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Insurance Reform Decision from Supreme Court Welcome News to Women, Minorities

28 Jun

The U.S. Supreme Court decision today upheld the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act by ruling 5-4 that the government can tax individuals who choose not to buy health insurance.

The principal opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

  • Five members of the Court agreed that the requirement that individuals either purchase health insurance or make an additional payment on their federal income taxes – the so-called individual mandate – was a constitutionally permissible tax imposed on those who did not purchase health insurance.
  • The individual mandate was thus upheld even though five members of the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts, rejected the government’s principal argument that the individual mandate was a proper exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.
  • Five members of the Court also agreed that Congress could withhold new Medicaid funds from states that did not expand their Medicaid coverage as required by the new health care law, but could not withhold funds for pre-existing Medicaid programs.

“The ACLU welcomes today’s decision, which recognizes that Congress has the constitutional authority to fix a health care system that does not work for millions of Americans,” said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU legal director. “The decision is especially welcome for disadvantaged minorities, who are more likely to be uninsured, and for women, who are more likely to suffer gaps and discrimination in their health care coverage. We trust that the states will recognize those needs and accept the additional funds that the federal government is offering under the new law to expand Medicaid coverage for needy individuals.”

The American Civil Liberties Union joined with the NAACP on a friend of the court brief which is available online.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker restated his opposition to insurance exchanges and President Obama’s insurance reform plan. He also signed a bill into law that would ban abortion coverage in any potential health insurance exchanges in Wisconsin. We testified against the bill and continue to oppose discriminatory limits on women’s health care services or insurance coverage.

The text of this blog post can also be found on the national ACLU’s website.

Incarcerated Women at Taycheedah Now Have More Options for Psychiatric Care

12 Sep

The recent opining of the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center, an inpatient psychiatric hospital for women prisoners, will go a long way towards providing desperately needed mental health care, the ACLU said today. Previously, the services that will be offered at the WWRC were available only to male prisoners. The ACLU filed a law suit in 2006 that challenged this unequal and unfair treatment. The WWRC, which can house 45 prisoners, will begin accepting patients this month.

“Until now, the Wisconsin prison system could not provide critical treatment to women suffering from severe and debilitating mental illnesses,” said Gabriel Eber, staff counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, DC, who represented women at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in a lawsuit against the state. The class action lawsuit challenged unconstitutional conditions at Taycheedah, the state’s maximum security women’s prison in Fond du Lac. In November 2009, federal district Judge Rudolph Randa found there was sufficient evidence that the lack of inpatient resources for female prisoners violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution to hold a trial.

The ACLU and the state settled the lawsuit in December 2010. The agreement requires the state to make substantial improvements to medical care and mental health care and to increase access to programs for women prisoners with disabilities. The agreement also enabled the ACLU to seek court sanctions if the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center was not completed in a timely manner.

“For too long, female prisoners needing psychiatric care in a hospital setting were treated by overworked staff in poorly equipped facilities at Taycheedah,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, who represented prisoners in the litigation. “We commend the Department of Corrections and are pleased that women prisoners will now have access to desperately needed inpatient mental health care services.” The WWRC is located in Waupun.

Take Action: Ask Senator Kohl to Sponsor Paycheck Fairness Now!

27 Sep

In this economic downturn, there is nothing more urgently needed than helping families bring home fair wages. Unfortunately, a pernicious wage gap remains between women and men doing the same job, making this hard time even more difficult. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau women, on average, make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For women of color, the wage gap is even wider.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182), a much needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, sits in the U.S. Senate and is poised for passage. The Equal Pay Act was intended to ensure equal pay for equal work, but over time, because of weak remedies and loopholes in the law, significant disparities in pay persist. The Paycheck Fairness Act would give employees the legal tools they need to finally close the wage gap.

With just a few days remaining to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in this Congress, we need Senator Kohl to act now. Senator Feingold is already a sponsor and we want Wisconsin’s Senators to both support this important bill.

In Washington D.C., toll-free – 1-877-667-6650

Appleton – (920) 738-1640

Eau Claire – (715) 832-8424

La Crosse – (608) 796-0045

Madison – (608) 264-5338

Milwaukee – (414) 297-4451

The bill already passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support and now has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate—more than it has ever had in any previous Congress. President Obama, Vice President Biden and other senior members of the administration have announced their support for this important legislation, citing the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act as an important step towards the economic security of women and our nation’s families. And when recently polled, 84% of American voters expressed support for a new law to create more avenues for women to receive fair wages.

We need our Senators to act now, which means they need to hear from you.

For the ACLU of Wisconsin members across the state who received this action alert last week and called Senator Kohl to ask him to co-sponsor this bill, thank you! Didn’t receive the action alert? Sign up today to get the civil liberties news and action alerts that impact the residents and legislators in Wisconsin.

The Healthy Youth Act Would Raise the Standard for Real Sex Ed in Wisconsin

29 Sep

The ACLU of WI Supports the Healthy Youth Act to Ensure Comprehensive Sex Education in Wisconsin Schools

The ACLU of Wisconsin was present for the Tuesday, September 29 press conference for the introduction of the Healthy Youth Act in the Wisconsin State Legislature. The Healthy Youth Act would raise state standards for public school human growth and development instruction. This improvement would give Wisconsin teens the tools they need to make healthy and responsible life decisions by setting a standard of comprehensive sexuality education.

