Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Información Sobre La Legislación de Inmigración Propuesta de Wisconsin

En Espanol!

Información sobre la legislación de inmigración propuesta de Wisconsin Rep. Pridemore.

Razones para oponerse a la legislación (en Ingles) y advertencias del recorrido para Arizona durante el 4 de Julio (en Ingles).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Response to Congressman Petri's Tepid Criticism of Invasive TSA Airport Screening Methods

The ACLU has issued a guide for travelers to know their rights during invasive screenings at airports. Our elected leaders could take a strong leadership role in reining in what is clearly an imbalance in the privacy-security compromise we make when traveling during the "war on terror." But Congressional leaders' response is tepid at best.

Wisconsin's U.S. Representative Tom Petri and Rep. John Mica of Florida sent a letter to Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole that the ACLU of Wisconsin says isn't enough in light of the flood of complaints from travelers. We're disappointed that Congressman Tom Petri has not responded adequately to the concerns that residents of Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District and other Americans have over the Transportation Security Administration’s new screening procedures at airports.

Petri and Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who are leading Republican members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized the TSA’s new pat down methods, suggested ways to improve aviation security and made warm statements about balancing security and civil liberties. Their criticism of the new pat down methods leaves current TSA policy mostly unscathed. They don’t actually address specific concerns regarding Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) after saying they have concerns. Their letter is tepid, despite reading in part, “We have concerns that TSA is not achieving the proper balance between aviation security and the privacy rights of United States citizens.”

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that the Congressmen should have included in their letter:

1). Questions regarding the effectiveness of Advanced Imaging Technology raised by Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its September 2009 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. The Washington Post quotes the GAO "while officials said [the scanners] performed as well as physical pat downs in operational tests, it remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident," in written testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee.

2) Evidence that scanned AIT images are stored. Basic privacy protections should include the trust passengers have in the TSA that images of their scanned bodies cannot be stored or shared.

3). Outrage that invasive pat downs fail to provide a less humiliating alternative to travelers who wish to opt out of AIT scanning.

The ACLU and ACLU of Wisconsin wish to help travelers who value security and their own privacy. Please share this website which outlines passengers' rights during airport screenings:

Help Us Work To Protect Freedom - Join the ACLU Today

If you read the Cap City Liberty blog, you probably care a lot about civil liberties and the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin. Here is why we want you to become a member today.

After the November election, it is clear there is a lot of work to do. Fortunately, protecting civil liberties doesn’t depend solely on elections – civil liberties depend in large part on the participation of concerned Americans like you. That’s why your membership in the American Civil Liberties Union is so important. Your support for civil liberties makes you and the ACLU more powerful when you stand together with people who share your love of liberty and justice for all.

In Washington, D.C. there is still work to be done to restore the rights lost during the Bush Administration’s “war on terror.” Unwarranted surveillance of Americans, abuse of the material witness statutes to unlawfully detain individuals who are never criminally charged, and targeted killings of American citizens far from any battlefield continue to give America a black eye around the world. On these matters and more, the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office counts on members who are constituents of Wisconsin’s delegation to speak up. This November, Wisconsin lost a voice on the side of civil liberties in these battles in the Senate.

ACLU members in Wisconsin like you can help us lessen that blow.

You are right if you believe we will have more work to do in Madison come January. We know that proponents of anti-civil liberties measures as well as and those who would use government to impose their morality on everyone will act quickly and forcefully.

New leadership will shepherd an agenda:

• To weaken or repeal measures adopted in the last legislature, including a new law providing limited protections and benefits for same sex couples; a new law requiring that health insurance cover FDA approved contraceptives; and a new law requiring all sex education offered in public schools to be comprehensive, medically accurate, and age appropriate.

• To weaken religious liberty further by providing more taxpayer dollars to religious schools, under the failed voucher scheme, by increasing the amount paid to religious schools per pupil and lifting the enrollment cap in Milwaukee.

• To distract us from solving the real problems surrounding our broken immigration system, by requiring Wisconsin law enforcement officers to ask for the immigration papers of anyone they suspect may be in this country illegally. Such a law would guarantee racial profiling of American citizens, who would be ordered to “show us your papers.”

• To move to suppress the voting rights of the poor, students, and the elderly by requiring a government-issued photo ID, and eliminating registration at the polls on Election Day. Despite oft-repeated “voter fraud” claims, the number of prosecutions for voter fraud is negligible. And plus, there are good reasons to restore the right to vote to felons who have served their time.

• The Governor-elect even opposes abortion in cases of incest and rape and supports the death penalty.

What can you and the ACLU do in the face of these unprecedented assaults on civil liberties? We will use strategies and tools that you will recognize: our membership, our loud voices, and our lawyers.

ACLU members and allies can speak out in Madison to demand anti-civil liberties measures are debated – at least in the court of public opinion. Members like you can advocate on state issues that will be fought over at the local level, such as your school board’s position on abstinence-only sex education or anti-gay bullying. And, you can speak out on important national issues, such as keeping the internet free from censorship and accessible to all as a common carrier, so-called net neutrality.

Please be sure to sign up for our email newsletter and alerts on our homepage, so that our messages will ring out loud and clear.

Our staff and volunteer lawyers will carefully consider bringing legal action in administrative proceedings and state or federal courts. Their skill, creativity, and persistence will give us leverage. There may even be opportunities to have an affirmative civil liberties agenda challenging discrimination in housing and education. Racial disparities in our criminal justice system and public school systems across the state are not only unacceptable in a civilized society, they are illegal. And, we won’t let faith-based groups use taxpayer dollars to proselytize or discriminate, or let government censor scientific research at our universities.

With the support of members like you, we have established strong programs for young people over the last ten years. These young people are made aware of civil liberties through our programs like our Youth Social Justice Forum and many have developed into real leaders for civil liberties and civil rights on their campuses and in their communities. They give us confidence and hope that over the long haul civil liberties will continue to protect more Americans. You can be sure they’ll speak up loudly now and in the years to come.

You’re invited to join us now because “freedom can’t protect itself.” Please sign up today.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,
Chris Ahmuty

P.S. You don’t have to accept violations of civil liberties in silence. The ACLU will help you and your fellow civil libertarians stand up for what’s right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Youth Social Justice Forum Gets Milwaukee Youth Talking about Equality and Free Speech

On Thursday November 4th, 2010, over 300 high school students came together at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Student Union for the 11th Annual Youth Social Justice Forum.

The crowd of students, teachers and volunteers gather for the day
Students learn how to build puppets from scratch to turn their ideas into 3-D images
With the assistance of almost 80 volunteers from all over the city, including the 2010-2011 class from Public Allies Milwaukee, students actively participated in educational workshops that covered topics from “Creating Audio PSAs” for radio broadcast to “Political Cartooning and Art.” The workshops were presented by volunteers and partners from across the region.

