News Author: Morgan Miller

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, mbaker@house.ms.gov

Rep. Thomas Reynolds (D) – 662-473-2571, treynolds@house.ms.gov

Rep. Earle Banks (D) – 601-713-2223 office, ebanksjax@aol.com

Rep. David Baria (D) – 228-466-0815, dbaria@house.ms.gov

Rep. Jim Beckett (R) – 662-983-2451, jbeckett@house.ms.gov

Rep. Richard Bennett (R) – 228-861-6348, rbennett@house.ms.gov

Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr. (D) – 601-859-4202, eblackmon@house.ms.gov

Rep. C. Scott bounds (R) – 601-656-1765, sbounds@house.ms.gov

Rep. Lester (Bubba) Carpenter (R) – 662-424-2306, lcarpenter@house.ms.gov

Rep. Bryant Clark (D) - 662-834-1473 office, bclark@house.ms.gov

Rep. Angela Cockerham (D) - 601-783-4979 office, acockerham@house.ms.gov

Rep. Linda Coleman (D) - 662-741-3272 office, lcoleman@house.ms.gov

Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R) - 228-861-7303, ccrawford@house.ms.gov

Rep. Bill Denny (R) - 601-956-6807 office, bdenny@house.ms.gov

Rep. Bob Evans (D) - 601-587-9313 office, bevans@house.ms.gov

Rep. Greg Haney (R) - ghaney@house.ms.gov

Rep. Wanda Taylor Jennings (R) - 662-349-3673, wjennings@house.ms.gov

Rep. Robert L. Johnson III (D) - rjohnson@house.ms.gov

Rep. John T. (Trey) Lamar III (R) - 662-502-0434, jlamar@house.ms.gov

Rep. Hank Lott (R) - 601-606-0800, hlott@house.ms.gov

Rep. Robert W. (Bobby) Moak (D) - bmoak@locnet.net

Rep. Willie J. Perkins Sr. (D) - 662-453-4108, wperkins@house.ms.gov

Rep. Brent Powell (R) - bpowell@house.ms.gov

Rep. Jeffrey C. (Jeff) Smith (R) - 662-327-0407, jsmith@house.ms.gov

Rep. Percy W. Watson (D) - pwatson@house.ms.gov

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.

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
Deadline for INTRODUCTION of GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.*
29th day 
Tues. Feb. 3
Deadline for COMMITTEES TO REPORT GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OWN House.*+
38th day 
Thurs. Feb. 12
Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OWN House.*
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
Deadline for RECONSIDERATION AND PASSAGE OF APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OWN House.
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
Deadline for COMMITTEES TO REPORT GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OTHER House.*+
65th day 
Wed. Mar. 11
Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OTHER House.*
66th day 
Thurs. Mar. 12
Deadline for RECONSIDERATION AND PASSAGE of GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS originating in OTHER House.*
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
Deadline to CONCUR or not concur in AMENDMENTS from OTHER HOUSE to GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.
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
SINE DIE.


View this on the Mississippi Legislature website.

Category: Press Releases

FDA Fails to Adequately Address Discriminatory Blood Donation Ban

December 23, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-266, media@aclu.org

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.

VICTORY! Federal Jury Holds Catholic School Accountable for Sex Discrimination

December 23, 2014

By Brian Hauss, Legal Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project

Emily Herx never imagined that she could lose her job for trying to get pregnant. But after working for more than seven years as a literature and language arts teacher at a Catholic school in Indiana, she was shocked to learn that her teaching contract would not be renewed: All because the in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment she was undergoing in an attempt to have a second child made her a "grave, immoral sinner" in the eyes of her religious employers.

Emily filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the local diocese for sex discrimination, pointing out that they had never fired a man for his involvement in infertility treatment. Her former employers responded by arguing that they should be exempted from federal anti-discrimination laws because their decision to fire Emily was motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs. Fortunately, the court held that religious schools do not have blanket permission to discriminate against lay teachers and allowed a jury to hear Emily's case.

Read the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief here.

After a four-day trial, the jury found that the school and diocese discriminated against Emily on the basis of sex and awarded her $1.9 million in damages. This resounding victory for women's equality should send a message to employers everywhere that they cannot use religion to justify discrimination. And we owe it all to Emily's decision to stand up for her rights.

As Emily herself wrote in a blog post for the ACLU:

The emotional strain of infertility treatments, the loss of a job I loved so dearly, and my involvement in this case have all taken a toll on my family, my friends, and me. While I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from individuals across this nation, this has been a challenging and traumatic road. However, it is important to me to right the wrong that has been done when the Diocese and school discriminated against me.

My husband and I teach our son that doing what is right is important, even when it is hard. I am heartened that one day my son will be able to look at his mom with pride for standing up for what is right and just, even when it was a struggle to do so.

We all have a right to our beliefs, but the fundamental right to exercise religion is not an excuse to discriminate against others. That is why the ACLU works tirelessly to end the use of religion to discriminate.

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

ACLU to Congress: We Need a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

December 15, 2014

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

Did you know that there are just 18 states that have explicit workplace non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, or that a mere 13 states have such protections in place for LGBT students?

On Tuesday, the director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office delivered that message to the Senate Judiciary Committee during her testimony on the state of civil and human rights in the United States. "Despite remarkable progress in recent years in expanding the number of states with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples," said Laura W. Murphy, "there is a startling dearth of explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans."

