Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Action alert: Milwaukee Schools Speak Out

We've blogged before about our concerns with the idea of the Milwaukee Mayor taking over MPS. Now you can have a say about what you think.

Tues Jan 5: MPS Takeover Hearing - YOUR VOICE MATTERS
Beginning at 10:00 a.m., to run no later than 5:00 p.m.
Milwaukee Public Schools Central Office (School Board) Auditorium, 5225 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee.

Come tell state lawmakers your experiences with MPS: What programs you think work, what services are needed to help students succeed, and why the state needs to make sure the money is there to pay for those programs and services.

Mayoral control has not worked in other cities. There is no reason to believe it will improve education in Milwaukee. It's just a gimmick that won't get at what MPS students really need.

Those who really genuinely concerned about student performance need to evaluate what programs and services - such as smaller class sizes - help students succeed. Then they must determine what these programs cost, and how those programs will be fairly and adequately funded. That is the kind of adequate education that all Milwaukee students deserve.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Twenty facts about the ACLU - please support us with a year-end contribution!

There is still time to make a year-end contribution to one of the most important organizations in America - the ACLU! People give to the ACLU for lots of reasons: tax-credits, feel-good charitable contributions, passing along some of that holiday gift cash... But we hope you'll consider making a gift today!

As an ACLU activist and supporter, you know that we play a crucial role in defending freedom in America. But we are betting the list below might surprise you. And we are hoping that you'll make a generous gift today -- help us add even more accomplishments to the list in 2010.

Number of online messages ACLU activists sent to Congress and the Obama administration in 2009: 1,208,466

Number of students in the Pittsburgh school district that will finally receive comprehensive sex education after pressure from the ACLU to stop teaching an abstinence-only curriculum: 28,000 students in 66 schools

Year the ACLU first defended reproductive freedom: 1928

Number of schools where the ACLU has intervened after school officials tried to ban or treat gay-straight alliance clubs differently from other school clubs
in the last five years: 36

Number of those schools that succeeded in banning or discriminating against gay-straight alliance clubs: 0

Miles of documents about the Bush torture program obtained through the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuits: 20.5

Number of victims of the Bush torture program who have had their day in court: 0

Number of national organizations that joined the ACLU in opposing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II: 0

Number of states that have rejected Real ID and a National ID card, due to pressure from the ACLU and others: 24

Number of US military spy satellites the Department of Homeland Security will be allowed to use for domestic intelligence, counter-terrorism and law enforcement after objections by the ACLU and others: 0

Number of hours per day children housed at the T. Don Hutto family detention center in Texas were forced to remain in their cells before an ACLU lawsuit forced conditions to be improved at the facility: 11-12

Challenges to FBI abuses of the Patriot Act’s National Security Letter (NSL) provisions filed by ACLU: 3

NSL requests dropped by the government after ACLU challenge: 3

Year the ACLU first took on creationism in public schools: 1925

Year the ACLU last took on creationism (disguised as "intelligent design") in public schools: 2005

Number of ACLU members at close of 1925: 2,250

Number of ACLU members at close of 2009: Approximately 500,000

Percent of our 2010 budget that the ACLU stands to lose as a result of losing our largest individual donor due to financial circumstances: 25%

Number of people who have taken part in the ACLU’s
Acting Together: 100,000 Gifts Campaign: 70,734

Number of days you have left to make a year-end donation to the ACLU: 4

Feel free to share these facts with friends and family. And, please, make the ACLU a priority in the days ahead.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beloit Racial Profiling Listening Session Canceled Due to Weather

Have you been racially profiled? Want to give feedback to the justice system about your experience? The public is invited to share their comments with the Traffic Stop Data Collection Advisory Committee on a rule being developed to assess the possibility of racial profiling in Wisconsin traffic stops.

*** Please note! The Beloit listening session has been canceled due to the bad winter weather. Stay tuned for the re-scheduled dates or follow us on Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin.

For more information on the Office of Justice Assistance listening sessions, visit their website.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has been involved in the listening sessions by sending staff, ACLU members and people who are concerned with racial profiling. Read more about the ACLU of Wisconsin’s reactions in the listening sessions at the ACLUofWisconsin Twitter page.

Listening sessions have been held in Racine/Kenosha; Keshena; Superior; Rice Lake; Crandon; Milwaukee; Green Bay and La Crosse

The public expects fair treatment and equal protection for all Wisconsin’s citizens under our justice system. The presence of disparities—actual or perceived—is a serious concern. The effectiveness of Wisconsin’s justice system depends on the public’s respect and confidence in the integrity of the judicial process.

In the past decade, two gubernatorial bodies have examined racial profiling and racial disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. Both groups recommended collection of racial data when a traffic stop is made as one means to determine the extent to which people of different races receive different treatment by law enforcement. Statewide traffic stop data will inform the community about the presence or absence of disproportionate contact with racial minorities during traffic stops, and help identify opportunities for potential changes in public policy and training.

Effective January 1, 2011, all Wisconsin police officers are required to collect data that will be used to determine whether vehicles operated or occupied by racial minorities are disproportionately stopped. The data collected, collection method, and analysis will be determined by a new administrative rule. The Office of Justice Assistance (OJA), a state agency, is preparing the rule with the assistance of the Advisory Committee.

Supporting materials:
Scope statement:

Statutory and non-statutory language on traffic stop data collection:

Comparison of recent traffic stop data collection in MI, IA, IL, and MI:

Traffic stop data collection advisory committee:

Written comments for listening sessions will be accepted by the Office of Justice Assistance until December 11, 2009. Comments can be sent to: Office of Justice Assistance, 1 South Pinckney St., Suite 615, Madison, WI 53703-3220

Feingold’s End Racial Profiling Act: Says Baltimore NAACP “Race Not a Proxy for Criminality.”