Art Night Books artist Devin Trudell shares political cartoons
In its eleventh year of operation, the Youth Social Justice Forum has evolved from a political awareness event for Milwaukee-area youth to a premiere Social Justice Forum for education and activism for southeastern Wisconsin. The Youth Social Justice Forum increases awareness about issues that directly affect young people, offers hands-on workshops that teach youth real skills to help them raise their voices, provides experiential learning that fosters creative and collaborative thinking, and brings people together to bridge the gap between different racial and economic backgrounds.

Political expression in t-shirt form is ripped from the headlines and incorporated into a workshop
The First Amendment comes alive when students have hands-on lessons about free speech and art
In addition to the workshops, those in attendance also had the opportunity to observe a debate concerning the topic of immigration reform and then cast a ballot to vote on the debated measure using real ballots and counting machines.

City of Milwaukee ballots and tabulators give students the experience of voting
True Skool speakers discussed the history of urban art
This event would not have been a success without the participation and collaboration of many talented volunteers and facilitators. Supporting organizations and businesses include: 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, Milwaukee Public Theatre, Public Allies Milwaukee, RedLine Milwaukee, True Skool, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Urban Underground and the ACLU of Wisconsin staff and friends. The countless hours spent during preparation for this event resulted in a fantastic outcome.

Public Allies Milwaukee volunteers helped the day run smoothly

Photos taken by ACLU of Wisconsin staff member Marion Ecks

View more pictures from the event on the ACLU Student Alliance HQ Facebook photo gallery

Bring the Youth Social Justice Forum or other youth rights workshops to your students or community group! For more information on next year's event or to get news and information about our educational work with young people, sign up for updates or contact our Youth and Program Department at (414) 272-4032 x 23. Get involved!

Top Ten Reasons To Oppose an Arizona-Style Immigration Law in Wisconsin

We've been saying that "what happens in Arizona, stops in Arizona." That state's show-us-your-papers racial profiling law inspired boycotts by travelers and athletes and has come at a huge cost to taxpayers in court.

But in Wisconsin, Representative Don Pridemore has drafted a version of Arizona's law for our state. The ACLU of Wisconsin is concerned that an Arizona-style state immigration enforcement bill will lead to racial profiling, illegal or mistaken detentions, and waste taxpayers' money - especially if an unconstitutional law sails unchecked through the state legislature.

Here are the top ten reasons why the ACLU of Wisconsin says an Arizona-style immigration law would be bad for Wisconsin. The bill will:

1). ...lead to racial profiling - This bill will force police to detain individuals when the officer believes there is reasonable suspicion that an individual is here illegally. But what constitutes reasonable suspicion? Their ethnicity, accent, economic status?

2). ...cause illegal or mistaken detention - How will this bill protect non-criminals who won't be carrying around or have timely access to documents proving their legal presence? When a police officer stops someone with "reasonable suspicion," what separates a citizen who is a University student who doesn't have his wallet and proof of citizenship from an exchange student who doesn't have his wallet? Again, racial profiling will be likely?

3). a wasteful expense to taxpayers - Detention costs will rarely be recovered and will never be recovered from individuals found innocent. There will also be those who are detained, but would have been released earlier otherwise. Defending lawsuits from individuals who have been illegally detained will also cost counties and the state.

4). ...distract professional law enforcement from actual crime - Our police officers already have enough to do without taking off time from fighting crime to learn how to indentify those without proper documents and enforce federal immigration law. Also arrests and booking are long enough processes without going through additional steps to document reasonable suspicion to the satisfaction of supervisors and courts.

5). ...strain relations with federal authorities - Is there any reason to believe that ICE would take custody of or at least take notice of these suspects, including those who are legally present but just can't prove it within two days? Will this impact the head count in local jails? And why should federal authorities allow Wisconsin to interfere with federal enforcement responsibilities, especially when the federal Department of Justice has sued Arizona for doing so?

6). ...pre-empt local control in Madison - It is inconsistent to say that the state of Wisconsin can enforce its own immigration laws while at the same time denying the City of Madison its own stance on immigration. We need meaningful, federal immigration reform now.

7). ...harm Wisconsin businesses, including agribusiness - While Rep.
Pridemore's proposal doesn't currently include Arizona-type penalties on business, it will hurt businesses nevertheless when legal residents and citizens get sick of racial profiling and employment discrimination.

8). an affront to Wisconsin citizens - It goes without saying that this proposal is offensive to honest, taxpaying people, particularly the Latino citizens of Wisconsin. Racial profiling is a big enough problem for people of color in Wisconsin.

9). ...create a climate of intolerance in our state - At a time when we are trying to improve our state's economy, Wisconsin needs to lay out the welcome mat for businesses, workers and students.

10). the possibility of a costly lawsuit - The racially motivated Arizona bill will likely cost the taxpayers around a million dollars in court costs. Can Wisconsin afford to pass an unconstitutional bill?

Sidenote: also has a top-ten list on why this would be a bad law. The proposal also had media coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UW Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald, and the ACLU of WI was quoted on the issue in the Capitol Times. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also published a strong criticism of the proposal.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Public Education Needs a Better Funding Solution to Help Disparities Problem

This month, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shared their new ideas on restructuring of the state's school funding formula. For too long our state has relied on a school funding plan that is tied to property taxes which gives disproportionate funding to schools in wealthy areas. Wisconsin schools Superintendent Tony Evers’s “Fair Funding for our Future” proposal would move schools toward considering student need, not property wealth, in allocating state aid.

“We agree with Superintendent Evers that our state funding formulas need to be structured to ensure greater support for children with greater needs,” stated ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “Shifting away from the school levy tax credits - which benefit higher-wealth households more than children in need - is a start.

“However, in moving forward with this proposal, we must keep in mind that it’s not only children in poverty who have additional needs,” Ahmuty added. “We need to ensure that the state is also addressing the concerns over Wisconsin’s significant racial disparities in graduation rates throughout the state.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin believes that racial disparities in graduation rates can no longer be ignored. We support a comprehensive approach that uses limited resources in the most effective way to ensure all children across Wisconsin have the opportunity to succeed,” Ahmuty concluded.

Media reports say that at first glance, the proposal could have support from newly elected Republican leadership.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coal Plants and Civil Rights - The ACLU Asks the WI DNR to Reform a Milwaukee-Area Energy Plant

Milwaukee Environmental Justice: Reportback from the We Energies Valley Coal Plant Hearing
On Thursday, November 4th, over 100 community members and organizations attended a hearing held by the state Department of Natural Resources regarding the We Energies Valley Coal Plant in Milwaukee. The coal plant needs a renewal of their air quality control permit but community members objected to the proposed permit and spoke out in support of clean air, energy alternatives and environmental justice.

