Archive | February, 2012

Drug Testing Polices Should Have Fair Standards for Athletes and Everyone

28 Feb

The public may never know for sure what Ryan Braun, or his drug test handlers, did or did not do last October. But the Brewer’s MVP asserted his innocence at a press conference on Friday in which he described the upside-down nature of mandatory drug testing and doping accusations. Braun said the process felt like the accused were “100% guilty until proven innocent” and that his integrity and livelihood was at stake during the ordeal.

But it isn’t just major league athletes that experience the inherent indignity of mandatory drug testing. The livelihood of many Americans can balance on submitting to the discomfort of a drug test. But if drug testing is necessary, it must be fair. And the process and protections must be clear for everyone.

Fairness and standards for drug testing of professional athletes are spelled out in contracts that are negotiated between the players’ union and the sporting league. Braun said at the press conference that everyone has agreed to the system and it was the system that exonerated him. To describe an arbitrator granting his appeal as getting off on a technicality does a disservice to the due process that all workers who submit to drug testing deserve. Technicalities are the rules of due process that ensure integrity in the system.

Unfortunately very few American workers have protections against capricious drug testing. There are few state laws that protect workers’ privacy, despite the increase in mandatory testing that is unrelated to the job duties. Taking a drug test shouldn’t be as common as filling out a job application. Yet millions of Americans are forced to submit to drug tests without evidence that they are using drugs.

In a striking contrast to the stories of affluent, unionized athletes, the big trend last year was for state legislatures to introduce laws to require people to submit to drug testing before receiving public assistance support like unemployment benefits, welfare, TANF or Medicare. A similar proposal was a part of Wisconsin’s unemployment bill last year, but the measure was stripped out of the final version. The poor shouldn’t have to give up their privacy rights in order to make ends meet. They have no workers’ union to fight for their rights, but the American Civil Liberties Union did file a lawsuit in Florida to fight the most egregious example of this discriminatory practice.

Ordinary Americans, whether they are union members or not, should be treated with dignity in the workplace. Drug testing is an invasion of privacy and should not be overused. But when drug tests are necessary, at least there should be standards to protect Americans from unfairness, abuse or sloppy testing.

Read more from the national American Civil Liberties Union about drug testing reform. Or read more on the national trend of attempts to require drug testing for public assistance.

Students Shouldn’t Pay for Voter ID: No Citizen Should Pay For the Right To Vote in Wisconsin

24 Feb

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Student Senate is charging students for the cost of special IDs needed in order to comply with Wisconsin’s new voter ID law. The ACLU of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley Chapter complained about this additional charge to students in a letter sent on February 16 to the University’s Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich, special assistant to the chancellor Teresa O’Halloran, and student body President Phil Rynish. Today’s Eau Claire Leader-Telegram updates the paper’s readers about the status of this unfunded mandate.

UW-Eau Claire campus leadership was, like university and technical colleges across the state, forced into an unnecessary position after Act 23,  the voter ID law, was passed. The voter ID law allowed for student IDs to be among the accepted forms of photo IDs now required for citizens to cast a ballot. [However, the law required student IDs to have features that no existing student IDs had at the time the law was enacted.] It became the responsibility of accredited colleges and universities to scramble to create IDs that complied with the law. At a time when college budgets are being slashed, the UWEC Student Senate passed the costs of this unfunded mandate onto students.

The February 16 letter from the Chippewa Valley Civil Liberties Union was an important act of voting rights advocacy from a local organization committed to defending voting rights of student, elderly, low-income and minority voters who are most likely to be disfranchised under the state’s new voter ID law. The ACLU’s Chippewa Valley Chapter letter read:

“Now that Wisconsin’s Voter Identification Act is law, certain groups of voters, including college students, may be turned away from the polls this year when they were otherwise eligible to vote before the law was passed.

“As you are aware, this law restricts voting rights by requiring one of a limited type of government-issued photo IDs, eliminating corroboration of identity at registration, and requiring voters to have lived in their residence for a longer period of time.  For University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students in particular, this law prohibits the use of their school ID as it requires identification that includes the student’s current address, date of birth, and signature, information that the university-issued ID lacks.  For students who lack the official identification stipulated by the law, this presents a potential obstacle for their participation in the voting process. 

“Although the administration of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has made an effort to assist those students who need a government-issued photo ID compliant with the new law, the fact is, charging students money in order to obtain an ID for voting purposes is effectively a poll tax. This is a violation of the 24th amendment.  The university should offer the student IDs for free.

“In our view, requiring only certain types of photo ID imposes a burden on the right to vote that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  While the university is not responsible for a law that is unjust in the first place, the university can, and should, minimize the harm of such a law by upholding students’ 24th amendment rights.  As a university whose mission includes fostering ‘intellectual courage’ in its students and providing them with a ‘foundation for active citizenship’ it is the very least you can do in this situation.