Check out this op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) that will be reintroduced by Wisconsin’s Senator Russ Feingold and Michigan House member Rep. John Conyers. This op-ed breaks down why racial profiling impacts us all: “race should not be a proxy for criminality.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban - Rally for Women’s Health

Join us today at noon:

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

Email Sen. Russell 'Russ' D. Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl right now to protect all women's health options in health care reform.

Report from D.C. at the prochoice rally from a public policy staffer from the Maine ACLU:

"I’m here in Washington, D.C., after a long bus ride from Maine that took me nearly nine hours -- and more than 500 miles. But nothing could have stopped me from getting here because the fight to protect reproductive rights is too important, and it’s personal.

"My own commitment to reproductive freedom is rooted in my grandmother’s story about her difficult decision to have an abortion when it wasn’t even legal. I’m sure that the hundreds of other women and men who have joined me in Washington today to take part in this lobby day have their own reasons for caring so deeply.

"But we’re all here to send a powerful message to our senators: we want health care reform that will protect reproductive freedom -- not put it in peril as the House did with their Stupak-Pitts Amendment, banning abortion coverage.

"We’re going to be heading to Senators’ offices to deliver this message in just a few moments, but it would be great if they could hear from all of you, too!

"Email Sen. Russell 'Russ' D. Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl now. Let them know you want health care that will improve women’s lives -- not interfere with them.

"Just off the bus, my fellow bus-mates and I are ready to fight for women's reproductive freedom. Tell your senators that you want health care that will improve women’s lives not interfere with them.

"Many people have come to D.C. today because they’re alarmed by a recent rise of extremism that is influencing decisions on Capitol Hill.

"When the Stupak-Pitts Amendment was added to the House bill, it drastically altered and interfered with a woman’s ability to get the health care she needs. But what’s possibly even more alarming is that a reinvigorated extremist movement is determined to advance their own personal ideology and use the power of our government to force their own narrow view of morality on the rest of us.

"So now we all need to join together and let our senators know that this kind of thinking has no place in our government -- and it doesn’t belong in our health care reform.

"We need to come together -- whether it’s riding a bus to D.C. or clicking a button to email your senators and make sure they know we won’t let the same thing happen in the Senate.

"Whatever your reason for getting involved in this critical fight today, I hope you’ll join with me and let your senator know how strongly you feel about this. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of millions of women.

"Thanks for standing with us."
Alysia Melnick
Public Policy Counsel
Maine Civil Liberties Union

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day Commemorated Internationally, Education Needed in Wisconsin

Today is World AIDS Day and in Wisconsin, as is the case across the globe, more work needs to be done to address not just the need for greater medical advances to treat and cure the disease, but also to work through litigation, advocacy and education to stop the stigma that people with HIV and AIDS live with every day. The World Health Organization founded the commemorative day in 1988, but two years earlier, the ACLU’s national AIDS Project was started to fight discrimination against people in employment, housing and public access to accommodations.
The ACLU of Wisconsin has worked with the national ACLU’s AIDS Project on discrimination issues in our own state. But one bill in front of the Wisconsin legislature could make a difference in education about and prevention of HIV at a root level.

The Healthy Youth Act would raise the state standards on how public school students are taught about reproduction, contraceptives and protection against sexually transmitted infections. The bill would be a great step forward in educating young people about how important it is to make healthy choices about sex and why knowing your HIV status through testing is at the core of preventing the further spread of the virus.

For more information on the Healthy Youth Act, check out or recent blog post on the issue. Or view a video posted today of an interview with ACLU attorney and advocate Rose Saxe on the advances the ACLU is making on behalf of HIV positive people across the country.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Youth Social Justice Forum 2009 Teaches Students About Rights and Liberties

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 , 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

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 or 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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

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

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.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Medical Marijuana Act Introduced in Wisconsin Legislature

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Assembly passes Healthy Youth Act

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.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

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

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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Healthy Youth Act Stalled by Assembly Republicans

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

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

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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Denying H1N1 vaccines to prisoners would harm public health

Are pregnant women behind bars less worthy of the H1N1 flu shot than susceptible populations in Wisconsin communities? Recent media stories (such as Green Bay's NBC 26 story) and a press release from State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon) are suggesting just that.

Statements encouraging state health officials to put the health of not just prisoners, but by extension the prison staff, correctional officers and their families in jeopardy by denying H1N1 vaccine to prisoners including pregnant female inmates garnered a response from the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin today. Chris Ahmuty said that denying or delaying appropriate preventive actions to control the spread of the flu, including vaccination in the close confines of the prison system, is neither rational nor effective.

“Taycheedah’s (Taycheedah Correctional Institution near Fond du Lac, WI) prisoners and guards are in just the kind of setting that needs aggressive preventive measures to avoid widespread infection," said Ahmuty. "To suggest that prisoners should not receive vaccine because they are less important than the ‘law abiding citizens of our state,’ will only further the spread of H1N1 to everyone.”

The Centers for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Correctional and Detention Facilities on Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus (May 24 2009) recognized that:
"Correctional institutions pose special risks and considerations due to the nature of their unique environment. Inmates are in mandatory custody and options are limited for isolation and removal of ill persons from the environment. The workforce must be maintained and options are limited for work alternatives (e.g., work from home, reduced or alternate schedules, etc.). In addition, many inmates and workforce may have medical conditions that increase their risk of influenza-related complications.”
"In overcrowded jails and prisons, such as Taycheedah, the risk of H1N1 contagion spreading among prisoners and correctional officers and then to the officers’ families and communities must be addressed vigorously," said Ahmuty.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin in a May 1, 2009 media release urged public health officials “to implement a public health policy which is rational, effective and has the least intrusion possible on civil liberties.”

