Archive | November, 2009

Youth Social Justice Forum 2009 Teaches Students About Rights and Liberties

30 Nov

The UW-Milwaukee ACLU Student Alliance and the ACLU of Wisconsin proudly joined campus and community partners in organizing our 10th Annual Youth Social Justice Forum. Held on November 6th, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus was the perfect venue to bring together area high school students to celebrate and learn about their rights, as well as protecting their liberties.

Each year hundreds of Milwaukee area youth come to participate in workshops run by dedicated volunteers and ACLU of Wisconsin staff, and this year was no different. There were over 350 high school students and UWM and community volunteers.

Thanks to the Milwaukee Election Commission , participants had a lively debate about the control of MPS and held an election using real voting machines and booths to express their opinion. The election was overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining the school board without mayoral control.

Offering unique perspectives, workshop facilitators helped students develop creative ways to participate in the civic dialogue that is the bedrock of America and our Constitution. Workshops included: Creating Audio PSA’s; Know Your Rights; Graffiti Art for Social Justice; Introduction to Youth Organizing; Poetry, Politics and Power; Student Privacy; Political Activist T-Shirt Making; LGBTQ and You; Political Cartooning and Art.

Urban Underground continued their multi-year legacy of providing quality support and vital workshops about youth rights and individuals rights during police encounters. Art Night Books and the Social Development Commission, as well as several new partners including TRUE Skool and 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. Kid Cut Up http://www.myspace.com/kidcutup , a long time friend of TRUE Skool volunteered his DJ skills for the event. Multi-talented MIAD Junior, Jasmine Barmore, created the powerful graphics for the t-shirts and books.

See some amazing photos in this gallery, created by gifted photographer John Jay Ward.

Contact us if you’re interested in having your school attend next year, or if you would like to receive a Youth Social Justice Forum t-shirt or book.

Take Action: Demand Abortion Rights Protection in Federal Health Care Reform

30 Nov

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban
Rally for Women’s Health

Wednesday, December 2 at Noon
Capitol Square – State Street Steps
Featuring Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton

The House of Representatives passed a health care reform bill that includes an amendment by Reps. Stupak and Pitts that will effectively eliminate all insurance coverage for abortion. Currently, 85% of insurance plans in the private market currently cover these services. This ban on abortion coverage in health care reform is a direct attack on women’s health.

Now the Senate is set to begin debate on health care reform. We must ensure that the Senate bill does not include a similar amendment banning abortion coverage.

Please join us for a Rally on Wednesday, 12/2, to tell our legislators that we will not stand for attacks on women’s health in health care reform and to Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban!

The rally coincides with a National Day of Action & Stop Stupak-Pitts event in Washington D.C. and the ACLU will be among the protesters.

Here is what we need from you:

1. Join us in Madison on Wednesday, December 2 at Noon, for a Rally for Women’s Health at the State Capitol (State Street Steps). More information is attached and also pasted below. Note: in the event of rain, the rally will be moved inside to the Assembly Parlor on the 2nd floor west of the State Capitol.

2. Call Senator Kohl at (800) 247-5645 and Senator Feingold at (608) 828-1215 to let them know we are counting on them to vote against any amendment that bans abortion coverage in the health care reform bill.

3. Attend the National Stop Stupak-Pitts Rally and Lobby Day in Washington DC on 12/2. For more information about bus transportation departing 12/1 and returning 12/3, contact molly.swank@ppwi.org or amanda.harrington@ppwi.org as soon as possible.

4. Email Senators Kohl and Feingold by going to the ACLU take action page on this issue and completing a simple form.

5. Volunteer to help collect petition signatures at the rally on 12/2. Contact Lisa at NARAL Prochoice Wisconsin or call (608) 287-0016 if you are available to volunteer.

Rally Sponsors: NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Madison NOW, Wisconsin Law Students for Reproductive Justice, Women’s Medical Fund, Single Payer Action Network, Beloit College GOGA Women’s Health Club, Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, ACLU Wisconsin, Wisconsin Women’s Network.

One Step Closer to Fixing Inadequate Care at WI Women’s Prison

29 Nov

ACLU Lawsuit Charging Inadequate Care At Women’s Prison To Proceed: Federal Judge Rejects State Request To Dismiss Class Action Lawsuit

This week, a federal judge denied a request by Wisconsin state officials to dismiss a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Jenner & Block charging that grossly deficient health care and mental health treatment jeopardizes the lives of women prisoners at a state prison.

In a sternly-worded ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa said there “is a great deal of evidence demonstrating that there are systemic and gross deficiencies in staffing, facilities and procedures” at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), Wisconsin’s largest women’s prison, and that the evidence suggests that state prison officials “are and have been subjectively aware of the risks that are posed by the administration of medical and mental health care at TCI.” Judge Randa described the state’s attempt to have the case dismissed as “curious” given that the state’s own expert witness described health care at TCI as a system “designed to let people ‘fall through the cracks.’”

