News

MS School of the Arts Allows Transgender Student to Wear Dress to Prom after ACLU-MS Action

April 07, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – The Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven has reversed their decision to prevent a transgender student from wearing a dress to the prom. The school affirmed the student’s rights following a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi. In the letter sent on April 3rd, the ACLU of Mississippi asserted that requiring all boys to wear traditionally male attire to school dances constitutes gender discrimination and violates First Amendment right to the freedom of expression.

“We are satisfied that the school has complied with the law and has resolved this issue. Every student has the right to be themselves in school by expressing their gender identity,” said Charles Irvin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

View the ACLU-MS letter

Learn more about LGBT student rights 

Update: Bills Dead or Alive - March 30th Deadline

March 31, 2015

Monday, March 30th was the deadline for conference reports to be filed or the bills will die. The conference report must be adopted by April 2nd. The Governor may sign bills into law or veto them throughout the week. The 2015 Legislative Session adjourns on April 5th. 

Bad Bills

HB177 - Prohibits the application of foreign law. Signed into law by the Governor.

We opposed HB177. It is unnecessary for the Mississippi Legislature to define foreign law. 

HB257 - To provide for DNA collection (for HIV AIDS testing) from persons arrested for violent crimes. Signed into law by the Governor.

We opposed HB257 because collecting and storing DNA from arrestees turns a fundamental tenet of our justice system—innocent until proven guilty—on its head. This is a due process issue, as the taking and use of DNA by law enforcement constitutes a “search” and therefore requires a court order or warrant that is supported by probable cause. Automatic testing of arrestees provides law enforcement a way to circumvent this essential safeguard.

Good Bills

HB602 - Authorizes the creation of the Re-Entry Council, purpose of which is to help inmates successfully reintegrate into society. Signed into law by the Governor.

We support HB602 because the bill promotes principles of restorative justice and rehabiliation. Mississippi must continue to evaluate it's prison system to ensure that former offenders have a fair chance at living a crime free life beyond bars. This will in turn reduce recidivism rates and decrease our prison population.

HB836 - Requires state agencies to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Conference report adopted. 

We support this bill because there are too few opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to get real employment that pays real wages. Therefore, requiring that the state agencies responsible for administering services to people with disabilities also prioritize finding opportunities for their employment is both advantageous and for the good of all Mississippians.

HB404 - Authorizes the MS Dept. of Youth Services branch of the Dept. of Human Services to operate "Adolescent Opportunity Program" instead of Adolescent Offender Program. Program would include academic, tutoring, literacy, mentoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management. Programs may include, but shall not be limited to, after school and weekend programs, job readiness programs, home detention programs, community service conflict resolution programs, restitution and community service. Signed into law by the Governor.

The state of Mississippi must find practical alternatives to sending children into the industrial prison complex. We support HB404 because the bill seeks to address the needs of troubled youth by getting to the root of the problem. By providing academic tutoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management instead of sending youth to juvenile offender programs, we give kids an opportunity at a life outside of the confines of jail and makes an investment in the future of the State of Mississippi.

SB2545 - To Create The Mississippi Public Defender Oversight And Accountability Commission, creates statewide standards. Died in conference.

We support SB2545 because it promotes community policing, transparency, and accountability.

SB2332 - Training for school resource officers. Amended to just include training prior to placement and a pathway to access additional training by parent or school district complaints. Conference report filed. 

We support SB2332. School Resource Officers must be provided with the tools necessary to ensure safety, while respecting the rights of students and the overall school climate. By requiring that SROs be trained about their roles prior to entering the schoolhouse, and equipping them with knowledge regarding adolescent development, this bill creates a safe school environment for all and reduces reliance on the criminal justice system.

SB2107 - Person First in Government Language. Amended to coincide with current law, conference report filed.

We support this bill because currently Mississippi's laws use outdated and offensive terminology in reference to people with disabilities. Everyone deserves respect. The language that we use on a daily basis demonstrates the respect, or lack thereof, that we have for one another. Therefore, we must change our language to reflect that people with disabilities are valued citizens in the state of Mississippi.

SB2780 - The Mississippi Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act, is a bill to provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain drug violations by a person seeking treatment for a drug overdose. Veteod but combined with HB 692 and signed into law by the Governor.

We support this bill because it has the potential to save lives. It is a step back from the enforcement mentality toward drug use. Mississippi cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug abuse problem. It is past time to address substance abuse as a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter. This bill is a small step in that direction.