Ahmuty reminded the public, “Prisoners are serving their debt to society, but being subjected to disease and death is not part of a just sentence in any civilized society."

Read more about the ACLU of Wisconsin's work to address poor health conditions in Wisconsin prisons.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Call TODAY for voting rights in Wisconsin!

All legislators in the state Assembly (Republicans AND Democrats) need to hear from their constituents by Thursday, October 29th at noon on the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act. Voters who demand that they vote YES for AB 353 could help the bill get a floor vote this session and restore voting rights to over 42,000 Wisconsin citizens.

It’s this simple: It comes down to you making one phone call or sending one email.

and tell them:

“I am your constituent and I support AB353 the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act. I want you to vote YES and restore the vote in Wisconsin!”

Find your Assembly representative at the Who Are My Legislators? website

Some important things to know about the legislation:

- Wisconsin law bars individuals with felony convictions from voting while incarcerated and while on probation, parole or extended supervision. The Wisconsin State Legislature is currently considering legislation, known as the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act, that would restore the right to vote to individuals upon release from incarceration. This law would enfranchise the over 42,000 Wisconsin citizens who live in the community, work and pay taxes but are unable to participate in the political process.

- Disfranchisement is unfair and un-American. Over 42,000 Wisconsin citizens living, working, raising families and paying taxes in Wisconsin are barred from voting due to a past felony conviction.

- Disfranchisement perpetuates Jim Crow in Wisconsin. Racial disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system mean that 1 in 9 African Americans in Wisconsin cannot vote compared to 1 in 50 of all Wisconsin citizens.

- Voting may make us safer. Studies show that ex-offenders who do not vote re-offend at a rate of 27%, ex-offenders who vote re-offend at a rate of 12%.

- Wisconsin voters support enfranchisement. A May 2009 poll showed that 57% of Wisconsinites support automatic, post-sentence enfranchisement.

- We need to simplify the voting process and save taxpayer dollars. Enfranchising people upon release from incarceration streamlines the restoration process, conserves government resources and saves taxpayer dollars.

- Wisconsin has more restrictive felony disfranchisement laws than 20 other states, including neighboring Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.


Wanna do more?
Call your State Senator as well and forward this to 5 friends!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

UW Madison Students Learn About Their Rights and the Consequences of Breaking Party Laws

One hundred and ten people attended last night's Know Your Rights workshop on the UW-Madison campus Mosse Humanities Building, Room 3650. The workshop was timely: next weekend's Halloween party on State St. called Freak Fest has a long history of student arrests and law enforcement presence.

The workshop was led by ACLU of Wisconsin statewide board President and criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther of the Hurley, Burish, and Stanton Law Firm.

“I conduct ‘Know Your Rights Workshops’ regularly on college campuses around the state,” said Guenther. “It is important to me as an attorney to share my legal knowledge with college students who may not know what their constitutional rights are when they find themselves in precarious situations with police officers.”

Student leaders including Steve Horn and Jessica Johnson worked hard to publicize the event and involve other student groups as co-sponsors. Co-sponsoring UW student organizations included College Democrats, College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Russ Feingold, Pre-Law Society, Students for Equal Access to Law School, and Wisconsin Union Directorate Society and Politics Committee.

Members of the ACLU Student Alliance on the UW Madison campus handed out "bust" cards to attendees of Freakfest in 2008. The information on what to do if stopped by police was well-received by the holiday revelers. Down from previous years, mostly due to major changes in the organization and sponsorship of the event, last year totaled 77 arrests. Student volunteers from the ACLUSA-UW will be out distributing bust cards this year as well.

Last night's Know Your Rights workshop also enjoyed news coverage with photos in today's Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal.

To contact Attorney Erik Guenther, call (608) 257-0945 or email For more information on Know Your Rights workshops or other workshops offered by the ACLU of Wisconsin on individual rights and civil liberties, contact Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh at (608) 469-5540.

Erik's next Know Your Rights workshop will be on the campus of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay on November 24.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milwaukee ACLU Celebrates Banned Books

The scoop on the ACLU of Wisconsin's October 14th Banned Books event in Milwaukee - written by our office manager and resident literature and poetry enthusiast, Angie Trudell Vasquez:

In 2007, the ACLU of Wisconsin organized a Banned Book Event in Madison but not in Milwaukee. The event in Madison was well-attended and we really wanted to do one here. This year I joined the Woodland Pattern Book Center Board of Directors and during one of my early meetings, I suggested we do a joint collaboration between the bookstore and the ACLU of Wisconsin. The culmination of brainstorming meetings and research resulted in one of the highlights of my tenure at my job with the ACLU of Wisconsin...

But “let me begin at the beginning” to quote Rudolfo A. Anaya’s “Bless me, Ultima,” #78 of the American Library Association’s 100 most frequently challenged books between 1990 to 1999.

I am a poet, a social poet. I found Woodland Pattern Book Center when I first moved to Milwaukee from Seattle in 2005 and I participated in their annual Poetry Marathon in the midnight hour. I knew Woodland Pattern would be a perfect place for a live reading and working with staffers Chuck Stebelton and Anne Kingsbury was easy. I also serve on the Riverwest Coop and Café finance committee and was able to secure a donation of the most heavenly pastries this side of the Rocky Mountains for our event. While my job at the ACLU of Wisconsin staffer usually involves financials and organizing, working on the details of a Banned Books Week event could combine my love of literature, my community involvement and our work to fight censorship.

