PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the COVID-19 crisis continues, a Rhode Island lawmaker is looking to permit Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to hold meetings in person.

The bill introduced by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson, D-Warwick, would designate mental health and substance use disorder services as essential during a declared state of emergency.

“The services provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not only essential, they are necessary for the public health,” Vella-Wilkinson said in a news release. “During the pandemic, AA meetings were designated as a social gathering rather than an essential service, while liquor stores were considered essential and permitted to remain open.”

“AA is no more a social gathering than rehab, especially when many of the members are court-ordered to attend meetings,” she continued.

The legislation would also ensure that AA and NA services would operate within the public safety guidelines established during the emergency, according to Vella-Wilkinson.

“AA meetings are therapeutic for individuals who face the challenge of addiction,” she added. “To consider this service as non-essential when the results can be devastating is not only absurd, it’s reckless. This bill would permanently designate those services as essential for future emergencies.”

A number of recovery groups have hosted online meetings during the pandemic.