Evidence shows that stressing the importance of waiting to have sex while providing accurate, age-appropriate, and complete information about using contraceptives can help teens delay sex and reduce sexual risk taking. This approach is effective and is associated with lower teen pregnancy rates. Comprehensive sexuality education is needed from both a public health perspective and to save taxpayer money in a time when economic challenges strain our social safety net.

“From a Constitutional perspective, the Healthy Youth Act would honor equal protection, free speech and freedom of religion,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “Our public schools should have a human growth and instruction curriculum on relationships and reproduction that recognizes equality in gender and sexual orientation. Our schools should also respect diversity in religion by notifying all parents about what is being taught in school and allowing them to opt out without repercussions for their children. Ultimately, our schools should teach the facts about reproduction, not promote religion or discrimination.”

Comprehensive sexuality education enjoys a broad base of support including major medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Institute of Medicine. Comprehensive sex education is also supported by major educational organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association. More than 85 percent of Americans support school-based sexuality education programs that teach students how to use and where to get contraceptives.

Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog or follow the ACLUMadison on Twitter to get more information and updates on real sex ed for Wisconsin.

Sexism leads to broken bones, what’s wrong with data fusion centers

7 Aug

Women’s Rights
Discrimination against female football player? Check out this story about a student crying foul about treatment by her football coach. What would you do if your kid wanted to play but was locked out of her locker room where her safety equipment was stored, only to break her clavicle during the practice? Seems like at Evansville High, the only thing behind the athletic glass ceiling are shoulder pads and a fair chance to play. And much like this recent editorial in the Cap Times on updates to federal Fair Pay rules, the best evidence of the state of sexism in America is not in the news but in the forum postings. If we ever needed fair pay or Title IX, it apparently is now.

ACLU reports: Fusion Centers Part of Incipient Domestic Intelligence System

Read the report here!

The nation’s growing network of “fusion centers” is part of an incipient domestic intelligence system, according to the ACLU. The ACLU released a report detailing spying on Maryland peace demonstrators, a mysterious domestic-spying scandal at a California military base and other recent incidents, confirming that its warnings about fusion centers were coming true.

In November 2007, the ACLU released a report, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers,” warning about the potential dangers of these new institutions, including ambiguous lines of authority, excessive secrecy, troubling private-sector and military roles, and an apparent bend toward collection of information about innocent activities and data mining. Our recent addendum to the report explains how new developments have only confirmed the urgency of these warnings.

“Congress and state officials need to learn more about fusion centers, engage in some very pointed inquiry about the effectiveness and the precise role of these centers, and at a minimum put in place strong checks and balances,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Too often, we’ve given our government new powers to fight terrorists, only to have them used against peace activists and other innocent Americans. This can’t be the future of law enforcement. Congress needs to end private-sector participation and military involvement in law enforcement. We need to learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.”

Why yes, we DO have a minute for Civil Liberties

25 Jul

Do you have a minute for Civil Liberties?
That’s a question that might be asked of you on State Street or around Madison this summer. The ACLU canvass has come to town! Young activists are asking this question to bring civil liberties awareness to the streets. If you spot one of the ACLU-shirted folks with clipboards, say hello! They can also tell you about an easy way to support the ACLU through monthly donations. They will love to meet our members too.

Here’s a story that has been bouncing around print and radio a lot in the past day or two. A UW study shows little difference between girls/boys math scores, but upon further reading the story is really about providing more evidence of why No Child Left Behind doesn’t work. Perhaps with this study though, we will stop hearing about the so-called need for sex-segregated classrooms.

In other quasi-education news, did you know that there is going to be a movie about Brown vs. Board of Education? The landmark case that showed the unconstitutionality of school segregation will be a feature film starring dreamboat Toby Maguire. As if Constitutional lawyers weren’t sigh-worthy enough in real life…

LGBT Rights
It’s time to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” This ACLU blog cites polls that show how the public’s support for lifting the flawed policy is growing. There is also an action link for voters to tell Congress what they think. There is also an op-ed in the Cap Times today that insists our very safety depends on gays and lesbians and the government has wasted millions of dollars in trying to purge them from the military. The author also looks to the example of civil-rights era school integration of a time when change first came with some backlash but ultimately led to greater understanding.

Here’s another story on border searches of laptops and electronics. While border patrol insists they are following the rules, American citizens of Middle Eastern descent feel their searches are racially targeted. There is a nod at the end of the article to Wisconsin Senator Feingold’s action on this issue.

Check out this community event…

Community Forum: Dane County Coalition to Fight Poverty
When: Wednesday, Aug. 6th, 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
Where: First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison
The Dane County Coalition to Fight Homelessness and End Poverty will hold a follow-up to it’s community forum held in June. The event will be an interactive evening designed to increase the individual’s understanding of the barriers facing those who are homeless in our community, as well as a greater understanding of the shelter system. The Coalition will also discuss action steps to address homelessness in our community. A light dinner will be provided and the event is free and open to the public, however registration is requested. To register please contact Linda at Madison-area Urban Ministry at 256-0906 or