With food, libations and location secured, now we had to come up with some readers who would bring the banned books to life. We agreed to approach a previous poet laureate Peggy Hong, local Alderman Nik Kovac, artist and renaissance woman Kiki Anderson, and the ACLU Student Alliance at UW-Milwaukee President Angela Lang. Woodland Pattern Executive Director Anne Kingsbury was to be a reader as well as myself. Our MC for the evening would be the ACLU of Wisconsin's Emilio De Torre reading his original poem on banned books - check out the pictures on the Ode to a Banned Book blog post.

Now to the books! It wasn’t hard for anyone to decide what to read as the best books have been banned or challenged at one time or another. Peggy read from the "Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" by Gertrude Stein.

Nik read from James Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

And Kiki is shown below sharing the pictures from the "Night Kitchen" children's book.

Angela chose to read from 1984, particularly in light of current controversies with government blanket surveillance since 9/11.

Mark Peterson, UW-Washington County Professor, blogger of The Motley Cow, among many other of his current endeavors, came and opened the event with his own true life experience with censorship (pictured below in Beatnik style to honor poets like Allen Ginsberg).

He delighted us with his anecdotes, grounded our event in the present, and reminded all 45 of us of that book burnings aren’t as far fetched as we may think they are in the 21st century.

I would advise readers to check out the American Library Association’s Banned Book page and see if one of their favorites is on the list and start their own Banned Book Club readings around the state or join us next year.

- Angie Trudell Vasquez

Ode to a Banned Book

At the Wednesday, October 14 Banned Books event at Woodland Pattern Book Center, ACLU of Wisconsin Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre donned a costume in the spirit of Geoffrey Chaucer and welcomed the audience for an evening of live reading of banned books. His opening poem on the theme of censorship set the tone for the evening of humor and a celebration of literature...

"On behalf of Woodland Pattern Books and the ACLU of Wisconsin, welcome to our Banned Book Event. We are most pleased you soudry folk are here in support of intellectual freedom, to raise awareness of censorship -- and to promote the free exchange of ideas."

“turn over the leaf and choose another tale”

Ladies and Gentlemen, scholars, students and rogues,
I pray thy mercy for my New York brogue,
For although the guise of Geoffrey Chaucer I wear,
It is not MY dulcet tones that you've come to hear,
Nor my pinched verse, kitchen prose or gutter rhyme,
Rather, the immortal men and women who've taunted time,
With works of art, beauty and thought,
That even now influence what we've wrought,
Their printed words filling schools, libraries and nooks,
Brave drafters and authors of the printed word ---- Books.

Sadly, some would have us burn our literary friends at the stake,
And force us to read only their unique take,
Denying young folk access to vital information,
Whilst wielding the torch of intellectual cremation.

And although some may balk and blow their fuses,
To see books writ to other Gods, reason, or Nine Muses,
Let us not to the marriage of true minds impede,
Our Bodies Ourselves, or Voltaire's Candide.

Where's Waldo, Scary Stories, Lord of the Rings?
Is NOW the time to purge pagan, agnostic and atheist things?
Strike from these lists Morrison, Chbosky, and Hemmingway,
You CANNOT censor a theme 'cause it's black, brown or gay!

Schindler's List, Beloved, & The Great Gatsby.
Lolita, Ulysses and Tango Makes Three,
Baby Bebop, Atlas Shrugged, Go Tell it on the Mountain!
Native Son, Winnie the Pooh, even the Maltese Falcon...

So I put it to all of you my dear friends,
To boldly our 1st Amendment rights defend,
We cannot let others rob parents of the right to decide
With loutish attempts at self-righteous libricide.

Over time and in other places,
McCarthy, Genghis Khan, the Spanish Inquisition,
Have sought to suppress thoughts,
And hold civil liberties in submission.

But if you're inspired by the words that you hear,
And censorship makes YOU tremble with rage and with fear,
Then gift envelopes can be found in the rear,
5 dollars for students, otherwise 20 per year.

You can follow up on Emilio's invitation to membership by joining the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Senate Judiciary Extends Patriot Act... But Thanks To US Sen. Feingold for Some Privacy-Protecting Amendments

National ACLU Says: Bill Does Not Go Far Enough To Protect Americans’ Privacy

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the USA PATRIOT Act Extension Act of 2009 last week, a bill which falls far short of restoring the necessary civil liberties protections lacking in the original Patriot Act. The bill, passed by the committee after two sessions of debate, makes only minor changes to the disastrous Patriot Act and was further watered down by amendments adopted during markup. The American Civil Liberties Union had endorsed the JUSTICE Act, an alternative bill that would heavily reform not only the Patriot Act but other overly broad surveillance laws.

Amendments that were offered but failed by voice vote included an amendment by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to curb the abuse of the overly broad National Security Letter (NSL) statute and another offered by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) to allow the “lone wolf” provision to expire (the never-used provision that targets individuals who are not connected to terrorist groups). An amendment also failed that would make it more difficult for recipients to challenge the gag order that comes with receiving an NSL.

However, there were two amendments included in the final bill – both offered by Senator Feingold – that are victories for privacy: The Department of Justice would be ordered to discard any illegally obtained information received in response to an NSL and the government must notify suspects of “sneak and peek” searches within seven days instead of the thirty days currently outlined in the statute. “Sneak and peek” searches allow the government to search a home without notifying the resident immediately.

“We are disappointed that further changes were not made to ensure Americans’ civil liberties would be adequately protected by this Patriot Act legislation," said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This truly was a missed opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee to right the wrongs of the Patriot Act and stand up for Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. The meager improvements made during this markup will certainly be overshadowed by allowing so many horrible amendments to be added to an already weak bill. Congress cannot continue to make this mistake with the Patriot Act again and again. We urge the Senate to adopt amendments on the floor that will bring this bill in line with the Constitution.”