HB2127 - To clarify the provisions of law that authorize in-state tuition for nonresident students who are United States Veterans; to authorize in state tuition for persons who are eligible for Veterans’ Educational Assistance under Title 38 of the United States Code. Signed into law by the Governor.

HB957 - To create the Commission on the Future of Medicaid and Health Care in Mississippi. Died in Conference.

We support HB957 as amended by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. The intention of this legislation is supportive of needed systemic reforms but the composition as written does not include people affected by any proposed reforms. 

Faith Leaders across Mississippi Unite for Prison Reform

March 19, 2015

A new organization of faith leaders addressed for-profit prisons at the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) task force hearing on Friday, March 20th. The coalition is called Clergy for Prison Reform (CPR) and they are seeking to highlight the desperate need to reform the state's deeply flawed corrections system.

We are pleased with the faith leaders' interest and initiative regarding the issue of mass incarceration and the impact of private prisons as a contributing factor to Mississippi's prison population.

For more information about CPR visit: www.clergyforprisonreform.com

View the press release about CPR. 

ACLU-MS Comment on Revised JPS Restraint and Seclusion Policy

March 06, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – On February 17, the Jackson Public School (JPS) Board of Trustees adopted a revised student restraint policy after advocacy groups publicly commented at a JPS Board meeting. After the meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi worked in partnership with Dr. Cedric Gray and members of the school board to craft a policy that outlines the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in school.

In December, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies asserted that the policy failed to focus on creating a safe environment for students and faculty, lacked clarity in the definitions of the techniques that open the door for harm, and did not promote positive behavioral interventions, among other concerns.

The following is a statement from the ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Charles Irvin about the revised policy:

“The changes enacted by the Jackson Public School District ensure that students can be assured that school is a safe place and are free to learn. The revised policy has more emphasis on prevention, robust definitions, more specificity to the training component and inclusion of proper reporting guidelines.

We applaud their efforts in taking a generic policy and bringing added clarity for the benefit of students, parents and administrators.”

View the revised policy.

Bills Dead Or Alive - March 3rd Deadline

March 04, 2015

Tuesday, March 3rd was the deadline for bills to pass out of committee from the opposite chamber. Senate bills had to pass out of House committees and House bills had to pass out of Senate committees. 

Any bill that did not make it out of committee on either side died. Bills that passed now move on to the floor of the opposite chamber. Below are the bills that could affect civil liberties in Mississippi and their current statuses. 

The next deadline for the bills to pass on the floor of the opposite chamber is March 11th.

Alive

Bad Bills

HB177 - Prohibits the application of foreign law.

We oppose HB177. It is unnecessary for the Mississippi Legislature to define foreign law. 

HB257 - To provide for DNA collection (for HIV AIDS testing) from persons arrested for violent crimes.

We oppose HB257 because collecting and storing DNA from arrestees turns a fundamental tenet of our justice system—innocent until proven guilty—on its head. This is a due process issue, as the taking and use of DNA by law enforcement constitutes a “search” and therefore requires a court order or warrant that is supported by probable cause. Automatic testing of arrestees provides law enforcement a way to circumvent this essential safeguard.

Good Bills

HB602 - Authorizes the creation of the Re-Entry Council, purpose of which is to help inmates successfully reintegrate into society.

We support HB602 because the bill promotes principles of restorative justice and rehabiliation. Mississippi must continue to evaluate it's prison system to ensure that former offenders have a fair chance at living a crime free life beyond bars. This will in turn reduce recidivism rates and decrease our prison population.

HB836 - Requires state agencies to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

We support this bill because there are too few opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to get real employment that pays real wages. Therefore, requiring that the state agencies responsible for administering services to people with disabilities also prioritize finding opportunities for their employment is both advantageous and for the good of all Mississippians.

HB404 - Authorizes the MS Dept. of Youth Services branch of the Dept. of Human Services to operate "Adolescent Opportunity Program" instead of Adolescent Offender Program. Program would include academic, tutoring, literacy, mentoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management. Programs may include, but shall not be limited to, after school and weekend programs, job readiness programs, home detention programs, community service conflict resolution programs, restitution and community service.

The state of Mississippi must find practical alternatives to sending children into the industrial prison complex. We support HB404 because the bill seeks to address the needs of troubled youth by getting to the root of the problem. By providing academic tutoring, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and anger management instead of sending youth to juvenile offender programs, we give kids an opportunity at a life outside of the confines of jail and makes an investment in the future of the State of Mississippi.

