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Roadblocks don't make good neighbors

We agree with the concerns of the American Civil Liberties Union that the decision by the Rhode Island governor to use uniformed militia to direct out-of-state cars off the highways and roads leading from Connecticut into her state is a step too far and constitutionally questionable.

R.I. Gov. Gina Raimondo deserves largely good grades for her aggressive actions trying to stem the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing. But staging National Guard personnel and state troopers at the border to stop, question and direct drivers with out-of-state plates raises issues of equal treatment and the constitutional prohibition against searches without probable cause.

Drivers don’t have to stop. This is not martial law, yet. A driver who keeps going when directed off Interstate 95, for example, will be pursued by a trooper and asked to cooperate. Legally they don’t have to and can keep driving, the state acknowledges. But given the coercive nature of the process, it is hard to label it voluntary.

Initially Rhode Island was only asking New York state drivers to stop, trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from the New York City hot spot to the Ocean State, host to many summer homes that are proving attractive to those fleeing the pandemic. But when N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo complained and threatened legal action, Raimondo expanded the procedure to all out-of-state cars.

Drivers are asked if they are staying or passing through. If staying, they are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. Their name, an address where they are staying, and a contact number are requested so officials can later check on the quarantining.

By all accounts the Guard and state police personnel are polite and most people cooperative.

But less extreme measures, which do not raise constitutional concerns or invite reciprocal roadblocks to be set up at other state borders, could accomplish the goal nearly as effectively. Use electronic signing to remind travelers of the 14-day quarantining requirement. Supplement that with a public service campaign. Hand out pamphlets at bus, train and airport terminals outlining the expectation for visitors. And continue sending National Guard personnel into coastal communities populated with summer dwellings to drive home the necessity of temporary isolation.

These are steps Connecticut should be taking, too.

Border checkpoints create an us-versus-them mentality. The cooperation among governors in the Northeast has been a strong point in the response to COVID-19. This step risks losing that.

Reconsider, Gov. Raimondo.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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