New Legislation Could Require Drug Testing for Public Benefit Recipients

January 28, 2015

Once again, the Mississippi Legislature has proposed a bill to require drug testing for public benefit recipients in the form of House Bill 383. The ACLU of Mississippi opposes HB 383 and any effort to mandate any type of drug testing of public benefit applicants and recipients as an intrusion upon an individual’s right to privacy and an unreasonable search by the government. In addition to constitutional issues, drug testing is a misguided policy, based on the false premise that poor people are more likely to be drug users than other members of our society.  By targeting recipients of public benefits, these proposals disproportionately impact communities of color.

Last year, the Mississippi Legislature passed HB49 requiring the drug screening and subsequent testing of TANF applicants. Implementation of this bill required recipients complete the SASSI instrument to assess their “probable” drug abuse. Recently, SASSI released a paper to make clear where the Institute stands with regard to states' use of the instrument for their TANF drug testing programs. As you'll see, the SASSI folks are unequivocal in their opposition to the use of the SASSI for these purposes. 

Drug testing an entire class of citizens simply because they are poor "would be dangerously at odds with the tenets of our democracy." It is for this reason we strongly oppose HB 383 and would call for the legislature to reconsider its stance.

HB 383 has been referred to the House Public Health and Human Services Committee. 

ACLU of Mississippi 2015 Legislative Priorities

January 28, 2015

By Keia Johnson, ACLU of Mississippi Legislative Strategist

As a new legislative session is now under way, we are working with legislators to advance our shared beliefs in democracy. Our agenda is simple. It is about constitutional principles, evidence-based solutions, and basic fairness; it’s one that all legislators should support.

Legislative priorities include:

“Person First” HB408 & SB2107

What do you call a person with a disability? A person.

Person First Language is an objective and respectful way to speak about people with disabilities by emphasizing the person first, rather than the disability. Currently, sections of the Mississippi Code make reference to persons with disabilities using arcane and offensive terminology. It is the belief of the ACLU of MS that the language used to describe a person or group is powerful as it reflects our society’s true feelings towards that person or group. Therefore, HB408 & SB107 seek to retroactively amend all sections of the MS Code to ensure that all current offensive terminology is removed and replaced with “Person First” respectful language.

View our one pager on Person First legislation.

“Tuition Equity” HB652 & SB2498

Charging young aspiring Americans out-of-state tuition, pushing a college education out of the reach of many, is cruel and a gross waste of valuable human capital.

Mississippi currently requires thousands of Mississippi students to pay out-of-state tuition – rates three to four times higher than in-state tuition rates – simply because of their immigration status. It should be noted that most of these students have already lived in Mississippi for most of their lives and therefore the state of Mississippi has already invested millions of tax dollars into their secondary school educations.

It is with this in mind, the ACLU of Mississippi has partnered with (MIRA) Mississippi’s Immigrant’s Rights Association to propose a Tuition Equity bill which will allow all young people who have attended and graduated from MS High schools, to pay in state tuition rates at our colleges and universities.

View our one pager on Tuition Equity legislation.

“School Resource Officer Training” HB478 & SB2332

Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline in Mississippi, begins with decriminalizing our students and keeping them in our classrooms.

By criminalizing typical adolescent behaviors, we are taking students out of the classroom, funneling them into the juvenile justice system and school-to-prison pipeline. Even still, more and more Mississippi schools are utilizing some form of school-based policing services in order to combat disciplinary issues. The most commonly used form of school-based policeman are known as School Resource Officers (SROs). These men and women are placed in school districts and expected to discipline, counsel, and in some cases, instruct kids. However, they are typically law enforcement and are not trained to deal with students and typical adolescent behavior.

In an effort to combat this issue, The ACLU of MS has proposed HB478 & SB2332 which require mandatory training for school resource officers in areas such as child adolescent development, cultural competence and building relationships with students; deescalating violent situations; identifying the social, emotional, and mental needs of the students; directing youth to appropriate services rather than using force; and due process protections for students.

View our one pager on School Resource Officer Training legislation. 

“Anti-Bullying” HB750 & SB2474

According to the Mississippi Department of Health Vital Statistics in 2013, 635 youth ages 10-24 have committed suicide since 2000 – an average of 49 deaths per year. The most often-cited cause of this is bullying.  

Mississippi has a bullying and harassment problem within its public school system. The state’s current anti-bullying statute fails to require school’s to educate staff on how to recognize and react to the signs of bullying. More alarmingly, it fails to enumerate specific categories of bullying. It must be clear that Mississippi does not condone and will take action in response to conduct that interferes with all students’ opportunity to learn.