SB2545 - To Create The Mississippi Public Defender Oversight And Accountability Commission, creates statewide standards

We support SB2545 because it promotes community policing, transparency, and accountability.

SB2332 - Training for school resource officers

We support SB2332. School Resource Officers must be provided with the tools necessary to ensure safety, while respecting the rights of students and the overall school climate. By requiring that SROs be trained about their roles prior to entering the schoolhouse, and equipping them with knowledge regarding adolescent development, this bill creates a safe school environment for all and reduces reliance on the criminal justice system.

SB2107 - Person First in Government Language

We support this bill because currently Mississippi's laws use outdated and offensive terminology in reference to people with disabilities. Everyone deserves respect. The language that we use on a daily basis demonstrates the respect, or lack thereof, that we have for one another. Therefore, we must change our language to reflect that people with disabilities are valued citizens in the state of Mississippi.

HB2780 - The Mississippi Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act, is a bill to provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain drug violations by a person seeking treatment for a drug overdose.

We support this bill because it has the potential to save lives. It is a step back from the enforcement mentality toward drug use. Mississippi cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug abuse problem. It is past time to address substance abuse as a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter. This bill is a small step in that direction.

HB578 - Provides in state tuition for nonresident students entitled to federal Veterans’ Educational Assistance

HB2127 - To clarify the provisions of law that authorize in-state tuition for nonresident students who are United States Veterans; to authorize in state tuition for persons who are eligible for Veterans’ Educational Assistance under Title 38 of the United States Code.

HB957 - To create the Commission on the Future of Medicaid and Health Care in Mississippi.

We support HB957 as amended by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. The intention of this legislation is supportive of needed systemic reforms but the composition as written does not include people affected by any proposed reforms. 

Dead

Bad Bills

HB490 - Prohibits State of MS and political subdivisions from adopting "Agenda 21" or any other international law that contravenes the Constitution of MS or the US.

HB1338 - To Clarify That A Cause Of Action For Wrongful Death Includes An Unborn Child

HB1305 -To Protect The Identities Of All Individuals And Entities Who Comprise The Execution Including, But Not Limited To, Any Supplier Of Lethal Injection Drugs

HB1069 -Prohibits A Person From Participating In A Primary Unless He Intends To Support The Nominations Made

HB932 -To Require Registrars To Mail A Voter Registration Card To The Mailing Address Provided On An Applicant's Voter Registration Form

Good Bills

HB1051 -To Revise The Definition Of "technical Violation" For Probationary Purposes; To Provide That A Technical Violation Shall Not Include The Commission Of A New Crime Or The Absconding From Supervision By A Probationer

SB2295 - Requires the State Superintendent of Education to report on the number of students arrested as a result of any unlawful activity which occurred on educational property or during a school-related activity.

ACLU-MS Applauds Objections in Same-Sex Divorce Case

February 26, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2015

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that supplemental briefs of the parties in the same-sex divorce case of Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham v. The State of Mississippi are necessary. Justice Leslie King in his separate statements stated, “I see no reason for useless supplemental briefing or for delaying a decision to allow this couple their long-awaited divorce.” He further stated that “tradition may not trample rights.”

In September 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Mississippi Supreme Court in Chatham, asserting that denying a couple the right to a divorce infringes upon their constitutional right to due process and equal protection. The following is a statement from the ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director, Charles Irvin:

“We applaud the written objections of Justice Leslie King, to the Mississippi State Supreme Court’s En Banc Order. It is our sincere hope that the Mississippi State Supreme Court will eventually render a decision which recognizes the right of all Mississippians to be treated equally.”

View the En Banc Order.

View the release about our brief from September.


Saving a Life is More Important than Making an Arrest

February 19, 2015

Senate Bill 2780, the Mississippi Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act, is a bill to provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain drug violations by a person seeking treatment for a drug overdose. We support SB2780 because we want to encourage people to seek medical care on behalf of themselves and others, in any emergency situation. SB2780 passed the Senate and now moves to the House.

Unintentional drug overdose is now considered to be a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Overdose bystanders may not call for medical assistance for fear of being arrested for drug-related crimes. Good Samaritan Policies are life-saving measures that enable people to make responsible decisions by shielding them from punishment when they call for medical help during an emergency relating to alcohol or other drugs.