Environment and civil rights: the connection
What does a coal plant have to do with civil rights? The answer has to do with several key laws that have been passed in the last fifty years. Milwaukee residents say that upgrades in energy plants that dramatically reduce air pollution have happened in suburban areas but not at the Valley Plant in Milwaukee near the high-density neighborhoods mostly composed of people of color. They attended the hearing to say that everyone has an equal right to breathe clean air, not just those who live in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Environmental justice: the law
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed and said that any program that received federal funding could not directly discriminate or have a discriminatory effect on protected groups. Since the Department of Natural Resources receives federal funds and since the DNR is in charge of approving pollution permits for energy producers like We Energies Valley Coal Plant, the DNR must take into consideration the equal right everyone has to breathe clean air.

The Clean Air Act was first passed in 1970 and has been updated and changed over the years. In the 1990s the law established an improved permit program in an attempt to better regulate energy producers’ air pollution.

In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order #12898, on Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. That order said that federal agencies need to know how minority and low-income neighborhoods will be affected by governmental actions in terms of environmental concerns. When outdated, relatively uncontrolled coal plants in low-income neighborhoods pollute the air, everyone there suffers. Governmental agencies have the responsibility to keep energy plants accountable.

Coal plants: impact on the people
Cracking down on air pollution isn’t just about global warming. People suffer immediate health effects when air quality is poor. Bad air makes asthma worse and Wisconsin sees a disproportionate number of asthma cases in the southeast part of the state, particularly with African-American children. The American Lung Association consistently gives Milwaukee an “F” for air quality, high ozone days and excessive particulate pollution. The Valley Coal plant is the oldest of WE Energies' coal plants and is located in a high-density area of the city with the largest concentration of African-American and Latino residents. Yet suburban plants in Port Washington and Oak Creek and other units have gotten upgrades, pollution controls or even natural gas conversions. The We Energy Valley Coal Plant is not just hurting the environment, its permit has a discriminatory impact on the public health of the community.

The ACLU and you: what you can do
The ACLU of Wisconsin joined the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Associates and the Milwaukee Latino Health Coalition to oppose the permit renewal of the Valley Coal Plant and we submitted our full comments to the state Department of Natural Resources. These organizations got involved because we see, from a systemic level, how government decision-making can disproportionately impact the health and well-being of some of the most disfranchised groups of people in our state.

Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today and let us know that you support our work on racial and environmental justice. Or please consider making a donation to our legal efforts through Community Shares of Wisconsin or Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee. Your tax-deductible contribution to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation helps our legal team be a voice for environmental justice in the state.

Find the organizations' documents including a press release, comments with references and more on our Racial Justice issues page.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Photo ID at the Polls is Bad for Voters - Stories from Indiana

Media reports are saying that incoming legislators want a voter photo identification requirement bill to be top priority next year. It's unfortunate that legislators who coasted to victory on a platform emphasizing economic development would first want to pass a law requiring a government-issued photo ID card at the polls, a barrier that would most likely impact low-income people. Perhaps the votes of those with the greatest need for economic salvation aren't that valuable to next year's leaders.

Originally posted on the national ACLU's Blog of Rights, this story illustrates exactly why photo ID at the polls is a problem. We give you the example of Indiana:

"Voting rights cases extol the right to vote as fundamental and preservative of all rights. Indeed, the right to vote without regard to race, gender, age, or class is protected by numerous constitutional amendments and federal laws. Therefore, Indiana's voter identification law departed from well-established constitutional principles when it required voters to possess a valid, current government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot on this past Election Day. After a long partisan battle, Indiana imposed new burdens on minorities, women, students, the elderly and the poor.

"In Crawford v. Marion County, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law, ignoring the plight of a 78-year-old Ft. Wayne woman who attempted to get a photo ID. After three separate trips to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles over several weeks and finally obtaining a certified birth certificate, she was turned away because her birth certificate contained only her maiden name. The law also denied ballots to elderly nuns in South Bend, who were turned away solely because they lacked photo ID. Students from the University of Notre Dame were denied ballots because their student IDs lacked an expiration date and their driver's licenses were out-of-state. They were told they could only vote absentee, while those who possessed Indiana-approved ID were able to go to the polls on Election Day. Instead of treating these voters' ballots as necessary parts of our democracy that preserve all other rights, their denial was characterized as minor collateral damage in the battle to prevent unsubstantiated voter impersonation.

"While the Supreme Court held the state photo ID requirement did not violate federal law, the Indiana Court of Appeals found it violated the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of the state constitution because it unjustifiably exempted select groups — absentee voters and voters living in state-licensed care facilities — from having to comply with the law.

"Now the Supreme Court of Indiana has an opportunity to affirm that discriminating against citizens at the polls violates the Indiana Constitution. On Monday, the ACLU's Voting Rights Project filed an amicus brief encouraging the Supreme Court of Indiana to see these injustices and restore equal rights to all of Indiana's voters."

In Wisconsin, your driver's license number helps the state match you to your registration information. But if you aren't licensed to drive in this state, there are other ways you can prove your identity such as using a state ID number or the last four digits of your social security number. You can even bring a voting neighbor to vouch for you.

The idea of a democracy is that every citizen of age gets a vote. Everyone. Not just everyone who can drive. Not just everyone who hasn't lost a birth certificate to a house fire or when fleeing domestic violence. Not just everyone who isn't a student or who isn't elderly or disabled. We should oppose photo ID at the polls in Wisconsin and maintain the integrity of voter access in our state.

Monday, November 1, 2010

VOTE: Your Rights at the Polls on Election Day in Wisconsin

Each individual’s right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wants all eligible voters to exercise their full right to vote on Election Day. Report problems to 866-OUR-VOTE, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin or tweet a report on your polling place to @ACLUofWisconsin or @ACLUMadison.

Before heading to the polls, be sure to check to locate your polling place and verify that you are registered. For answers to more frequently asked questions, download the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Voter Empowerment Card or our mini flier on voting for those with criminal convictions.

Learn more about what the ACLU is doing to inform voters about their voting rights across the country.

Download the ACLU’s Wisconsin Voter Empowerment Card (PDF)

Download the ACLU’s Facts Flier on Voting with Criminal Convictions (PDF)

Mobile version for your smartphone

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“Sensitive Issues:” Myths vs. Facts about the new Sex Ed Law

Sex Ed in Wisconsin: New State Standards
The Healthy Youth Act, a new law passed earlier this year that the ACLU of Wisconsin supported, raises the state standards for how public schools offer human growth and development courses. Now if schools offer sex ed, it should be non-discriminatory, fact-based, age-appropriate, and comprehensive in covering the benefits and function of FDA-approved methods of birth control. The comprehensive approach to sex ed is the most effective way to teach young people the facts about human sexuality so that they can make healthy choices in their adolescence and into their adult lives.

