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01 • 14 • 2020

Let’s Improve Public Access, Rhode Island!

The Rhode Island Chapter is working closely with our Northeast Regional Manager to pass statewide legislation that will improve public beach access for all.

JUNE 23, 2021 UPDATE

Today, the House passed H.5469 Substitute A to create “A SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION TO STUDY AND PROVIDE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE ISSUES RELATING TO LATERAL ACCESS ALONG THE RHODE ISLAND SHORELINE (Prevents a person from being prosecuted for fishing, gathering seaweed, swimming or passage along the sandy or rocky shoreline within ten feet (10') of the most recent high tide line.). 

The substitute replaces the initial bill and creates a commission to study the issue of public beach access and the possible solutions, reporting its findings to the House of Representatives not later than March 30, 2022.

This is a favorable outcome, as it opens the door for our preferred approach to advance, clarifying the public's rights of access.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE

H.5469, an identical bill to last session's trespass framing, has broad bipartisan support and is being advanced in both chambers.

H.5469 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on 2/10/21, where it came to (virtual) public hearing on Tuesday, February 23, at 5:30pm. We submitted written testimony in support of the bill and urged YOU to do the same!

After the hearing, the Committee recommended the measure be held for further study.

YOU can still help by emailing the Committee and Speaker of the House to let them know why you support this bill and why it's important for you that it move forward favorably: HouseJudiciary@rilegislature.gov + rep-shekarchi@rilegislature.gov

Our testimony:

  • Supports the overarching goals of improving public beach access;
  • Notes that this is a stop-gap measure to protect beachgoers from arrest in a limited 10' section of the beach area where public access is NOT currently unlawful;
  • Calls for an amendment to clarify that rights are “additive” and not “exclusive” of rights held in the State Constitution and Ibbison;
  • Notes further that while the bill is not a solution to the core problem that it will help provide a layer of protection until a solution can be advanced;
  • Provides an alternative, solutions-based approach to the problem that we urge lawmakers to introduce as a new bill to clarify rights held in the Public Trust

From the Committee Regarding How to Testify in COVID-19:

The State House remains closed to in-person testimony.

The meeting will be televised on Capitol Television, which can be seen on Cox Channels 15, and 61, in high definition on Cox Channel 1061, on Full Channel on Channel 15 and on Channel 34 by Verizon subscribers.  It will also be live-streamed.

Both verbal and written testimony are welcome.

Individuals interested in providing verbal testimony, send your name, phone number, bill number and position on legislation to: HouseJudiciary@rilegislature.gov by 11:00 AM on Tuesday, February 23, 2021.

Written testimony should be submitted no later than two (2) hours prior to the posted meeting time to: HouseJudiciary@rilegislature.gov

Indicate your name, bill number, and viewpoint (for/against/neither) at the top of the testimony.

All testimony received after deadline will be sent to committee members and posted to the website—within 24 hours.

For faster processing, it is recommended that testimony is submitted as a PDF file.

Testimony will be posted on the General Assembly website.

NEXT STEPS

The Chapter is developing an educational program that will result in a digital pocket pal of public shore rights and tactics for exerting rights peacefully. We will also generate a resource to help authorities respond to claims of trespass in the intertidal zone.

We'll also be working to secure sponsors for our Public Trust bill in a future legislative session (see below!).

Give a shout to help out: ri@surfrider.org

HISTORIC ACCOUNT

In 2020, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi announced in the minority response to the Governor's State of the State address, that the GOP was introducing H.7755, legislation aimed at helping quiet tensions between beachgoers and private property owners as to who owns the wet sand area, who can pass it, and when.

H.7755 had broad bipartisan support, and stirred up a lot of public support, as well. 

But COVID-19 had other plans, and like so many other state bills, H.7755 was left unfinished by statutory adjournment.

The good news is that interest in improving the public's rights of access to the beach and ocean is still front of mind for legislators of the Ocean State this session.

Legislation to improve access was submitted to the drafting office, resulting in an identical bill to last session with a new number, H.5469.

While we are stoked on the motivation for action, we have been championing an alternative approach to what was presented in H.7755.

Our preferred approach clarifies rights held in the Public Trust and Rhode Island Constitution and is coupled with a two-pronged educational component, with the collaboration of the Coastal Resources Management Council, to help the public understand and exercise their rights peacefully while also helping enforcement authorities to understand access rights and remedies. 

Our primary concern with the trespass framing is that in Rhode Island, it is not currently considered trespass to cross the wet sand area to access the shore.

That's why situating an access rights law under the criminal code and decriminalizing trespass in the intertidal zone is not ideal for advancing access, as it starts off from a point of ceding current rights to then say there is trespass occurring now…which there is not. 

The heart of the issue is not that people are trespassing, it's that there is ambiguity surrounding where the average high tide line is.

The Ibbison ruling uses that ambiguity to the favor of beachgoers, by establishing that the 'benefit of the doubt' should go to the beachgoer.

That is why clarifying the high tide line or establishing a 10' boundary could degrade public beach access, as if it is interpreted to be exclusive to existing rights and not additive, it diminishes the current ambiguity established in case law that works to the benefit of the public (see the amendment we recommended on H.5469, above).

Our Public Trust clarification approach, however, would codify the rights established by the Rhode Island Constitution and help strengthen those rights of access without ceding any current rights and benefits.

We supported the intent of H.5469 and the limited protections it would afford, if passed, to protect beachgoers from needing to fight trespass claims within the 10' boundary established in the bill. Our Public Trust approach, however, would solve many of the problems with access the public is experiencing, which is why we are working to additionally champion this bill in a future legislative session.

Stay tuned here for updates and reach out to ri@surfrider.org if you would like to engage directly on this campaign with us! 

Beach Access