Since the threat of punitive policies can often cause hesitation during confusing and stressful party situations, the existence of a Good Samaritan Policy is essential to ensuring that people are able to stay alive and receive help when they are in trouble. Furthermore, this bill, if passed, would be a step back from the state’s enforcement mentality toward drug use.

If our objective is to ensure that fewer people are harmed by drug use, we should emphasize and fund access to treatment and care, not focus on criminalizing those who need the help. Drug policy in this country is tragically and ineffectively tied to criminal justice tools and frameworks. Policymakers need to make the switch from approaching drug use as a criminal justice issue to an issue that would be much better solved with health care. It is unfair, unjust, unworkable and downright dangerous to try to police a health problem.

Saving a life is far more important than making an arrest.

Mississippi cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug abuse problem. It is past time to address substance abuse as a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter. This bill is also a small step in that direction.

Tell your representative to support SB 2780.

You Move, You Lose!

February 18, 2015

House Bill 932 will require registrars to mail a voter registration card to the mailing address provided on an applicant’s voter registration form. This law places another unnecessary obstacle between citizens and their right to vote. This legislation passed the House and has been referred to the County Affairs and Elections Committees.

We believe HB932 is nothing more than a backwards attempt to discourage voter registration and turn out. States across the country are passing measures that make it harder and harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, low-income families, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot.

If this law passes, it could be one such measure. Because, as written, even though individuals would be allowed to change their address over the phone, their voter registration cards could be mailed to the address on their original application. As a result, countless voters may never receive their voter registration cards, even though they have taken measures to ensure that they will not be denied the right to vote come Election Day. Voting is a right that is not to be unduly burdened, this bill might accomplish just that.

Impeding access to the polls reduces the number of Americans who can vote and weakens our democracy. Voter Suppression laws are anti-democratic and we should encourage more people to vote, not fewer. Elected officials should be seeking ways to encourage more Americans to vote, not inventing baseless reasons to deny voters the ability to cast their ballots. Even though people believe that virtually everyone owns a photo ID, the reality is that millions of Americans—through no fault of their own—lack the narrow category of permissible IDs under these laws. These disenfranchised voters include people who happened to move at the wrong time, or were born at home, or even veterans who served this country.

Any voter suppression law is a threat to our democracy.HB 932 will have a disproportionate and unfair impact on low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minority voters, senior citizens and voters with disabilities.

TAKE ACTION and tell your lawmaker to oppose HB 932

Category: Op-eds

Mississippi Risks Engaging in Human Experimentation with SB2543 and HB1305

February 12, 2015

Two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 2543 and House Bill 1305, amend a statute in Mississippi to prevent disclosure of the suppliers of drugs used in executions. These execution secrecy bills cannot be allowed to move forward. SB 2543 passed the Senate committee and now moves the Senate floor. HB 1305 has already passed the House floor and moves to the Senate committee.

In light of the botched executions conducted around the country, it is more important than ever that there be accountability and transparency when it comes to the drugs and suppliers used in executions. SB2543 and HB1305 will put up a wall of secrecy around the source of drugs to be used in executions. The secrecy makes it impossible for the courts and the public to know whether executions will be carried out humanely and in compliance with state and federal laws and the U.S. Constitution.

For the past few years, states have been grappling with the unavailability of some drugs that had previously been used in executions. In response, some states have turned to experimental drugs and drug combinations, which poses serious risks of executions not working as planned. Other states have used compounded drugs. Without information about the pharmacies that compound the drugs and the raw ingredients used, it is impossible to say whether a compounded product will be effective and work as intended.

Experimental drug combinations were used in the horrifically botched executions of Clayton Lockett, Joseph Wood, and Dennis McGuire, calling into question whether Departments of Corrections are selecting drugs and doses capable of producing a humane execution. 

The death penalty is the most extreme punishment possible. If Mississippi continues to execute death row prisoners, the government must be transparent and accountable to the people of this state, in whose name it is carrying out this ultimate and irreversible punishment. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has stated “transparency in government is critical to its integrity.” There should be no exception given to pharmaceutical companies related to their role in execution. 

If we are to have executions at all, they must not be conducted like hastily thrown together human science experiments. This legislation is unsafe, unnecessary and will cause Mississippi to incur more litigation expenses and delays in the courts.

TAKE ACTION and tell your lawmaker to oppose SB 2543 and HB 1305. 

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.