In July, the ACLU, along with other leading LGBT rights organizations, announced a withdrawal of support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) due to a provision – unprecedented in federal law – that would have given religious organizations carte blanche to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the time, we said that our recommendation was simple: to treat anti-LGBT discrimination the same as other prohibited forms of discrimination under our nation's civil rights laws.

In her testimony before the committee, Murphy continued:

From the ability to obtain a public education free from discrimination to being able to work and find housing without fear of being rejected because of who you are or who you love, the lack of explicit protections for LGBT Americans is unacceptable.

Murphy concluded her testimony by calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Amazingly, such a bill has never been introduced in Congress.

In 2015, it's time – beyond time – to change that.

Going forward, we must take a holistic approach to the many ways in which discriminatory treatment negatively impacts the lives of LGBT people. The time has come for a comprehensive bill that builds on a half century of civil rights protections and will further the long-sought goal of explicit, effective, and, above all, equal federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

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

View this blog on the ACLU National website.

Advocacy Groups to Address Restraint and Seclusion at JPS Board Meeting

December 12, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org
Sid Scott, Mississippi Center for Justice, 769-230-2841; sscott@mscenterforjustice.org

JACKSON, Miss – On Tuesday, December 16, advocacy groups will publicly comment on a new restraint and seclusion policy at the Jackson Public Schools (JPS) Board of Trustees meeting. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies will express concerns on a revised policy that the JPS Board is proposing to enact.

The policy outlines the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in school. The groups assert that the policy fails to focus on creating a safe environment for students and faculty, lacks clarity in the definitions of the techniques that open the door for harm, and does not promote positive behavioral interventions, among other concerns.

WHAT:
Advocacy organizations will present concerns regarding a restraint and seclusion policy to the Jackson Public School Board.

WHO:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies commenting on a new policy proposed by the Jackson Public School Board of Trustees.

WHEN:
Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 5:30pm.

WHERE:
JPS Board Meeting Room
621 South State Street
Jackson, MS 39201 

An MRAP Is Not a Blanket

December 02, 2014

By Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel, ACLU Center for Justice

This August, Americans watched in horror as the police descended on peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, as though they were going into battle. In May, a toddler named Bou Bou Phonesavanh had his chest ripped open and his face torn off by a flashbang grenade that police officers in Georgia threw into his crib during a paramilitary raid. Though these incidents shocked many Americans, police militarization isn't new. The American siege on communities of color has been going on for a very long time.

In a report released earlier this year, the ACLU showed that the militarization of American policing has been fueled in part by federal programs that funnel military equipment and money to local police departments. One such program, known as the "1033 program," allows the Pentagon to send local police departments, free of charge, military weapons such as M-16s and armored personnel carriers like MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles). The Pentagon has sent over $5.1 billion dollars' worth of military equipment to American police departments since this program was created in the 1990s.

Finally, it looks like the federal government might do something about this problem. Yesterday, the Obama administration released a report summarizing its review of the federal programs that fuel police militarization. The report contains several recommendations that might limit the ability of local police to treat American communities like warzones, such as requiring local review of police requests for Pentagon equipment, ensuring better training, and mandating after-action reports for incidents involving local police use of military equipment.

The most important recommendation would limit the kinds of military-grade weaponry that the Pentagon can give away free to police departments nationwide. The report, however, doesn't specify what military equipment should be prohibited. MRAPs and flashbang grenades, at a minimum, would be a good start.

These would all be positive developments, but the administration must also make sure that it takes a deep and hard look at the dangers associated with militarized policing.

The report notes that 96 percent of the equipment the Pentagon gives away to local police is "non-controlled" (like commercial vehicles, office furniture, blankets, and forklifts), and only four percent of 1033 equipment is "controlled" (like assault rifles, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft). These statistics are misleading for two reasons. First, four percent of 1033 equipment turns out to be a pretty big number: There are 460,000 pieces of controlled military equipment currently in the possession of police departments across the country.

Second, to arrive at that calculation, the Obama administration counted each piece of equipment transferred under the program as a single item and gave each item equal weight, instead of taking into account how lethal (or costly) the different kinds of equipment are. For example, it gave one blanket the same weight it gave one MRAP. But these items are not equal—an MRAP is not a blanket.

We should also be realistic about the ability of training to solve the problem of militarized policing. The report correctly notes that many police departments that receive military equipment from the Pentagon are not properly trained to use it. This fact was made glaringly apparent in Ferguson, such as when police snipers trained their rifles on peaceful protesters, and it must be addressed.

But we have to ask ourselves whether training is really the root of the problem here. Police departments across the country continue to aggressively and dangerously police communities of color, sometimes without carrying military equipment. Proper training in the use of military gear won't help as long as the warrior mindset pervades policing and as long as black and brown bodies are seen as "threatening."

Finally, as the report emphasizes, oversight is important—but oversight of what?

Today, most federal oversight of these programs comes in the form of inventory monitoring. History shows that monitoring of 1033 equipment should be improved—a Pentagon spokesperson testified last month that 421 military weapons have gone missing from the program, including M16s and M14s, and that that he "wouldn't be surprised" if local police were selling military Humvees for their own profit. But we need oversight of the use of this equipment as well. If local police are going to receive military weapons at all, the federal government has an obligation to put some reasonable constraints on how they are able to use them.

President Obama has given his administration 120 days to develop an executive order containing concrete reforms. In the meantime, the administration should do what tens of thousands of Americans have already demanded, and place a moratorium on the 1033 program. We cannot risk any more incursions like Ferguson or the maiming of Bou Bou Phonesavanh.

Militarized policing is dangerous, and American communities deserve better.

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