HB750 & SB2474 strengthen Mississippi’s existing anti-bullying law by clearly identifying common characteristics that all-too-often become the target of bullying in schools, including disability, appearance, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. The Mississippi Legislature has a duty to in provide a safe, orderly, and respectful school environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. This legislation would greatly champion their cause.

View our Anti-Bullying one pager.

“Police Body Cameras” HB1279

The ACLU recognizes the potential that police body cameras have to increase police transparency. With good policies in place, recording of police-civilian encounters will promote police accountability, deter officer and civilian misconduct, and provide objective evidence to help resolve civilian complaints against police without significantly infringing on privacy. However, without such protections body cameras can do more harm than good. Laws must have in place proper police usage guidelines and privacy limitations.

In an effort to ensure that police body cameras are utilized properly in the state of Mississippi we are working in active support of HB1279. This bill requires patrol policemen to wear an actively recording body camera while they are on duty. It allows police to stop recording in very limited defined circumstances and mandates procedures and time limitations for the storing of all recorded encounters. With the implementation of a bill such as this we can be sure that body cameras will be used for the benefit of officers and citizens alike.

View our one pager on Police Body Cameras.

The ACLU of Mississippi will also continue to monitor the progress of proposed bills in the Legislature. We will continue to actively support the efforts of other groups, allies, and legislators who aim to work in the best interest of all citizens of this great state.

Stay up to date during the 2015 legislative session: Sign up for action alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Drones Bill Fails to Regulate Use

January 28, 2015

A bill called the "Drone Prohibition Act" (HB 347) was introduced to prohibit the use of drones with certain exceptions and has been referred to the House Judiciary B Committee. We oppose the bill as written because it fails to place any restrictions on law enforcement use, retention, and disclosure of captured images from drones.

We support legislation that regulates the use of drones by government agencies, but that legislation must require a search warrant for drone use by law or regulatory enforcement agencies and establish clear data retention limitations, and disclosure requirements so that the public is aware of the uses being made of drones.

The American Bar Association agrees that protections are needed to safeguard against 4th Amendment warrantless searches and privacy violations.

View our one-pager about the Drone Prohibition Act (HB 347).

Category: Op-eds
Tag: Privacy

TAKE ACTION: Oppose HB 714

January 23, 2015

UPDATE: Rep. Bob Evans has agreed to pull this bill in a statement online. 

A bill (HB 714) has been introduced “to create a rebuttable presumption that it is not in best interest of child to be placed in custody of homosexual parent or person.”

This bill is blatantly unconstitutional and will cost taxpayers unnecessary dollars in litigation.

HB 714 could allow someone to win custody of their children by claiming their former spouse is gay.
This bill will lead to contentious custody disputes wherein parents are forced to make egregious allegations that their spouse or ex-spouse is gay to gain the upper hand. This will require courts to be part of “witch hunt” trials to determine the sexuality of a parent. 

This bill has implications for same-sex couples who have a custody dispute. It could affect same-sex couples who may already have a custody dispute by making a presumption that neither parent is in the child’s best interest. This bill could lead to the possibility that children are taken away from both parents and placed in the custody of someone else.  

For information on child welfare and statements from organizations that have done studies on same-sex parenting click here.

Here’s another resource with quotes from other child welfare and health organizations.

Contact the members of House Judiciary A Committee and tell them to kill this bill!

Rep. Mark Baker (R) – 601-824-3297,

Rep. Thomas Reynolds (D) – 662-473-2571,

Rep. Earle Banks (D) – 601-713-2223 office,

Rep. David Baria (D) – 228-466-0815,

Rep. Jim Beckett (R) – 662-983-2451,

Rep. Richard Bennett (R) – 228-861-6348,

Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr. (D) – 601-859-4202,

Rep. C. Scott bounds (R) – 601-656-1765,

Rep. Lester (Bubba) Carpenter (R) – 662-424-2306,

Rep. Bryant Clark (D) - 662-834-1473 office,

Rep. Angela Cockerham (D) - 601-783-4979 office,

Rep. Linda Coleman (D) - 662-741-3272 office,

Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R) - 228-861-7303,

Rep. Bill Denny (R) - 601-956-6807 office,

Rep. Bob Evans (D) - 601-587-9313 office,

Rep. Greg Haney (R) -

Rep. Wanda Taylor Jennings (R) - 662-349-3673,

Rep. Robert L. Johnson III (D) -

Rep. John T. (Trey) Lamar III (R) - 662-502-0434,

Rep. Hank Lott (R) - 601-606-0800,

Rep. Robert W. (Bobby) Moak (D) -

Rep. Willie J. Perkins Sr. (D) - 662-453-4108,

Rep. Brent Powell (R) -

Rep. Jeffrey C. (Jeff) Smith (R) - 662-327-0407,

Rep. Percy W. Watson (D) -

Please contact members of this committee by phone, email, Facebook and Twitter and tell them to kill this unconstitutional bill!