Since the new law was passed, and in the wake of the Cedarburg School District decision to segregate "sensitive issues" by requiring parents to opt their children into a comprehensive program, opponents of the Healthy Youth Act have promoted myths about the rights of parents and schools. Cedarburg's decision has been criticized by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, by a physician and Cedarburg curriculum advisory committee and the District of Public Instruction.

And yet, social conservatives like op-ed writer Patrick McIlheran (in his Journal Sentinel column), GermantownNOW blogger Al Campbell and Charlie Sykes (on his October 19th show - part 3) are calling the new law an "oppressive" effort for the state to take power away from parents and school boards.

The Myth of Decreased Parental Control
First, critics suggest that parents don’t have control over their kids’ education regarding sex ed. The Healthy Youth Act continues to protect the right of parents to exempt their children from material they find objectionable. When a school district has a clear plan for human growth and development lessons, parents have the power to work with the school to make alternative arrangements. Additionally, the new law gives parents greater power in reviewing the curriculum at any time. Schools have the responsibility to ensure that exempted students have an equal, alternative assignment and do not face any grade penalty or discrimination for opting out. It is also common for parents to serve on the local school board’s curriculum advisory committees, as they do in the public meetings in Cedarburg. Parents’ rights and voices continue to be protected in the new law. But the law recognizes that young people and our state’s public health benefit when complete information about sexual health is offered to all students in our schools.

The Myth of Decreased Local Control
Critics also say that the law decreases local control over a school’s curriculum. This is hardly the case. The law raised state standards to ensure that young people receive information about reproduction and relationships that is comprehensive, fact-based and non-discriminatory. However the decision on how curriculum is designed and taught continues to rest in the hands of the instruction advisory committees and the school board members themselves. The Healthy Youth Act doesn’t require schools to teach human growth and development, but then schools would have to inform parents about the lack of education their children would receive. While evidence-based curricula packages are available to schools, the state Department of Public Instruction’s website has a toolkit that has resources for both schools and parents to teach human growth and development that works for their community. The state law outlines definitions but does not mandate a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

The Myth of Explicit Classroom Instruction
Reading opinion from social conservatives, one might think that the Healthy Youth Act is mandating that our local schools peddle pornography to children. But when the voices of criticism of comprehensive sexuality education come from radical, anti-contraception organizations like Pro-Life Wisconsin, misinformation needs to be countered with basic facts about the language of the new law.

The state law says that instruction must be “medically accurate” which means that it is based in science, approved by major medical journals and that instruction is reviewed by experts. Instruction must be “age-appropriate” or “suitable to a particular age group of pupils based on cognitive and emotional capacity.” School board members across the state might struggle with what they think age-appropriate means to them, but with puberty and adolescence come questions and young people deserve to get the facts about human sexuality.

State law does not require schools to “teach homosexuality.” The law does, however, require that instruction is free of bias against pupils of any race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic or cultural background or against sexually active pupils or children with disabilities. In the wake of recent suicides of gay teens and the attention paid to preventing bullying and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or non-traditional gender identity, classroom time devoted to teaching respect would do all Wisconsin schools some good. Wisconsin schools that offer comprehensive sexuality education should include time for discussion on the issues faced by LGBT youth and how schools can be safe places for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

State law does not require schools to “teach masturbation.” No place in the law mentions the word “masturbation,” nor does it define masturbation as a normal part of a healthy human sexuality. The law does say that instruction should include information about “reproductive and sexual anatomy and physiology, including biological, psychosocial and emotional changes that accompany maturation.” When proponents of abstinence-only instruction critique a comprehensive approach, do they believe that students would have fewer questions about masturbation if they receive no answers to their questions about relationships, reproduction or contraception?

What Parents, Teachers and Youth Rights Advocates Can Do
Download our resource pages (PDF) with "Questions for Parents to Ask About Sex Education" and "Ten Ways to Work for Comprehensive Sexuality Education." Teachers and curriculum advisory committee members can visit the Department of Public Instruction's webpage on human growth curriculum for more information on how to design lesson plans that work and nondiscriminatory. The ACLU of Wisconsin also has resources to share with teachers for effective lesson plans that can meet the improved state standards for schools across the state. Email the ACLU of Wisconsin for more information.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Cedarburg Schools Are Out of Step with the New Sex Ed Law

The Healthy Youth Act, a new law passed earlier this year that the ACLU of Wisconsin supported, raises the state standards for how public schools offer human growth and development courses. Because of the law, what we know as sex ed should be non-discriminatory, fact-based, age-appropriate, and comprehensive in covering FDA-approved methods of birth control, their benefits and how they work. The comprehensive approach to sex ed is the most effective way to teach young people the facts about human sexuality so that they can make healthy choices in their adolescence and into their adult lives.

But this month, the Cedarburg School District sent a letter to parents that described the school’s new policy regarding human growth and development instruction. Parents will be required to fill out an opt-in form in order for their children to receive a comprehensive lesson plan about reproduction and sexual health.

This year’s plan for sex ed at Cedarburg is unlike that of other schools across the state. By separating classes for topics the school board has deemed “sensitive” – topics that would be necessary to make the curriculum comprehensive and medically accurate – the school board is evading the law by offering non-comprehensive instruction to students who have no evidence of communication from parents.

Our state legislators wrote the law with the intention that all students would be offered complete information about sexual health and relationships as a basic part of their health classes. In spite of the long-studied recommendations from the school’s curriculum advisory committee, the board’s decision is unfortunate in that it is the very lack of communication from parents that will result in less education for students who deserve to get the facts about how their bodies work and how they can protect their own reproductive health.

So to the parents of Cedarburg: please read the letter from your school about sex ed carefully. Send a note to the school office saying what you think before November 1. But most importantly, make sure your school board members know that the silence of parents should not result in less information for the students of Cedarburg. Schools should be in the business of providing young people with more education, not less.

Read the latest about how the Department of Public Instruction warned the Cedarburg school district that their plan could be challenged by civil litigation and a letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from a physician and member of the curriculum advisory committee about why the plan is non-comprehensive and bad for the students of their school district.

