Wednesday, June 10, 2009

WI State Assembly to vote on budget Thursday - ACLU watch items

The State Assembly is looking to vote on the state budget Thursday. The majority democrats have to pass this budget is slim. It is unlikely that any republicans will cast a vote in favor of the budget. There is a democrat, Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer from Manitowoc who has said he won’t vote for it, partly due to the domestic partnership provisions (what makes me think he’s not voting “no” because the provisions don’t give same-sex couples ENOUGH basic rights?).

*** Take Action: Write to your legislators and tell them to vote "yes" on the domestic partnership provisions in the state budget***

But for the ACLU of Wisconsin’s perspective on some of the budget items the Assembly will be looking at tomorrow, read on. Most of these items we support, but we often wish lawmakers could do more.

We are watching for all of these things, but we are particularly encouraging lawmakers to not barter away contraceptive equity and prescription protection for women in Wisconsin. These policies are needed and overdue.

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Provisions adopted by the Joint Finance Committee:
Domestic Partnerships – the provisions to establish a domestic partner registry, family leave, retirement and insurance benefits are a good thing, but it isn’t the same as marriage. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation sued the State over the denial of same-sex partner family protections and employee benefits. LFB #324 and 391, adopted.

Contraceptive equity in insurance plans – since most of us get our insurance through our work, all prescription drug plans in Wisconsin should also cover birth control. It is not only good for the reproductive health and rights of women but it also addresses what is essentially a workplace discrimination issue. Motion #443 from Taylor/Mason, adopted.

Prescription protection – would require every pharmacy to fill FDA-approved contraceptive prescriptions and devices in a timely manner. This provision strikes the needed balance between the right of women to have the health care they need with the respect of the religious beliefs of individual pharmacists who would choose to deny birth control prescriptions. Motion #481 from Sherman/Robson, adopted.

FoodShare benefit access for immigrants – to deny assistance to qualified immigrants and refugees would be discrimination. The State should continue to provide this assistance (to what turns out to be less than 1,000 people) especially during a recession when people need it most. LFB #443 adopted.

Female offender reintegration and mental health programs – untreated mental illness or addiction and crime too often come together. The budget provides for funding for treatment programs, but there are still serious deficiencies to the corrections systems that begin with overcrowding and end with poor conditions. The ACLU of Wisconsin is suing the Department of Corrections over the inadequate medical and mental health care provided to the female inmates at the Taycheedah Corrections Institution. We are concerned that transferring this funding from the Department of Health Services to the Department of Corrections for a new reentry program will not be enough to remedy the serious deficiencies in the system. LFB #412 and 288, adopted.

Racial profiling – the budget includes a provision to collect data from traffic stops to determine the extent of racial profiling in Wisconsin. The ACLU of Wisconsin supports data collection as a useful tool for police managers who want to improve police-driver contacts across the whole state as adopted by JFC. LFB #123, adopted.

Low-income qualifications for public defenders – the current state standard for indigent legal defense hasn’t changed since the 80s and probably wouldn’t pass a constitutional test. Any increase in the income threshold to qualify for a public defender would be progress, but would only be a band aid on the disproportionate incarceration of low-income people in our prisons. LFB #617, adopted.

Milwaukee voucher school assessments and financing – when voucher schools students pay for their tuition with tax dollars, there are inevitable questions about not only the separation of church and state but also the rerouting of resources away from public schools. In Milwaukee, the voucher school experiment has been a failure: the program is not cost effective and are a burden to Milwaukee property tax payers. Test scores aren’t even much better than in public schools. Transparency, accountability and performance measures should be available to the public and researchers. LFB #642 and 643, modified by JFC.

Environmental concerns with highway expansion – the I-94 north-south freeway expansion raises serious environmental impact and justice concerns. Expansion will put a greater burden on low-income people and minorities. State funds should have been rerouted to invest in public transit to avoid expensive urban sprawl. LFB #778, adopted.

American Indian tribal revenues for offender reentry – the Wisconsin American Indian tribal community reintegration program would route money from tribal revenues to provide reentry programs for adult ex-offenders back into their tribal community. If successful, it could be an example for other reentry programs. Motion #534 from Pocan/Miller, adopted.

DREAM Act for Wisconsin – the provision to allow children of undocumented immigrants to get an in-state tuition rate if they have lived in the state and graduated from high school here would be not only good for the students but would also allow more tuition-paying students to go to college. Without this provision, they might not be able to afford to go to university at all. LFB #812, adopted.

Limited drivers cards for undocumented immigrants – not a citizen? Papers caught up in immigration bureaucracy? Working to get the money to work the immigration system? You’d still need a drivers license to get to work. This two-tier system would allow people to drive if they cannot show a legal immigration status. This would have a requirement that having this drivers card would not subject people to immigration checks. It’s a compromise (we need licensed drivers) and could subject immigrants to discrimination but immigrants’ rights and some law enforcement groups are asking for this fix. Motion #615, adopted.

Veterans mental health services – mental health care for returning Iraq vets has been in short supply. We support additional resources for vet health care, but the budget should also require that the problems that have surfaced at some federal VA facilities do not occur at our state VA hospitals. LFB #830, adopted.

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