“Respectfully,

Stephanie Turner, President”

This letter isn’t a threat of litigation. It is a call to action. The state voter ID law discriminates against students who would otherwise be eligible to vote. That’s why the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of student voters as well as other eligible citizens who will not be able to vote this year due to the new law. Read more about the types of voters who will find trouble with Voter ID.

The best way for the UW-Eau Claire to support all student voting rights is not to charge students for the identification required under state law. But charging students to cover the cost of the new IDs is only a symptom of a larger problem: Voter ID. We’re taking that problem to federal court. UW-Eau Claire students can help us fight the state law by contacting the ACLU of Wisconsin if they do not have one of the other accepted forms of ID (such as a passport or Wisconsin Driver’s License) and can’t get a free Wisconsin ID. Tell us your story at vote@aclu-wi.org.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Republican Leadership Abuses of Power Continue with Redistricting Secrecy, Cancelled Hearings

20 Feb

Here we go again. Questions still remain about the violation of open meetings laws surrounding the state budget last year. But now with headlines describing secrecy oaths around the redistricting process and cancelling public hearings over the controversial mining bill, state legislative leaders are abusing their power and not listing to voters.

Groups around the state are reacting to last week’s decision by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to dissolve the special Senate Committee on Mining, thereby cancelling public hearings in Platteville and Ashland. Under the guise of job creation, Senate leadership has once again shown their disdain for a fair and open process of lawmaking where the voices of people affected by proposed laws are heard.

This action comes quickly on the heels of Thursday’s news that federal judges chastised Wisconsin Republican leaders for the secrecy surrounding their post-census redistricting plan. Until Wisconsin has a better plan for redistricting (such as a nonpartisan panel of experts creating district maps rather than elected officials), district maps will always be drawn in favor of those in power. But voters should have even less confidence in legislators who assert that something as important as the drawing of legislative maps is something that can be withheld from the public on the basis of an oath of confidentiality between Republican legislators and their attorneys.

We don’t know if that judge’s decision sent enough of a clear message that legislation should be developed in a transparent manner where public has a voice in the process. But Joint Finance Committee chair Rep. Robin Vos nearly cut off a JFC hearing at 5 p.m. on Friday in which people had traveled since well before dawn and waited all day to testify about how the mining bill would impact the environment in their local or tribal communities. After protestations from the crowd, Vos expedited the testimonies by lining up members of the public and allowing them their two minutes to speak.

Democracy lives beyond closed doors of private attorney’s offices and it exists outside of usual business hours. This news continues a second year of an abuse of power and people demand accountability.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

ACLU of WI Announces Civil Liberties Awards, Bill of Rights Celebration for March 17

8 Feb

On Saturday, March 17, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and its supporters will recognize some of Wisconsin’s notable civil libertarians at the annual Bill of Rights Celebration. This year’s special guest will be Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU’s national Voting Rights Project. The event is themed “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” to celebrate Wisconsin’s commitment to civil liberties and democratic values.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will recognize accomplishments of civil libertarians over the past year through the following awards:

William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarian of the Year: Solidarity Sing Along, for expression of the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. The Solidarity Sing Along is an event that has occurred at the state Capitol every weekday since March 11, 2011 soon after the building was ordered to be reopened after massive demonstrations. For the past year, participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have demonstrated a clear commitment to protecting peaceful expression in the Capitol rotunda.

Eunice Z. Edgar Lifetime Achievement Award: Rose Daitsman, for her life-long dedication to economic and gender equality and social reform. Rose Daitsman has been a member of the ACLU of Wisconsin since 1989 and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Milwaukee ACLU Chapter. She worked to promote gender equity and the elimination of racial discrimination in engineering education, and has worked to promote the implementation of Civil Rights Law and the Human Rights Treaties of the United Nations. Daitsman’s lifetime of leadership and activism is rooted in a commitment to protecting peace and human dignity. A few of her recognitions include the US Department of Energy’s Math/Science Leadership Award, World Federalist Peace Award, and the Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jack and Lucy Rosenberg Youth Civil Libertarian of the Year: Young Legal Observers for their immediate and energetic response to the need to document the rights of protesters in Madison and Milwaukee. These young people have been trained to be witnesses at demonstrations and to document any violations of First Amendment rights that may occur in our public spaces. Their volunteerism, no matter what the weather or long hours, helps to defend free speech in Wisconsin. 

Special guest speaker, Laughlin McDonald, has been the director of the Atlanta-based Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1972 and has been an attorney and law professor. He has represented racial and language minorities in discrimination cases and specialized in the area of voting rights. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, testified frequently before Congress, and written for scholarly and popular publications on civil liberties issues. His most recent books are A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia, and American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights.