Download our resource pages (PDF) with "Questions for Parents to Ask About Sex Education" and "Ten Ways to Work for Comprehensive Sexuality Education."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Federal Report Underscores Need for Fair Housing Plans, ACLU of Wisconsin Agrees

On October 15th, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released its report on Housing and Community Grants. The GAO found – and put as the main conclusion on the title page of the report – that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “Needs to Enhance Its Requirements and Oversight of Jurisdictions’ Fair Housing Plans.” Fair housing advocates in Wisconsin agree.

“For years, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council and other groups have worked to ensure there is fair and open housing throughout our region,” stated Bill Tisdale, MMFHC’s CEO. “This report shows that we also need HUD to step up and make sure that county and local governments are doing their part.”

“Federal law is very clear that if a local government gets money from HUD for things like the Community Development Block Grant or HOME program, it has to analyze the impediments to fair housing in that community,” noted Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, which also works on fair housing issues. “And beyond that, it has to take actions to try to reduce those barriers. This isn’t just responding to complaints of discrimination – it’s taking active steps to create a more inclusive community.”

Mr. Tisdale added that “impediments to fair housing” are far broader than just overt expressions of discrimination. “For example, if people in protected groups – like people of color and persons with disabilities – are more likely to need affordable housing and a community’s laws or policies prevent that housing from being built, this is clearly a fair housing impediment. In fact, the GAO report shows it is one of the most common impediments to fair housing around the country – and that is certainly true in Wisconsin.”

“We hope this report will be just a first step for HUD to make sure that local governments are complying with the law,” added Attorney Rotker. “And we also hope that the governments themselves will start taking these requirements seriously.”

The response by the ACLU of Wisconsin and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council are available on the ACLU of Wisconsin's website.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Madison ACLU Celebrates Banned Books Week

Thanks to everyone who came out to the ACLU's Banned Books Week happy hour. A part of the Wisconsin Book Festival's line up, the happy hour was a time for book lovers and free speech supporters to gather and celebrate the right to read.

Co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Roundtable, the event featured IFRT board member Val Edwards who helped us toast the librarians and book defenders who keep even controversial books available to the public.

Val introduced ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate, Stacy Harbaugh, who asked everyone to raise a glass and shout out their favorite book on the challenged book list. Harbaugh shared the stories behind some high-profile book challenges in Wisconsin over the past year (such as in Fond du Lac and West Bend) and thanked ACLU members for their passionate and dedicated support.

As a thank-you to those who attended the event, we were able to give away some ACLU t-shirts, stickers and hats for door prizes. Other generous contributions included fair trade coffee from Just Coffee, a gift certificate for A Room Of One's Own Bookstore. We also thank Jesse Russell from Dane 101 for donating two tickets to the Freakin' Halloweekend bash which were the first of the door prizes to go.

Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog for the announcement of our next happy hour. Slated for February, we are planning on an event with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin to invite people to be a part of the reproductive freedom agenda for 2011.

Didn't get a chance to donate to the ACLU of Wisconsin at the happy hour? Your support is always welcome - you can give back on our website or through Community Shares of Wisconsin and their workplace giving campaigns.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Milwaukee ACLU Celebrates Banned Books Week

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Wisconsin Center for the Book and Art Night Books co-hosted, co-presented the 2nd annual Banned Book reading in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the evening of October 1st at Woodland Pattern.

About 45 attendees enjoyed wine, food and challenged book readings by guests Vince Bushell, Daisy Cubias, Tom Montag, La Shawndra Vernon and Scott Walter.

Vince Bushell, botanist & publisher of the Riverwest Currents, read from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five.

Daisy Cubias, celebrated poet and native of El Salvador, chose to read selected poems from a Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton. Poet, printer and Wisconsin Center for the Book board member, Tom Montag, read from Ulysses by James Joyce. La Shawndra, activist and well known performer, read from The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee professor and lecturer, Scott Walter, appropriately read 1984 by George Orwell.

Asking the audience, “where would we be as a people and a society without many of these wonderful books we grew up with?” Angie Trudell Vasquez invited people to imagine how our lives would be different without such great literature. Co-host and poet, Vasquez read from Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

Another co-hosts, ACLU of Wisconsin Youth & Program Director, Emilio De Torre, dressed this year as Lord Byron and read from his much enjoyed original poem combining Banned Book titles and pleas for donations to our represented worthy organizations.

After the event people thanked the ACLU of Wisconsin for supporting their freedom to read said what a good time they had hearing celebrated works, banter and conversation. Many people commented on their literary favorites being on the banned book list. An English teacher in the audience said much of what she assigned showed up on the classics lists.

ACLU Urges WI Court to Allow Registered Domestic Partners to Speak in Support of DP Law

Couples Seek To Help Defend Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Law

On Friday, October 1, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion before a Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of five couples asking that they be allowed to participate in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Wisconsin’s law granting limited domestic partnership protections to same-sex couples, so that they may defend the law. The law is being challenged by an anti-gay organization that contends that the law grants same-sex couples the same status as marriage, which is barred by the Wisconsin Constitution.

“Same-sex couples who have registered as domestic partners have the most at stake in this lawsuit and deserve to be heard,” said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Only those directly affected by the law know what it’s like to worry about not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or to be left with nothing when a partner dies without a will.”

Wisconsin’s law allows for same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, granting them hospital visitation rights, the right to make certain decisions about medical care and rights to family and medical leave. Same-sex couples are still denied crucial protections provided only to married couples, such as the right to decide what happens to their partner’s body at death, and are denied access to all federal benefits, such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

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 case, Appling v. Doyle, was dismissed by the state Supreme Court and re-filed in the circuit court, where both sides will be able to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“While the domestic partnership law in no way provides the same benefits and legal protections as marriage, it is a lifeline for committed couples who seek the security and dignity of being able to provide for their families,” said Larry Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “These couples have the right to defend these limited, but extremely important, protections against this unwarranted and mean-spirited attack.”

Also today, Lambda Legal also filed court papers today to intervene in the case on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and five member couples, saying that domestic partnerships and marriages are not “substantially similar.”

Attorneys on the case include Knight of the ACLU, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin and David J.B. Froiland, Linda E.B. Hansen, Daniel A. Manna and David B. Goroff of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Additional information about the case, including bios of the couples and legal documents, is available online.

Monday, September 27, 2010

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

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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

HOWL Film a Hit In Milwaukee - Answers the Question, "What Are Angel-Headed Hipsters?"

Over sixty people were unable to get seats to the "HOWL" film in Milwaukee Wednesday night. The sold-out event was filled to capacity with people who enjoyed a special advanced screening of the feature film about Allen Ginsberg’s poem and obscenity trial.

