Bill would let R.I. lawmakers hide behind tinted windows

Citing safety concerns, representative wants to allow tinted windshields on private vehicles of lawmakers, police officers, firefighters, and judges

The Rhode Island State House in Providence. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE -- Rhode Island doesn’t allow most motorists to have tinted car windows. But this week a state lawmaker proposed letting legislators get tinted windshields to shield them from unhappy constituents.

Citing safety concerns, Representative Anastasia P. Williams, a Providence Democrat, introduced a bill that would carve out an exception allowing members of the General Assembly, state and municipal police officers, firefighters, and state judges to cruise the streets of Rhode Island behind tinted glass.

“We have a lot of disgruntled individuals,” Williams said Thursday. “In the court system, law enforcement, and the General Assembly, we tend to get a bum rap, and we can face retaliation when we least expect it. When folks are on personal time, we are targeted.”

Williams said she has not been accosted in her vehicle, but she said “pro-lifers” confronted her inside and outside the State House about an abortion bill last year, and people upset about the state child-welfare agency approached her as she headed to her car at the State House recently.

While this bill would help politicians keep a low profile, many state lawmakers now drive around with license plates emblazoned with the number of their House or Senate district. And in Rhode Island political circles, there is perhaps no bigger status symbol than a low-digit license plate.

Williams said she doesn’t use the plate announcing that she represents House District 9. “Everybody doesn’t use that,” she said. “Then you can be easily spotted.”

She said she might get her car windows tinted if her bill becomes law. “But it’s not a situation I’m running out to do it,” she said. “I don’t drive a Mercedes or a Saab or a Cadillac. I have a hooptie vehicle.”

Williams described her proposal as “a safety law.”

But some see it as just another example of state officials finding ways around the rules that others must follow.

“It sounds like a typical Rhode Island issue -- special treatment,” said Robert Anatone, owner Providence Tint, an auto tinting business on Charles Street. “How is that fair? I think that is completely ridiculous.”

Anatone said Rhode Island should follow the lead of Massachusetts, which has a much less stringent tinted-window law. In Rhode Island, most car windows must allow 70 percent of the light in, compared to 35 percent in Massachusetts.

“Rhode Island copies Massachusetts on everything, like marijuana, so why not copy this?” he said. “Let the voters decide -- not just the General Assembly deciding if they can do it.”

Rhode Island’s tinted-window law already provides exemptions for vehicles owned or leased by law enforcement agencies and for vehicles that aren’t required to be registered in Rhode Island.

Tint also is allowed on windows behind the driver in trucks, buses, limousines, and hearses. And people can get an affidavit from an eye doctor or other physician saying they have a physical condition requiring tinted car windows.

“It is not just vanity,” said Joseph Starks, owner of Black Glass Tint, an auto tinting business in Cranston.

Many customers need tinted glass because of cataracts or skin conditions, he said. For example, the daughter of one customer is sensitive to ultraviolet light, and without tinted windows, she would “blow up like she was bitten by 1,000 bees,” he said.

Also, he said tinted windows keep cars cooler in the summer months -- a boon for babies or pets in the back seat.

Starks said he thinks everyone in Rhode Island should be allowed to have car windows tinted to some extent -- not to the limousine level that allows 5 percent of the light in, but at least to the Massachusetts level that allows 35 percent of the light in.

“That is not crazy,” he said of the Massachusetts standard. “Police can still see in. I can see the safety issue -- you want to be able to see in the car.”

Williams noted that judges, police officers, and legislators make decisions that upset people. “We sponsor and vote on laws that affect an awful lot of individuals," she said. “And many people are very disgruntled with us.”

But Williams denied that her bill amounts to special treatment.

“Put yourself in our shoes for a minute,” she said.

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