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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.