“The movie was an excellent blend of a depiction of the trial, an interview with Ginsberg as a monologue by Franco, and a staging of the first public reading of the poem,” said ACLU of Wisconsin staffer Marion Ecks. “I liked how it combined animation and film in a creative and moving way. The cast did an excellent job and Franco really captured Ginsburg’s manners and voice.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation co-presented the event along with the Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival and the UW-Milwaukee Libraries. ACLU staff and volunteers were on hand to meet fellow card-carrying members (who got a discounted ticket price) and give updates about our activities in the state. We met librarians, faculty, activists and local politicians who seemed to all have a story to share about a beloved, challenged book or a civil liberties issue they cared about.

“It was a bit of a love fest for literary folks, book lovers, poets, Beat fans and libertarians,” said staffer Angie Vasquez. “I got to meet the Kenosha-area author of “Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg,” Michael Schumacher, who led a Q & A after the film. Raised in Milwaukee, Schumacher went to parochial school and when his teachers said ‘don’t read this book, “Howl,”’ he went out and bought it right away and became a life-long fan of the Beat Generation. What a story.”

Vasquez was a part of the program before the film started. She thanked the audience and told them that we were excited to be a part of the evening, especially since the ACLU played such an important role in defending HOWL in the trial. She read a segment of Ginsberg’s work which is also used as an example of the power of poetry in a workshop Vasquez presented at last year’s Youth Social Justice Forum in Milwaukee.

She reminded the crowd that the ACLU of Wisconsin will be recognizing Banned Books Week at an event at the Woodland Pattern Book Center on the evening of October 1st. A Banned Books Week happy hour will happen in Madison on October 1st at Mickey's Tavern. "HOWL" will have selected release dates across the country this fall including in Madison at the Sundance Theater on October 29th.

"HOWL" is just one of the controversial works the ACLU has defended in court. Read more about the history of the ACLU's work to defend banned books.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happy ACLU Day! Ninety Years, Taycheedah Prison Conditions, Banned Books and More...

Happy ACLU day!
In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg issued a proclamation honoring the American Civil Liberties Union's 90th anniversary. It's a proclamation worth reading because it summarizes the long-term work for basic equality and protections for Americans by the ACLU. What a great milestone: our members and supporters all know that defending civil rights takes time, but the ACLU continues to take the long view to work for justice.

ACLU of WI Update
Here in Wisconsin, we're getting geared up for Banned Books Week. Listen in on a 20-minute interview on WORT-FM with ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh talking about Banned Books Week plans, our legal victory for equal and adequate health care at the Taycheedah women's prison, the work to support public schools in implementing comprehensive sex ed and more. The interview was a part of WORT's commitment to spotlighting organizations like the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation which are members of Community Shares of Wisconsin which provides fundraising and support for organizations dedicated to addressing social, economic, and environmental problems through grassroots activities, advocacy, research, and public education.

** One correction: the Madison Banned Books Week happy hour will be on Friday, October 1st. See below.

Tonight in Milwaukee, the ACLU of Wisconsin is co-presenting the feature film HOWL starring James Franco. The film will play at the UWM Union Theatre, 2nd level, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., 7:00 p.m. and ACLU members will get a discount on their movie tickets. The special advanced screening of HOWL depicts the life of Allen Ginsberg including Ginsberg’s arrest and prosecution for obscenity. Ginsberg was successfully defended by the ACLU in 1957 in this historic defense of a banned book. The ACLU of Wisconsin joins the Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival, the Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee Film and the UWM Libraries as co-presenters of this event in preparation for the 2010 Banned Books Week (September 25 – October 2) and the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival (October 21 – 24). For more information about the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival and HOWL admission cost, visit their website. You can view the trailer of the film on line or read more about the HOWL trial on the ACLU website.

Banned Books Week is coming up! Join us for these events:
October 1 , 2010 – Happy Hour: Banned Books Week kick-off
Mickey’s Tavern, 1524 Williamson St., 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., Madison
A part of the Wisconsin Book Festival’s line up, this celebration of the right to read will bring together readers, librarians and book defenders to socialize and hear some of the stories behind the most challenged books in Wisconsin and across the country this year. Join us for this free, fun event. RSVP for the event on Facebook and invite your friends.

October 1, 2010 – Banned Book Reading
Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St., 6:30 p.m. reception, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. program, Milwaukee
Join the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Wisconsin Center for the Book and Art Night Books for a reading of challenged or banned works of art. Readers will be announced soon. To co-sponsor the event or to donate funds to help provide food and beverages, contact or call 414-272-4032 x 11. To see pictures of last year’s event, visit our blog.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Privacy Rights: Selling a Book to a Resale Shop in Greenfield? "Say Cheese!"

The City of Greenfield Common Council approved a ordinance in April that puts the civil liberties of sellers of books and CDs to resale shops in jeopardy. While it may be well-intentioned, Greenfield's ordinance (PDF) threatens the privacy rights of anyone trying to sell a long list of used items, including books and CDs, at commercial, resale establishments.

Common Council resolution No. 2695 re-wrote the pawnbrokers' ordinance. It requires all types of secondhand article dealers to electronically record information in a database about used items and the people who sold the items to the store. The stores would then have to report this information daily to the Greenfield Police. And most troubling from a civil liberties perspective, the merchants have to take photographs of the seller and provide them to police as well.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is concerned that the new ordinance treats all sellers as potential criminals even though there is no particular suspicion that they have done anything wrong and there apparently is little, if any, evidence that the items they are selling (like used books, exercise equipment or baby clothes) are items that are typically "fenced." It is especially troubling that "expressive materials," such as used books or films on DVD or video, when sold will result in a record of the sellers' tastes and opinions.

The Greenfield Common Council is likely to take another look at this new ordinance as soon as the Tuesday, September 21, 2010 meeting at 7:00 p.m. Check the council’s online calendar for the meeting’s agenda and location. Alders have heard complaints from area businesses and need to hear from residents about why this ordinance is too broad to implement.

For residents of Greenfield, please contact Mayor Michael Neitzke and your Council member to encourage them to amend the ordinance so that it will not threaten civil liberties. The City Clerk’s Office can provide you with the name of your alderperson and their contact information. Contact the City’s Clerk’s Office at 414-329-5219. You can find a complete listing of alderpersons online.

Email us at if you have contacted your alder and he or she is willing to fix this overbroad and instrusive ordinance.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Merrill School Board Stands Up For Healthy Youth

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin would like to send three cheers to the Merrill school board and the Mauston’s school district’s Human Growth and Development Advisory Committee for affirming that fact-based, comprehensive sexuality education should be taught in their local classrooms. The Merrill school board and Mauston’s board committee made decisions that will help young people in their district get the information and life skills they need to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

We look forward to the final approval of comprehensive sexuality education by the Mauston School District on September 20th as well as in the Wonewoc-Center, New Lisbon and Royall schools. These Juneau County schools received a memo from our legal department on Tuesday, September 7th refuting the claims by county district attorney Scott Southworth that teachers who provide a comprehensive human growth and development curriculum at their school could face prosecution.