To learn more about the ACLU’s work on the Patriot Act, go to:

Friday, October 9, 2009

DNA Collection Expansion Too Costly, Too Invasive, and Too Distracting

On October 9, 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin urged state lawmakers to oppose legislation that would expand profiles in the state DNA data bank to include individuals merely arrested, not convicted, on a felony charge. State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and State Representative Ann Hraychuck (D-Balsam Lake) are co-sponsors of Senate Bill 336, which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"DNA technology has great ptential for addressing crime," said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty, "but we must use it and any developing technology wisely. When police are looking for a needle in a haystack, we shouldn’t be adding more hay to the stack. But that's exactly what SB336 does by collecting and analyzing DNA samples from individuals who have not been convicted of a violent crime."

While it is clear that the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories’ DNA data bank system needs better management, a dramatic expansion of DNA collection without adequate checks and balances and funding at a time when the State and its counties have serious funding problems is like throwing water on a drowning swimmer.

This proposal allows the state crime laboratories to maintain the DNA profiles of persons who are never charged for as long as a year. During that year the DNA profile is likely to be shared with the federal DNA data bank (CODIS) making it virtually impossible to remove it from state, federal and even international DNA data banks. DNA collection is an invasive search that jeopardizes the constitutional rights of Americans, if it is not done judiciously.

Expanding DNA collection to arrestees has undermined the use of DNA to solve crimes across the nation. In March, the Inspector General at the United State Department of Justice released an audit that found that state laws expanding DNA collection have led to significant delays in DNA analysis. Audits in Illinois and Michigan have similarly found massive backlogs due to increased DNA collection.

And in Milwaukee, recent media reports reveal that the Sheriff David Clarke’s own department failed to collect DNA samples from over 350 convicted felons this year at the County Correctional Facility – South.

Finally, expanding DNA collection will perpetuate, if not increase, the racial disparities that are acknowledged to exist in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. When a disproportionate number of minorities are arrested, they will create unwarranted racial disparities in the DNA data bank, making them permanent suspects who need to be investigated, while white perpetrators may not even be in the data bank.

The ACLU of Wisconsin urges legislators to re-direct their efforts to improve the state’s DNA data bank system by mandating regular audits, improving the expungement process, and concentrating on eliminating existing backlogs. Legislators should not adopt a more is always better approach when it undermines constitutional rights, without improving pubic safety in a fiscally responsible way.

To read more about this issue, see the article quoting the ACLU in the Leader-Telegram, the Wisconsin State Journal, and a critical opinion piece from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer who makes the case that our criminal justice system cannot handle the DNA collection now, let alone collecting from the thousands of people who are arrested each year. There were also ACLU quotes in the Oshkosh Northwestern and an editorial from that paper that questions the reactionary bill. An editorial was also printed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Madison ACLU Celebrates Banned Books Week With Panel on Current Issues in Censorship

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation wishes to extend a special thank you to the speakers and supporters who participated in the Madison area Banned Books Week panel. Moderated by Wisconsin Public Radio host Jim Fleming, the panel had a lively discussion on current issues in censorship from the world wide web to the local library.

Our guest speakers:

Jim Fleming, the panel moderator, is a host for Wisconsin Public Radio. He majored in English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has had a long career in public radio including work as a host of classical music programs and the award-winning To The Best of Our Knowledge.

Bob Bocher is a Technology Consultant in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. He works primarily with the state's public libraries and with schools on such programs as BadgerNet, the state’s telecommunications network. Bob is a Fellow of the American Library Association’s Technology Office and developed the ALA’s Internet Access Principles and its position on Net Neutrality. Mr. Bocher has a special interest in privacy issues related to technology co-authored the book “Privacy in the 21st Century: Issues for Public, School, and Academic Libraries.

Erlene Bishop Killeen works part-time as the District Media Coordinator for the Fox Prairie Elementary, Stoughton Area School District. With 35 years of experience, her credits include: being named library media professional by WEMA and awardee of a Kohl Fellowship in 1998, a reviewer of professional and children’s literature and a member of the advisory board for Teacher-Librarian, membership on the committee that wrote the National Professional Teacher Certification Library Media Standards as well as the 2003 Caldecott Committee. She currently chairs the ALA Publishing Committee and is a member of the Stoughton Public Library Board. Erlene is the mother of two grown children who started watching The Simpsons at age 3!

Pamela Westby is the library director for the Middleton Public Library. Pamela has over 20 years of experience as a librarian in Sparta and Middleton, Wisconsin as well as in her earlier career in Minnesota where she experienced book challenges from patrons. She also teaches a course on public library administration for continuing education.>

Nationally, Banned Books Week is an awareness campaign sponsored by the American Library Association which celebrates the freedom to read and the right to open, accessible libraries. Banned Books Week was officially recognized from September 26 through October 3, 2009. The ACLU of Wisconsin also organized a reading of banned books at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee.

The ACLU works nationally to fight censorship and protect the freedom of expression, even when free speech is unpopular. This year, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation announced that it will be representing a supper club owner in Crivitz, WI who is in a dispute with police who confiscated the flag the man was flying upside-down as a form of protest. The ACLU of Wisconsin was also involved in supporting the librarians at the public library in West Bend, WI after books with gay and lesbian characters were challenged by local residents.

Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has joined a coalition of authors, publishers and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation to urge a federal judge to reject a proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search. The ACLU is concerned that the settlement will leave open the possibility that the browsing and readership history of digitized books on Google Book Search will not have privacy protections.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why the Milwaukee Mayor should not take over MPS

There is currently a controversy brewing in Milwaukee where it has been proposed that there should be a mayoral takeover of the city's public schools. Milwaukee students need and deserve safety and equality in their schools. But changing the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools will not remedy Wisconsin’s failure to provide an adequate education to far too many of Milwaukee’s children.

