates are now.
Beyond that, the symbolic effect of creating a new barrier between constituents and public servants – even outside the confines of formal settings – should be considered. We worry about sowing more mistrust in a climate already filled with far too much suspicion and anger.
Additionally, our understanding is that the existing law already exempts law enforcement vehicles and provides means through which other motorists can obtain a tint waiver with the permission of police.
We look forward to additional debate, and we see Williams’ proposal as an earnest attempt to address a troubling trend. We are hopeful that the spirit of civility and the recognition of each other’s humanity can prevail over the need to create new barriers, however small they might be.