Everyone can agree that our schools should make sure students get a quality education. After the passage of the Healthy Youth Act this year (find a PDF of the law online), schools will be held to a higher standard for helping young people get the facts about reproduction and health. This standard of instruction is important for the public health of Wisconsin communities, large and small.

Some community members in districts that are currently considering their options in regard to sex ed have expressed concerns with parts of the law that mention non-discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students and the law’s inclusion of the proper use of contraception. These concerns may be based on misinformation.

The law says that instruction must be non-discriminatory: teachers who use gender-neutral language or who don’t assume that all students in their classrooms are heterosexual are better able to effectively teach everyone in their class. And the proper use of contraception isn’t like a doctor’s visit: students should have basic instruction that is right for their age, that includes why and when people use contraception, and shares the facts about how contraceptive options work.

Parents and schools should remember that opt-out provisions still exist in the Healthy Youth Act. Parents who do not want their children to learn about contraception have the right to review the curriculum and work with their school to make alternate arrangements for their student. Schools should provide an adequate alternative lesson plan that ensures that the student will be treated with equality, dignity and respect for non-participation on that day.

Schools that have not yet confirmed that they will be teaching sex ed with a comprehensive, fact-based model have until September 30th to let parents know what will be taught. The Department of Public Instruction has excellent resources for administrators and parents who want to understand what the new law means for their local schools. The ACLU of Wisconsin also has resources on our youth rights issue page for parents to learn about what questions they have the right to ask about sex ed in their schools and for individuals who want to ensure that all students have access to comprehensive sex ed.

For the most current information and media coverage of the sex ed debate in Wisconsin, follow us on Twitter.

Friday, August 27, 2010

UW Milwaukee Police Conduct Report Leaves Unanswered Questions, Says ACLU of WI

On March 4th, students at the UW-Milwaukee campus gathered to rally over the increase of tuition rates. When they took their message to the University's administration building, police and protesters had a confrontation and students were arrested and ticketed.

We blogged about the incident this spring and we said that an investigation was needed to review the use of force by campus police against protesters. However, the partial release of a report on police conduct by law enforcement experts and the Vice Chancellor leaves questions unanswered.

“The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is concerned that the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee may be missing an opportunity to improve the UWM Police Department’s response to free speech activities, including demonstrations, on campus," said Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. "The two-page executive summary of an independent review panel’s report has indicated several deficiencies in terms of planning, training, equipment and tactics. Vice Chancellor Christy L. Brown’s memorandum responding to the report focuses on the prevention of “civil unrest” and absolves, and even praises, the police for their conduct, while endorsing the recommendations in the review panel."

Ahmuty went on to explain that Vice Chancellor Brown’s response to the review panel’s report is inconsistent with the report’s executive summary. What is even more troubling is that both documents fail to suggest ways to facilitate peaceful protest. The apparent mindset of the panel and Vice Chancellor is all about control and the exercise of police authority. The ACLU had hoped that this report would recognize that the vast majority of demonstrators were peacefully exercising their rights to free speech. Because of the deficiencies indicated in the report and poor decisions by UWMPD officers and their superiors during the demonstration the UWMPD did not handle the situation as well as it might have.

“We recognize that officers have a great deal of responsibility and work in often difficult circumstances," said Ahmuty. "Difficult circumstances do not diminish their responsibility to use constitutional methods. Therefore, the ACLU of Wisconsin is seeking additional information on some of the review panel’s recommendations. For instance, we are disappointed that there is a recommendation that officers receive formal training in crowd control tactics and operations, without explicitly including training on the rights of demonstrators in groups."

Hopefully this report will not be shelved as an end of dialogue on campus over how police respond to demonstrations. Constitutionally protected activity needs a trained and measured law enforcement response that protects rather than chills free speech.

This issue has had some coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Friday, August 20, 2010

ACLU of WI Will Support State’s Domestic Partner Registry: Same-sex Couples Will Show Registry is Not Marriage

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue its work to ensure that same-sex couples maintain the basic protections provided in the state’s new domestic partnership registry.

“We expected a challenge to the registry in a lower court,” said Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director. “We’re fully prepared to help defend the state’s registry so that same-sex couples in Wisconsin can have access to the basic, although limited, legal rights their families need.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin supported the defense of the state’s domestic partnership registry in 2009 when an earlier challenge was filed by Wisconsin Family Action in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed the complaint in November 2009. This week Wisconsin Family Action filed a new challenge in the Dane County court which could allow both sides to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“While the Wisconsin Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund will attempt to compare the domestic partnership registry to the legal definition of marriage,” Ahmuty continued, “same-sex couples will seek to demonstrate a factual record of how the protections offered by the registry are quite limited and in no way violate the marriage ban.”

For more of our recent work on LGBT rights, visit the issues section of our website. Read more about the latest challenge to same-sex families in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal. The Journal Sentinel article has a lively comments section, so feel free to weigh in with your support for LGBT equality.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

ACLU of WI Wins Federal Lawsuit Over Grossly Deficient Health Care in WI Women's Prisons

Here is an update on how the ACLU is settling a lawsuit charging inadequate care at the Taycheedah women’s prison. Dramatic improvements in medical and mental health care will ensure female prisoners receive same levels of care as male inmates.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm Jenner and Block have filed papers seeking court approval of an agreement to settle a longstanding class-action lawsuit charging that grossly deficient medical and mental health care jeopardized the lives of female prisoners at the state’s largest women’s prison.

As part of the agreement, filed on August 20th in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, state officials have agreed to implement a number of significant structural improvements aimed at ensuring that constitutionally adequate levels of care are provided to all prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), and that female prisoners receive the same levels of mental health care as the state’s male prisoners.

“Today’s settlement is a real victory for all female prisoners at TCI who will no longer have to suffer needlessly in a system that fails to comply with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “This settlement will lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of health care prisoners will receive.”

Under terms of the settlement agreement, state correctional officials must hire a full-time medical director who will oversee all health care at TCI, be on-site five-days-a-week and be devoted to administration and patient care. State officials will also be required to hire a consultant charged with regularly monitoring the medical care being provided to prisoners, provide recommendations about how to improve care and analyze TCI’s compliance with agreed-upon health care performance standards.

State officials must also complete construction by June 2012 of an off-site women’s resource center that will accept prisoners from TCI who need inpatient-level psychiatric services. Construction of planned annexes at TCI which will provide space for out-of-cell therapeutic activities and group and individual therapy for prisoners with serious mental illnesses must also be completed by June 2012.