“I am pleased that the court is allowing our litigation to proceed and look forward to bringing the case to trial,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Without court-ordered changes, women at TCI will continue to suffer needlessly in a system that still fails to comply with the requirements of the Constitution.”

In a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit filed in 2006 on behalf of women prisoners in Wisconsin, the ACLU charges that the state prison system puts the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provides far inferior mental health treatment as compared to men and fails to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services. Judge Randa’s decision allows all three claims to proceed to trial.

The lawsuit asks the court to order reforms to the system so that constitutionally adequate care is made available. In April 2009, Judge Randa entered a preliminary injunction ordering that significant changes be made immediately to TCI’s dangerous system of administering medications to prisoners.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charges that the prison’s health system violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit also charges the health system violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection, because the women receive mental health care far inferior to what male prisoners receive. The ACLU says in the lawsuit that these lapses in mental health care occur against the backdrop of a prison system that has a suicide rate of twice the national average.

“Judge Randa’s decision recognizes a ‘mountain of evidence’ showing the continued failure of state officials to fix a system that has been in crisis for years,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “It is far past time that state officials be held accountable.”

The lawsuit names as defendants a number of senior officials in the state corrections department as well as Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

A copy of Judge Randa’s ruling is available online as well as a copy of the ACLU complaint.

Medical Marijuana Act Introduced in Wisconsin Legislature

16 Nov

On Monday, November 16 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin joined Representative Mark Pocan, Senator Jon Erpenbach, patients and advocates in a press conference for the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (AB 554 and SB 368), a popular and common sense measure to reform laws on the medical use of marijuana.

Medical marijuana users should not be treated like criminals. But without law reform, Wisconsin will continue to confuse criminal behavior with medical necessity – a practice that subjects people seeking relief from severe illnesses to searches, fines and imprisonment. Eleven states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and more have passed legislation on the freedom of scientific research to be done on its health benefits. The War on Drugs should not be a war on sick people.

Reforming Wisconsin law on medical marijuana is the right thing to do for patients in our home state. States have a right to determine what is legal and illegal under state law. While we need progress for drug reform nationally, the need is urgent for Wisconsinites who face chronic pain and suffering from their illnesses. Wisconsin cannot wait for Congress to settle on health care reform while an affordable and natural option can be made available to seriously ill patients to relieve chronic pain, intractable nausea and the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and HIV/AIDS medications.

Wisconsin, like the rest of the country, needs to address all the ways that drug laws are discriminatory, irrational and are the root of unprecedented levels of incarceration. Legalizing marijuana for medical use would be a step in the right direction for Wisconsin.

Find out more about the work of the national ACLU on drug law reform at http://www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform.

Assembly passes Healthy Youth Act

9 Nov

The ACLU of Wisconsin applauds the state Assembly for passing AB 458, the Healthy Youth Act. Find out how your Assembly representative voted on the bill.

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor in early 2010, this bill will raise state standards for human growth and development curriculum (a.k.a sex ed) to a comprehensive sexuality education model which would be the educational link to make a positive, public health impact on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates. Comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that Wisconsin public school students get effective, age-appropriate and medically accurate information about reproduction, contraception and relationships.

There has been criticism of this bill that suggests it would override local control of school boards’ decisions about sex ed. To the contrary, this bill is far from a mandate. If passed, it would raise state standards on “human growth and development” curricula that are taught in the state. Local school boards can choose what ever curriculum they want, but if it fails to meet state standards, they can’t define it as “human growth and development” curriculum under the new state statute. And if schools aren’t teaching students the facts, they have to send a letter to parents saying so. As with current law, any parent can opt their children out of whatever human growth and development lessons are being offered.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will be working to encourage the state Senate to vote “yes” on SB 324 early in 2010.

Victory! Challenge to Domestic Partner Registry Thrown Out by State Supreme Court

5 Nov

Committed Couples Can Continue To Enjoy Limited Protections Offered By Registry

On Wednesday, November 4 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union celebrated a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to dismiss a challenge to the state’s recently-enacted domestic partnership registry. The Court also rejected a request from board members of Wisconsin Family Action that the registry be declared unconstitutional and put indefinitely on hold. The ACLU represents five same-sex couples who asked to be allowed to participate in the case.

“The registry certainly doesn’t offer anywhere close to the protections that marriage would, but we’re grateful that the couples we represented can at least hang onto the limited legal protections it gives them, such as the ability to visit each other in the hospital,” said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project.

Board members of Wisconsin Family Action had asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the amendment to the state constitution that bans same-sex couples from marriage. The dismissal of the case by the Wisconsin Supreme Court means that these petitioners may not begin their case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court but may re-file their case in a circuit court (a lower court), where both sides will be able to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court did the right thing rejecting this premature and ill-defined challenge. If the petitioners want to deprive thousands of families of some very basic protections, they should not be allowed to short-circuit the legal process of proving their case to a trial judge,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “We’re certain that if we end up having to deal with these arguments in a trial, we’ll be able to show how the limited protections offered by the domestic partnership registry in no way violate the marriage ban.”

