PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello introduced new legislation Thursday that would create stricter laws regarding bombs and other explosive devices in Rhode Island.
Mattiello said the bill would address loopholes in what he calls an “outdated law” that has hindered the filing of charges following incidents involving explosive devices.
The proposal comes weeks after a suspicious device was discovered off of Hopkins Hill Road in West Greenwich.
“Much has changed since our explosives law was written in 1957,” Mattiello said. “Today, unfortunately, the threat comes from powerful improvised explosive devices and law enforcement needs to be able to spring into action before a potentially lethal incident occurs.”
The bill is being co-sponsored by Senior Deputy Minority Leader Anthony Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, who called for a review of the law following the previously mentioned incident.
“This is all about preventing a tragedy here in Rhode Island,” Giarrusso said. “This is a difficult topic to legislate, but if the current laws fail to address these new circumstances we need to update them. You cannot just arrest people for buying things that may be considered bomb-making materials like nitrogen fertilizer or pressure cookers, but we cannot ignore the fact that home-made explosive devices are being built in our state.”
Giarrusso said three people from East Greenwich were questioned in connection with the discovery of the suspicious device, but they could not be charged because the statute says it’s not illegal to possess the homemade devices.
According to Giarrusso, the statue was changed in 2010, which removed all language related to bombs and combustibles. Matiello and Giarrusso are looking to re-add that information.
The legislation aims to update the existing law to protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by expanding the definition of explosive devices to include any device intended to explode. Right now, state law applies only to traditional bombs and explosives, meaning police cannot charge anyone for making an IED.
The bill would also add possession of such devices to the law as an offense punishable by three to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
It would also eliminate part of the law that limits the application to devices placed “in any public of private building, or area where persons may lawfully assemble.” Mattiello believes the language could stand in the way of charges being brought for bombs placed in tents, sheds, vehicles and outdoors and other settings that may not fit the law’s original definition.
Under the new legislation, according to Mattiello, charges would be brought against anyone possessing the “readily converted” components of an explosive device. Right now, charges cannot be brought unless the device is fully assembled.
Mattiello said Rhode Island’s laws regarding explosives are behind when compared to those of neighboring states, such as Massachusetts, where pressure cooker IEDs were used to carry out the Boston Marathon bombing back in 2013.
Giarrusso said the updates are necessary and he is confident the bill will get support.
“If I was a betting man, I would say this has a very good chance of going through,” Giarrusso said.