ACLU of Mississippi 2015 Equity Agenda

January 21, 2015

Every day in Mississippi, marginalized communities including communities of color, immigrant communities, people with disabilities, women, and the LGBT community face barriers to true opportunity. Our 2015 Equity Agenda highlights the unfinished business of achieving “justice for all” in Mississippi. 

Mississippi is a state growing in diversity but failing to thrive in racial, cultural and economic equity. Making Mississippi better will not happen overnight. Tell lawmakers to support the ACLU of Mississippi 2015 Equity Agenda.

The 2015 Equity Agenda sets out priorities and acts as a guide to issues that remain unaddressed in Mississippi. We expect our leaders to speak up for the disenfranchised and oppose policies that are detrimental to the welfare of our state.

Hold your representative accountable and tell them to support progress in Mississippi this legislative session.

View our 2015 Equity Agenda.

Stay up to date during the 2015 legislative session: Sign up for action alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Honor MLK - Continue the March

January 19, 2015

"How Long? Not Long!" was the question and answer given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he stood on the steps of the Capitol building in March 1965 after leading the march from Selma to Montgomery. It was also a declaration that the struggle must continue. Despite obstacles and adversity, people came together and demanded better. They showed that it was not acceptable to establish laws that disenfranchised. They marched together to exemplify that together we can address discriminatory housing practices, inadequate public school funding and policies that keep poverty in place. As a result of their trek protesting injustices, they advanced equality.  

In Mississippi, we continue to see communities of color, the immigrant community, our LGBT citizens, and persons with disability marginalized.  Mississippi touts the 2nd highest prison population, ranks at the bottom when it comes to education, and continues to have the worst poverty ranking.  All of these issues are the result of deep seated, structural and institutional inequity in income, education, criminal justice, employment, and health. 

A battle was won 50 years ago but the war still wages. The tactics of enemies of equality may not be as overt but they remain the same.  Public schools and quality education remain a focus of attack.  Employment opportunities are barred by unnecessary policies. Injustices in application of criminal laws have targeted young men of color.    

The time for the arc to turn toward justice in Mississippi is now.  It is our sincere hope that all Mississippians join together to establish a better Mississippi.  Help us today.  Pivot Mississippi toward justice by calling on political leaders to dismantle barriers and increase equity.  In honor of Dr. King and other heroes who marched, bled, and died - vote. 

ACLU-MS Sends Letter to Rankin County School District About School Club Policy Change

January 14, 2015

On January 14, we sent a letter to the Rankin County School District as a result of their school club policy change after students wanted to start an organization that supports the school's LGBT community.

Read the letter.

Students do not check their First Amendment rights of expression and association at the school house door.

Learn about the Equal Access Act. 

Learn about the right to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

A Lesson From Ferguson: Driving While Black Leads to Jailed for Being Poor

January 09, 2015

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program

The tragic killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August has brought much needed attention to the epidemic of racialized policing in America. In Ferguson and cities throughout the country, police stop, search, and arrest black people and other communities of color at rates grossly disproportionate to their population.

In late December, the Missouri Supreme Court took an important step to addressing the problem: curbing the use of municipal courts as debtors' prisons. An editorial in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch explains the vicious cycle linking racial profiling and debtors' prisons in St. Louis County:

It works like this: A black driver gets pulled over in Bel-Ridge, for example, for failure to signal. Maybe a headlight is out on the car, too, or the registration has expired. The driver gets a summons for two or three violations. Hundred dollar fines are stacked on top of each other.

Violators sit and wait on the one night a month the municipal court is in session, stewing as lawyers, most of whom are white, get preferential treatment. They get called up first by the judge to dispose of the cases of their paying clients.

Those who can't afford a lawyer often can't afford the fines, either. So when their turn finally comes, they tell the court they can't pay. They may be threatened with jail if they don't come up with the money. If they miss a payment or a court date, a warrant can be issued for their arrest.

In St. Louis County, as throughout the country, modern-day debtors prisons exist despite the fact that the United States formally abolished the incarceration of people who failed to pay off debts nearly two centuries ago. In the process, poor people –disproportionately people of color – and their families suffer from the collateral impacts of jailing on employment, and housing.