Additionally, state officials must make a number of improvements to ensure the safety and access to core programs and services of prisoners with disabilities, including providing prisoners with hearing impairments access to sign language interpreters, reading assistance and Braille materials for prisoners with vision impairments and increased maintenance of paths, walkways and thoroughfares between buildings.

“The health care system at TCI has been in crisis for years and today’s settlement agreement is a monumental step toward achieving much-needed improvements and accountability,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The measures that will be put in place will have a positive impact not only on the prisoners at TCI but on the communities to which prisoners will return upon release.”

The first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit was filed in 2006 by the ACLU on behalf of women prisoners at TCI. The lawsuit charged that the state prison system put the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provided far inferior mental health treatment as compared to men and failed to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services.

The lawsuit sought reforms to the system so that constitutionally adequate care be made available. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. 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 charged that the prison's health system violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and that the mental health care system violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection, because the women received mental health care far inferior to what male prisoners receive.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available online.

We've blogged before about our progress in the case. As the lawsuit is being settled, the story is getting media attention from Wisconsin Public Radio (RealPlayer audio), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, UPI and News Talk The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article has a lively comments section, so please post your comments in support of the continued work of the ACLU of Wisconsin to secure humane conditions in our state prison system.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ACLU of WI Files Complaint Over Shorewood Hills Planning and Housing Decisions

Whenever there are concerns about building affordable housing, our ears prick up mostly because of fights like what happened in South Milwaukee with the Lake Point Apartments.

We’ve been observing the housing issue around Shorewood Hills and the proposal to replace the nearly vacant Pyare Square building. Some residents of the affluent village near Lake Mendota and the University of Wisconsin Madison campus complained about a proposed apartment complex that would house limited-income families. Finally the whole project was scrapped ostensibly due to the height of the building design. However a new apartment complex proposal has recently been suggested by the Stone House Development company under the same affordable housing financing program with fewer neighborhood objections. But questions remain about the fairness of the planning process in the village.

Today, on behalf of a Shorewood Hills resident named Bill Thomas, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation requested a federal investigation of the Village's rejection of accepting affordable family housing developments. In the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Mr. Thomas objects to the discriminatory effect of the Village's February 2010 rejection of affordable housing.

Mr. Thomas is a longtime resident of Shorewood Hills, a former member of its Plan Commission, and an outspoken advocate for housing diversity in the Village. He as long objected to Shorewood Hills’ de facto policy of excluding affordable housing - and the people who qualify for it, who are disproportionately persons of color - from the community.

“A developer wanted to build affordable housing in a perfect spot in Shorewood Hills,” noted Mr. Thomas. “He wanted to tear down Pyare Square - an obsolete, almost vacant office building, for which no one could think of a viable non-residential use, and replace it with affordable apartments and some green space. That proposal gave our Village a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break with the deplorable exclusionary policies of its past, and to comply with Wisconsin’s Smart Growth mandates to ‘meet the housing needs of persons of all income levels,’ and ‘promote the availability of land for the development and redevelopment low-income and moderate income housing’ without any serious strain or pain. Although the Plan Commission had recommended the needed rezoning, the Board of Trustees denied it.”

Mr. Thomas’ attorney, the ACLU’s Karyn Rotker, noted that the Fair Housing Act prohibits actions that have a discriminatory effect, as well as intentionally discriminatory behavior.

“Refusing to allow a developer to build housing that persons of color are proportionally more likely to need and use, especially in a less-diverse community like Shorewood Hills, can be unlawful," said Rotker. "That’s especially true when the rejection of such housing is accompanied by the kinds of sudden changes in rules and priorities, and the negative statements about people who live in affordable housing, that occurred here.”

“I fear that the Board of Trustees of Shorewood Hills, as a body, does not feel morally or legally obligated to even allow, much less encourage, affordable housing in the Village," said Thomas. "Unless it is persuaded otherwise, it will exercise the discretion it has reserved for itself to keep affordable housing out of Shorewood Hills indefinitely. I am hopeful that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will succeed in persuading it otherwise,” Mr. Thomas added.

The complaint got some media attention in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Energy Facilities in Milwaukee Need to Consider Minority, Low-Income Community Impact in Planning Decisions

Urban planning decisions can be a complicated mix of government, business and community members trying to find a balance of their unique interests. But what happens when government makes planning decisions systemically have a negative impact on low-income and minority communities? When some neighborhoods need a voice on environmental concerns, the ACLU of Wisconsin steps up to fight for their needs.

On Monday, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation's legal department joined the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin (BHCW) and the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) to request that the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) address the disproportionate adverse impacts of electric generating facilities on minority and low-income communities in Milwaukee (PDF). The organizations seek to ensure that the PSC address these environmental justice issues in deciding whether to retire, "mothball," or upgrade existing electric generating units.

“Environmental justice issues are raised most clearly by WE Energies’ Valley generating plant on Canal Street, in the City of Milwaukee," said Dennis Grzezinski, MEA Senior Counsel. "This plant is the utility’s oldest power plant and lacks modern air emission controls. It is located in the heart of the State’s largest majority-minority city, between the state’s largest concentration of African-American residents to the north and its largest concentration of Hispanic and Asian residents to the south. While many other old coal-fired power plants in the state are shutting down or being upgraded, the Valley plant has avoided installation of pollution controls.”

In contrast to the negative effects created by the Valley plant, WE Energies’ coal-fired generating plant in Port Washington, a community with very few non-white residents, was razed and replaced with a cleaner, natural gas fueled plant. In Oak Creek, another overwhelmingly white community, four old coal generating units were retired, construction of the second of two new units with pollution controls is nearing completion, and four other old coal generating units are continuing in operation with installation of improved air emission controls.

“The different treatment given the Valley plant raises questions of compliance with the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and of federal environmental justice requirements," said Karyn Rotker, ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation Senior Staff Attorney. "We urge the PSC to address them.”

Dr. Patricia McManus, President and CEO of BHCW, pointed out the big picture of both environmental and public health concerns: “The adverse health impacts of air pollution, of which power plants are a major source, are well-recognized. Meanwhile, asthma, caused and exacerbated by air pollution, affects nearly 100,000 Wisconsin children under age 18; is far more common in southeastern Wisconsin; and is far more prevalent among blacks than whites. The problems are exacerbated by the fact that Milwaukee has been designated by the EPA as out of compliance with air quality standards.”

The complete comments can be found on the ACLU of Wisconsin website. Comments include an analysis of federal civil rights law, details on the energy facilities in Milwaukee, how environmental justice principles apply and media reports on the issue. The coal plant story has also gotten some media coverage from the Milwaukee Shepherd Express.