A mayoral takeover will not narrow the racial achievement gap, which should deeply trouble all Wisconsinites. Schemes such as mayoral control and school vouchers that focus on control rather than education in the classroom are bound to fail our children.

Rather than spending time and effort to push through a controversial takeover program that will not provide resources for programs that work, the governor, mayor and state legislators need to ensure that all Milwaukee children have the opportunity to obtain a meaningful, adequate education.

Those genuinely concerned about student performance need to evaluate what programs and services - such as smaller class sizes - help students succeed. They must look at researched-based findings on what programs and services best educate students with disabilities, English language learners, and low income students. In light of the racial achievement gaps in our community, they must look at whether specific programs are needed to support children of color. Then they must determine what these programs cost, and how those programs will be fairly and adequately funded. That is the kind of adequate education that all Milwaukee students deserve - but are too often denied.

Moreover, efforts to improve the education of Milwaukee children must address the needs of all students who attend taxpayer-supported schools, not just those who attend schools operated by MPS. Approximately 1/5 of Milwaukee students attend private voucher schools at taxpayers’ expense - and most of those schools perform no better than MPS, and in some cases fall short of MPS performance. Yet neither the takeover proposal nor any other plan that has been offered seek to improve education for those 20,000 Milwaukee children.

Nor does the takeover plan deal with the negative impacts of voucher turnover on MPS schools. As a recent audit shows, each year far more students leave voucher schools forMPS than transfer from MPS to voucher schools. Some voucher schools close during or after the school year, for reasons ranging from poor physical conditions to financial mismanagement. Voucher schools can and do expel students who present behavioral and other challenges. And research has also shown that voucher schools educate a far smaller percentage of students with disabilities and English language learners than MPS – requiring MPS to divert a far greater percentage of its resources to educate these children.

The poor outcomes of voucher schools are a clear indication that quick fixes will not meet the educational needs of Milwaukee children. Vouchers were sold as a free market, competitive model that would succeed without regulation, oversight or public disclosure – but overall, the system has failed and should be phased out, starting with those voucher schools that are underperforming MPS.

Nor should there be a headlong rush for other quick fixes. Neighborhood schools, for example, were sold – and funded - as a way to provide a better education to Milwaukee children, and they too have failed. There is no evidence that yet another quick fix – a mayoral takeover of the public schools – will have any more success in meeting students’ needs.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes the primary constitutional responsibility for the education of Milwaukee’s children rests with the State of Wisconsin. The state needs to put adequate resources into the public school system to provide the educational services and supports those children need – including adequate supports for children living in poverty, children with disabilities, English language learners, and other special needs children. It needs to ensure that the per-pupil funding for Milwaukee Public Schools students is at least comparable to that of suburban districts. Those are the reforms that will help Milwaukee students succeed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Action alert: Reform the Patriot Act - Call Senator Kohl's office today!

Reform the Patriot Act - Call Senator Kohl's office today!

If all goes according to schedule, tomorrow, Senator Kohl and the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will cast votes that could finally fix provisions of the Patriot Act that have undermined our fundamental freedoms for far too long.

It’s urgent that you call Senator Kohl’s office right now and let him know that you support bold action on Patriot Act reform.

Contact Senator Kohl now and urge him to vote for genuine Patriot Act reforms.

As an ACLU lobbyist who has worked on the Patriot Act for more than six years, I can say first-hand how much your calls matter. The Thursday mark-up of Patriot Act legislation in the Judiciary Committee will set the stage for later action in the full Senate. Senator Feingold and nine other Senators have introduced the JUSTICE Act, a very strong bill which effectively reins in many of the out-of-control government powers embedded in the Patriot Act.

It’s absolutely crucial that the legislation that emerges from the Judiciary Committee embraces the strong measures Senator Feingold has put forth. Senator Kohl’s vote could be absolutely essential to the outcome.

Call Senator Kohl now -- and urge him to vote tomorrow for genuine Patriot Act reforms.

It helps us to know how many calls have been made because then we can follow-up with the senator’s office. So, after you make the call, I hope you’ll report back and let us know that you’ve contacted the Senator’s office.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.

Michelle Richardson
Legislative Counsel
American Civil Liberties Union

P.S. Here are some of the most crucial elements of the JUSTICE Act -- ones that you should urge Senator Kohl to support tomorrow:
• Protecting the privacy of records by reining in the government’s use of National Security Letters to collect the records of innocent people far removed from an actual terrorism suspect.
• Protecting humanitarian activities by preventing prosecution of people who work with or for charities that give humanitarian aid in good faith to war-torn countries.
• Protecting First Amendment rights by requiring that the government convince a court that a National Security gag order is necessary.
• Protecting privacy of communications by amending last year’s sweeping FISA Amendments Act to better protect Americans' phone calls and emails.

Thursday! Madison celebrates Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week Panel, moderated by Jim Fleming, Wisconsin Public Radio host
Thursday, October 1, 6:00—7:30 p.m.
School of Library and Information Science—4th floor commons
Helen C. White Hall—600 North Park Street Madison, WI 53706

Featuring special guests Bob Bocher, Library Technology Consultant, WI Dept. of Public Instruction and two local librarians with experience working with public and youth library collections. The panel will discuss current issues in censorship including book challenges, net neutrality and free access to the Internet, and youth free speech rights. The event is free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the School of Library and Information Studies at the UW-Madison and A Room of One's Own feminist bookstore.