In September 2014, shortly after the killing of Brown, lawyers from Arch City Defenders and law professors at St. Louis University sought help in breaking this cycle. They wrote to the Missouri Supreme Court asking for a change to the court rules that guide judges in collecting fines and fees from defendants.

The Missouri Supreme Court showed that it understood what's going on. It revised a Missouri court rule to explicitly allow judges to permit defendants to pay through installment plans and to waive or reduce fines for those who cannot pay. The rule now also requires judges to schedule a "show cause" hearing before issuing arrest warrants for failure to appear, which gives defendants an opportunity to explain why they did not or cannot pay their fines.

And, crucially important, the rule now provides that when a defendant is held in contempt of court for failure to pay, the fine may be collected by the same means used to enforce court orders awarding money damages to a party.

This means that a Missouri court cannot use its contempt authority to jail a person who is simply too poor to pay a fine or fee. Instead, it must use the same procedures routinely employed to enforcement judgments, such as ordering a lien on real or personal property. Using these methods requires providing important procedural safeguards and respecting statutory exemptions from collection for home and personal property, both of which help to protect the poor.

In a country where the racial wealth gap remains stark, the link between driving while black and jailed for being poor has a devastating impact on people and communities of color. The Missouri Supreme Court showed that it understands the need to break the cycle.

Other courts should follow its lead.

Learn more about debtors prisons and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View this blog on ACLU National's website.

2015 Mississippi Legislative Session Timetable

December 30, 2014

The 2015 Mississippi Legislative Session begins at 12:00 pm on Tuesday, January 6, 2015! In the next few weeks, we will detail our agenda for the session and some of the priorities we would like to see the Mississippi Legislature work on. Stay tuned!

For now, here is the timetable for processing legislation this year from the Mississippi Legislature website:

9th day 
Wed. Jan. 14
Deadline for making REQUESTS for GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS to be drafted.***
14th day 
Mon. Jan. 19
29th day 
Tues. Feb. 3
38th day 
Thurs. Feb. 12
39th day 
Fri. Feb. 13
Deadline for reconsideration and passage of GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OWN House.*
42nd day 
Mon. Feb. 16
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OWN House.*
51st day 
Wed. Feb. 25
Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OWN House.
52nd day 
Thurs. Feb. 26
53rd day 
Fri. Feb. 27
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OWN House.
57th day 
Tues. Mar. 3
65th day 
Wed. Mar. 11
66th day 
Thurs. Mar. 12
67th day 
Fri. Mar. 13
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OTHER House.*
71st day 
Tues. Mar. 17
Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OTHER House.
72nd day 
Wed. Mar. 18
Deadline for RECONSIDERATION/PASSAGE of APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OTHER House.
73rd day 
Thurs. Mar. 19
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OTHER House.
74th day 
Fri. Mar. 20
Deadline to concur or not concur in amendments from OTHER House to APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills, and for INTRODUCTION of LOCAL and PRIVATE bills that are REVENUE bills.
77th day 
Mon. Mar. 23
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider concurrence or nonconcurrence in APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills.
80th day 
Thurs. Mar. 26
81st day 
Fri. Mar. 27
Deadline for introduction of local and private bills that are not revenue bills.
82nd day 
Sat. Mar. 28
Deadline for CONFERENCE REPORTS on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills to be filed.**+
84th day 
Mon. Mar. 30
Deadline for final adoption of conference reports on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills and for conference reports on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS to be filed.**+
85th day 
Tues. Mar. 31
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider conference reports on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills.
86th day 
Wed. Apr. 1
Deadline for first consideration of conference reports on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.
87th day 
Thurs. Apr. 2
Deadline for filing conference reports on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS that had been recommitted for further conference.+
88th day 
Fri. Apr. 3
Deadline for adoption of conference reports on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS after recommittal.
89th day 
Sat. Apr. 4
Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider conference reports on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.
90th day 
Sun. Apr. 5

View this on the Mississippi Legislature website.

Category: Press Releases

FDA Fails to Adequately Address Discriminatory Blood Donation Ban

December 23, 2014

CONTACT: 212-549-266,

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today a change in the current lifetime ban on blood donations from gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The proposal would replace the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral, which would only permit gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year.  The proposal would treat all sexual relationships between men the same way that heterosexual sex is treated when it involves a commercial sex worker or an individual who is known to be living with HIV.

"The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point," said Ian Thompson, a legislative representative in the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "The reality for most gay and bisexual men – including those in committed, monogamous relationships – is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions."

The FDA blood donation policy, which has been in place since 1983, prohibits any man who has had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977 from donating blood. The American Civil Liberties Union previously submitted comments urging the FDA to reassess its policy based on current scientific evidence.