The five couples represented by the ACLU had also asked the court to let them join the lawsuit so that they could help defend the new domestic partnership registry. That motion was denied as moot, since the lawsuit was dismissed. Fair Wisconsin, an LGBT advocacy organization whose members include same-sex couples who have registered as domestic partners under the new law, also sought to intervene in the lawsuit to help defend the law.

In addition to Dupuis and Knight, the legal team representing the couples includes Linda Hansen, David Froiland, Jason Plowman, Daniel Manna and David Goroff of Foley & Lardner, LLP.

Additional information about the ACLU’s motion, including bios and photographs of the couples, the legal documents filed and a fact sheet containing some of the comments made by the anti-gay activists seeking to strike the law, is available online.

Press coverage of the decision thus far has been limited, but there was coverage in the UW Badger Herald and a story on this morning’s Wisconsin Public Radio headlines.

Healthy Youth Act Stalled by Assembly Republicans

4 Nov

Republicans block progress on effective sex ed in WI public schools (read the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Stay tuned for the Assembly to take up the vote on Thursday.

You can still call your Assembly rep! Read more about taking action on this issue.

The issue got more press coverage in addition to what we shared on our blog earlier this week: Fox 6 in Milwaukee (with video); Janesville Gazette; WBAY 2 Green Bay (with video); WKOW 27 Madison (with video); Post Crescent

Action alert: call your Assembly rep to vote YES on the Healthy Youth Act

2 Nov

The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the state Assembly to pass AB 458, the Healthy Youth Act. This bill would raise state standards for human growth and development curriculum (a.k.a sex ed) to a comprehensive sexuality education model which would be the educational link to make a positive, public health impact on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates. Comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that Wisconsin public school students get effective, age-appropriate and medically accurate information about reproduction, contraception and relationships. We’ve blogged before on why this issue is important.

“We know that parents are the best people to instill values in their children,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “But we should all agree that public schools should be in the business of teaching the facts about health and reproduction. The Healthy Youth Act would get us back to teaching students science-based facts. All teens, even those who choose abstinence, should know how their bodies work.”

There has been criticism of this bill that suggests it would override local control of school boards’ decisions about sex ed. To the contrary, this bill is far from a mandate. If passed, it would raise state standards on “human growth and development” curricula that is taught in the state. Local school boards can choose what ever curriculum they want, but if it fails to meet state standards, they can’t call it “human growth and development.” And if schools aren’t teaching students the facts, they have to send a letter to parents saying so. As with current law, any parent can opt their children out of whatever human growth and development lessons are being offered.

Comprehensive sexuality education is an important issue for civil libertarians. There are many curricula options that are effective and have a broad base of support from medical and educational advocacy organizations. But the Healthy Youth Act is also non-discriminatory and honors free speech. Specific provisions of the bill would require that sex ed be taught without bias in gender or sexual orientation. And rather than muzzling teachers in abstinence-only mandates, the Healthy Youth Act would let teachers answer students’ questions about reproduction with honesty and accuracy.

ACLU members are encouraged to call their legislators and ask them to vote “yes” on AB 458/SB 240 and pass the Healthy Youth Act in 2009 (find your legislators’ contact info here). The ACLU of Wisconsin is a member of the Healthy Youth Alliance, a coalition supporting the bill. The Healthy Youth Alliance noted that there were 90 bill supporters in the Assembly Education Committee hearing (with 41 opponents registering or testifying) and 64 bill supporters at the Senate Education Committee hearing (with 26 opponents). Your phone calls, emails and registrations at hearings count!

There has been much press coverage on the issue and people are blogging about it:
The latest is a blog from the national Huffington Post making the case that students have a right to comprehensive sex ed.

Kids and Their Kids – opinion on the bill’s public health impact from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin’s legislative director Chris Taylor on the fightingbob blog.

Bill could lower Latina birth rates – Opinion from a Spanish-community educator in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Sex Ed Bill Gets Senate Hearing – Wisconsin Radio Network coverage with audio from Sen. Erpenbach, a Madison-area adolescent pediatrician, and anti-contraception advocates.

Lehman, Legislature Tackle Sex Ed When Abstinence Wasn’t Good Enough – Racine Post’s companion blog includes teen pregnancy and STI rates in Wisconsin as well as a rundown of what is being taught in Racine area schools.

Bill Would Rewrite Rules About Sex Ed – WI State Journal overview.

Human Growth Education Bill Creates Divisions – Eau Claire Telegram article overview with statements from Eau Claire area legislators.

Abstinence-only education not right for Wisconsin schools – Milwaukee Examiner opinion.

Wisconsin Sex Ed Bill Sparks Controversy – Isthmus overview with many pro and con advocates’ statements (bill has had a suggested amendment to allow greater access for parents to review curricula).

Bill Would Change Wisconsin Sex Education – Wausau FOX blog with Rep. Molepske statements.

Sex Education for Good Health – Opinion from a Milwaukee Public Schools staffer.

Jerks of the Week, Abstinence-Only Advocates – Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express recognizes both the Healthy Youth Act as well as the ex-felon voting rights issue the ACLU of Wisconsin is supporting.