View Larger Map

And check out the display at A Room of One's Own bookstore window - thanks for being loyal defenders of the right to read!

For more on Banned Books Week, visit the American Library Association website or check out the national ACLU's website on intellectual and artistic freedom.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

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

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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Domestic Partners Seek To Intervene In Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Law

The ACLU Urges Wisconsin Supreme Court To Send Case To Trial Court So That Those Most Affected By The Lawsuit Can Be Heard

On September 22, 2009, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on behalf of five same-sex couples asking that they be allowed to participate in a lawsuit that will decide whether the state’s newly enacted domestic partner law violates Wisconsin’s anti-gay marriage amendment.

Anti-gay activists have asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the marriage amendment. The couples also ask the Court to reject the petition and send the case to a trial court so that evidence can be presented to show that the domestic partner law does not violate the anti-gay marriage amendment that passed in 2006.

“While the domestic partner law falls far short of marriage, we were grateful when it passed that we would no longer have to worry about being able to visit each other in the hospital,” said Jayne Dunnum who, along with her partner of 17 years, Robin Timm, registered to become domestic partners when the law went into effect this summer. “But with this lawsuit those fears are back, and we’d like the opportunity to explain to the courts how this affects us.”

According to the motion filed by the ACLU, the five same-sex couples meet all the legal requirements for becoming a party to the litigation and would suffer harm if the court overturns the domestic partner law.

“We’re hopeful that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will recognize that lesbian and gay couples have the most at stake in this lawsuit and deserve their day in court,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Only same-sex couples can describe what it’s like to fear not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or being left with nothing when a partner dies without a will. And only same-sex couples can explain what it means to be shut out of marriage and have to accept a poorly understood, second-class status as domestic partners with 43 legal protections versus more than 200 that come with marriage.”

The anti-gay activists who are seeking to take away the legal protections for registered domestic partners have claimed that they need a speedy resolution and are entitled to go directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because the modest legal protections granted to same-sex couples through the law somehow affect the marriages of straight couples. Rather incredulously, they also claim that it would be in the best interest of lesbian and gay couples to have a speedy resolution even though they are asking the court to strip domestic partners of all legal protections.

According to the ACLU, there are important factual issues in the case, such as the many ways in which domestic partnership differs from marriage, that call for the kind of testimony that same-sex couples can provide to the Court. To consider this important evidence, the Supreme Court should refuse to accept this case directly but instead allow a circuit court to develop the factual record.

During the political campaign for the anti-gay marriage amendment that is the basis for this lawsuit, these same anti-gay activists told the voters that domestic partner benefits would not be affected by the amendment and legislators said that the state would be allowed to pass a law giving same-sex couples some legal protections.

“The anti-gay activists misled the voters into passing the amendment by saying that it would not affect the rights of domestic partners. Then they tried to prevent the legislature from providing modest legal protections for same-sex couples. And soon after the bill went into effect, they brought a lawsuit to take those protections away, based on the amendment that they said would not affect such rights” said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “It’s incredible the lengths they will go to deny committed couples basic protections for their families.”

The same-sex couples asking to be allowed into the lawsuit include:

Jayne Dunnum and Robin Timm from Plattsville, WI, have been together for 17 years. After Timm was injured on their farm and had to be rushed to the emergency room, they worry about being able to visit each other in the hospital and are hoping the domestic partner law will put an end to these worries.

Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf from Eau Claire, WI, have been together for 34 years. As they enter their senior years, the domestic partner law would ease their worries about being shut out of conversations about each other’s medical care and other end-of-life decisions and guarantee that they are not barred from sharing a room if they end up in a nursing home.

Wendy and Mary Woodruff from Milwaukee, WI, have been together for 12 years. As a minister for the Metropolitan Community Church, Rev. Wendy Woodruff has had to console a congregant who lost everything, including her home and furniture, when her partner was killed and the partner’s relatives claimed their entire estate. They fear the same thing would happen to them without the inheritance protections of the domestic partner law.

Judith Trampf and Katy Heyning from Madison, WI, celebrated their 20th Anniversary this summer. A few years back, Heyning had a seizure that left her unable to drive for six months. Unable to take family leave, Trampf had to use her vacation time to drive Katy to doctor’s appointments and to and from work. Under the domestic partner law, the couple would finally gain access to family leave protection.

Diane Schermann and Missy Collins from Eau Claire, WI, have known each other for 10 years and have been a couple for five. The couple is raising seven children, including Diane’s two children from a previous marriage, a new baby that Missy gave birth to through in vitro fertilization and four foster children, two of which are relatives of Collins. Like many couples their age, the couple has put off making wills because of the expense. The domestic partner law would guarantee that at least half of their joint property automatically passes to each other.

Lambda Legal also filed papers today to intervene in the Appling v. Doyle case on behalf of Fair Wisconsin, the statewide equality organization, and its members. Lambda Legal, like the ACLU, says domestic partnerships and marriages are not "substantially similar."

Linda Hansen, David Froiland, Jason Plowman, Daniel Manna and David Goroff of Foley & Lardner, LLP are assisting ACLU attorneys Dupuis and Knight in representing the couples. Additional information about the ACLU’s motion, including bios and photographs of the couples and the legal documents filed today are available online.

Monday, September 21, 2009

DREAM Act event in Madison

Community event in Madison on the federal version of what was passed at the state level during the state budget negotiations...

National Day of Action in support of the DREAM Act

Wednesday, September 23, 4:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Rd. Madison

4:30 – 6:30pm Workshops: the Artz, DREAM Act 101
6:30 – 7:00pm Open Mic, DJ, y Music from Son Mudanza

*the event is free
*there will be food too!

The DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would create a path to legal status through college education or military service for undocumented youth who have been in this country since an early age. On September 23rd, thousands of students all over the country will rise together and declare that it is Back to School DREAM ACT Day of Action! Here in Madison Alcance, MEChA and Voces de la Frontera invite you to join us at Centro Hispano to learn more about the DREAM Act (and instate tuition) and have fun as well!

Find the event on Facebook.

For more info contact Jannet Arenas: (608)333-3515

Monday, September 14, 2009

Banned Books Week the topic of WORT interview with ACLU of WI Community Advocate

Check out this interview with ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh on upcoming Banned Books Week events.

Hope you can join us at the Goodman Community Center on Tuesday, September 15 at 7:00 p.m. for a Banned Books Week kick-off and ACLU fundraiser.

Friday, September 11, 2009

News roundup: more support for voting rights, postponed Kenosha cursing decision and more

A news round up from the week – good civil liberties articles and issues you don’t want to miss!

Voting Rights
Rep. Joseph Parisi made a supportive statement about the committee hearing for the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act bill. His comments on how racial bias in the criminal justice system disfranchises a larger amount of people of color gives good support for the bill. The Capital Times had a supportive editorial and the On Milwaukee blog gave it a shout out.

Free Speech
ACLU of Wisconsin board member and law professor Jon Marshall was interviewed on a Fox 6 news report on the proposed Kenosha cursing ticket ordinance. The Kenosha City Council decided to postpone their vote. The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to urge them to drop the proposal.

There were also articles in the Madison Isthmus on the police crackdown on selling political newspapers on State St. as well as a Green Bay Press Gazette editorial questioning the timing of a park gun ban so soon after a man carried his firearm as a public statement of Second Amendment rights. And did you catch the news about the Wisconsin Representative who wants the legislature to advise journalists to stop calling H1N1 influenza the "swine" flu?

Milwaukee Examiner blog features story about a biker from Hudson, WI who is biking across the country for charity. He brought attention to the West Bend book banning controversy and the Examiner blog post has some fun facts about Banned Books Week. Celebrate Banned Books Week this month in Wisconsin.

Domestic Partnerships
The Cap Times had a scorcher of an opinion piece on the political motivations for Attorney General Van Hollen to not represent the state in the challenge against the new statewide domestic partnership registry and benefits. The Duluth News Tribune had a similar article with an overview of the AG's opinions in the course of his tenure. The ACLU of Wisconsin also sent out a Tweet earlier this week on the legal opinion from UW Law School professor David Schwartz which described how the registry and benefits are Constitutional.

There was an article on on how non-profit organizations are lining up to help people understand more about their participation in the Census. There was also a timeline on what to expect. While their is a national organization urging immigrants to not participate in the Census, Wisconsin immigrant rights groups are underscoring the need and the benefits of full participation of everyone in our community.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Celebrate Banned Books Week with the ACLU of Wisconsin!

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation will be recognizing Banned Books Week through several events across the state. Nationally, Banned Books Week is an awareness campaign sponsored by the American Library Association which celebrates the freedom to read and the right to open, accessible libraries.

“From the Internet to our local libraries, censorship is still a threat,” said Stacy Harbaugh, Community Advocate for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “While we read about high-profile conflicts that happen in Wisconsin, the reality is that teachers, librarians and journalists work every day to keep information accessible to the public. Banned Books Week recognizes their efforts.”

The ACLU works nationally to fight censorship and protect the freedom of expression, even when free speech is unpopular. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation recently announced that it will be representing a supper club owner in Crivitz, WI who is in a dispute with police who confiscated the flag the man was flying upside-down as a form of protest. The ACLU of Wisconsin was also involved in supporting the librarians at the public library in West Bend, WI after books with gay and lesbian characters were challenged by local residents.

Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has joined a coalition of authors, publishers and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation to urge a federal judge to reject a proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search. The ACLU is concerned that the settlement will leave open the possibility that the browsing and readership history of digitized books on Google Book Search will not have privacy protections.

Please join the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation for these Banned Books Week events:

ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation Banned Books Week Kick-off and Fundraiser
Tuesday, September 15, 7:00—8:30 p.m.
Goodman Community Center149 Waubesa Street Madison, WI 53704

Featuring special guests Michael Tyree, Director, West Bend Community Memorial Library and Maria Hanrahan, West Bend community organizer. These brave book defenders will share their story of a book challenge this year in West Bend, WI. The professionalism of the library staff and the efforts of community activists were crucial in defending a diverse library collection that is free and accessible to all community patrons. A $25, tax-deductible donation is encouraged.

Banned Books Week Panel, moderated by Jim Fleming, Wisconsin Public Radio host
Thursday, October 1, 6:00—7:30 p.m.
School of Library and Information Science—4th floor commons
Helen C. White Hall—600 North Park Street Madison, WI 53706

Featuring special guests Bob Bocher, Library Technology Consultant, WI Dept. of Public Instruction and two local librarians with experience working with public and youth library collections. The panel will discuss current issues in censorship including book challenges, net neutrality and free access to the Internet, and youth free speech rights. The event is free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the School of Library and Information Studies at the UW-Madison.

Banned Books Talk presented by ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, Woodland Pattern Book Center, and Wisconsin Center for the Book
Wednesday, October 14, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Woodland Pattern Book Center720 E. Locust Street, Milwaukee, WI 53212

Join the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and Woodland Pattern Book Center for a celebration of beloved banned books. We’ll talk about censorship attempts in and around South East Wisconsin. There will be a short presentation and then we’ll read excerpts from the “hot” books. A reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

For more info on the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s work to protect free speech, read the news on our website. Read more about the national Banned Books Week on the American Library Association website.