For updates on this event, follow #BoRC on Twitter. Register for the event online at: www.aclu-wi/BORCThe event is held annually as a benefit for the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s legal program and work to educate Wisconsin residents about their civil liberties and rights. This year’s event will be held at the Pfister Hotel at 424 East Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee and begins at 6:00 p.m.  To sponsor our awards, please contact Development Director Kristin Hansen khansen@aclu-wi.org or by phone 414-272-4032 extension 228.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

I ♥ Boobies! Bracelet Ban Stays in Place: WI District Court Denies End to Sauk Prairie Ban

8 Feb

This week a federal district court judge denied a request by the ACLU of Wisconsin and cooperating attorneys to end a ban on “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets at the Sauk Prairie Middle School. The decision described “I Boobies!” as a “vulgar and sexually provocative statement” despite the educational context of the Keep A Breast foundation’s national campaign.

We blogged about this lawsuit last year when the lawsuit was originally filed. We asserted that student free speech should include the right to wear these breast cancer awareness bracelets. “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

“Our middle school client is dedicated to effectively and constructively educating her peers about breast cancer,” said Attorney Tamara Packard. “It is disappointing that this decision will leave in place a ban on student speech that conveys our plaintiff’s belief that breast cancer is a critical women’s health issue of our time. The very purpose of the bracelets is to educate other young people about cancer prevention, testing, research and treatment.”

While the decision recognizes that students’ rights to free expression must be protected, it leaves too much discretion in the hands of school boards and administrators to punish controversial student expression by relying on a too-subjective and vague definition of “vulgar, offensive or inappropriate.” In the future, schools may punish students arbitrarily based on nothing more than a hypersensitive principal’s “I know it when I see it” notion of vulgarity rather than on an objective standard for free speech.

The Wisconsin suit was filed in September, 2011 on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school for months without incident before the school district banned them. Last year, a federal district court in Pennsylvania stopped a ban on the bracelets and issued an opinion that the bracelets could not be considered lewd or vulgar. In B.H. v. Easton Area School District decision, as in the Sauk Prairie M. S., school officials failed to present evidence that the bracelets had or would cause a disruption at the school. The Pennsylvania case is facing an appeal by the school district. The ACLU of Wisconsin and the Sauk Prairie student plaintiff are evaluating their appeal options in the Wisconsin case.

You can read our press release on this decision on our website. You can also download and read the full U.S. District Court for Western District of Wisconsin ruling on K. J. vs. Sauk Prairie Middle School. This issue was covered in the Baraboo News Republic and the Wisconsin State Journal (while the text and author of the articles are the same, the comments sections of the stories are lively). The same week as the Wisconsin decision, the ACLU of Indiana filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a Monticello, IN student. You can read more (and weigh in on the poll) in an article on the Huffington Post.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Public Safety Concerns Not a Barrier to GAB Disclosure of Recall Petitions: Troubling Databases Next

2 Feb

Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin reiterated its position on the privacy rights of survivors of domestic violence in the release of petitions to recall Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch. In a letter to the Government Accountability Board and to state Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, the ACLU of Wisconsin asked for privacy rights of confidential electors be extended to any searchable database that may be available to the public.

The ACLU of Wisconsin wrote that state law protects the privacy rights of confidential electors in other public documents such as the election poll lists. Those same protections should be extended to other electoral public documents such as the recall petitions. Confidential electors should not have to surrender their free speech and assembly rights to participate in their democracy.  

While scanned PDF copies of recall petitions are easy to access but difficult to search, a database of petition signers makes identifying individual names and addresses very easy to find. In this case, survivors of domestic violence and targets of stalking have a clear public safety interest in having their information redacted from a searchable database. Similarly, it should be easy to redact the information of confidential electors from a database as opposed to hard copies of over a million petition signatures.

The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to urge the GAB to appropriately balance the competing public interests of electoral integrity and transparency and political speech and association by redacting the information of confidential electors from any electronic data file before it is disclosed as a public record. Further, the ACLU of Wisconsin urges the GAB to refuse any cross-checking of data with other government agencies.

We understand that the GAB has received a variety of questions and complaints from Wisconsinites on a variety of data privacy concerns. After the news media broke the news on Tuesday night that the PDF documents were available online, the GAB’s public voicemail boxes were full and people were unable to leave a message with their concerns. We hope that the GAB will provide a process to hear the privacy concerns of Wisconsinites before constructing a searchable database and at the minimum, shield the information of the confidential electors who already receive privacy protections under state law.

If there are confidential electors who are concerned about the disclosure of their information in the release of recall petition documents or electronic data files, they can share their stories with the ACLU of Wisconsin by filing a complaint with our office.

Media: Coverage of this topic before the PDF copies of the petitions were posted online included an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, an interview on the Wisconsin Radio Network and TMJ 620 AM in Milwaukee, and on NBC 15 in Madison and TMJ-4 and Fox News 6 in Milwaukee. An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the Attorney General’s opinion about the public nature of the petitions. However journalists tweeted from the press conference that the AG clarified that redacting some information on the petitions based on public safety concerns was up to the GAB’s discretion. This opinion was echoed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Reactions to the posting of PDF copies included a story on NBC 15 and NBC 26 in Green Bay.

We will share more media coverage of this issue soon.