News

2016 Legislative Score Card: A Measurement of Progress on Issues of Equity and Inclusion in Mississippi

January 18, 2017

No other organization can provide a comprehensive picture of a legislator’s voting record on such a broad range of critical issues like the ACLU of Mississippi. 

As a membership organization, the ACLU of Mississippi has committed members and activists who support our state legislative advocacy. To increase their effectiveness as advocates on our behalf, they need to know where their legislators stand on civil liberties issues. The 2016 Legislative Score Card provides that type of detail.

Legislators may promise many things before an election, but there is no substitute for an actual vote. Use this tool as you build relationships with your state senator and representative to further the cause of civil liberties.

Download the 2016 Legislative Score Card here.

ACLU of MS Responds to Governor's State of the State

January 17, 2017

Below is ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley Collins' response to the Governor's State of the State Address - January 17, 2017:

As the state celebrates its 200-year mark, the governor would like to suggest that all is as well as a day sitting on the front porch sipping mint julip tea. The state of the state is actually not as picture perfect as a sweet smelling Magnolia in full bloom that the governor would like us all to believe in his address, suggesting that Mississippi is in good shape. Instead, the state of our state is more akin to the withering rose left outside in the cold! 

Mississippi statistics and rankings tell the true story – without affordable health care, a fully funded education system, a living wage inclusive of equal pay for women, creation of state civil rights that protect all Mississippians and not just those in blue, and full transparency - we will continue to struggle. 

The governor spoke of the hard work regarding the budget. The reality is that Mississippi would not be forced to rob its children of an education if it would embrace inclusion instead of insisting upon closing eyes and minds. We should not be spending tax payer dollars trying to figure out another way to inflict death upon the condemned or to racially profile our citizens with unconstitutional stop and verify type tactics. 

It is time for the governor and state leadership to face the reality that divisive and unnecessary policies and rhetoric repeated for personal political gains are not what Mississippi needs. In order for Mississippi’s state to truly be well, we must embrace the ideology that “We Are All Mississippi.”

Why Are DC Police Keeping Their Body Cameras Off During Inauguration and the Women’s March?

January 17, 2017

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project

A lot of social media activity has come to our attention questioning why the DC police have been instructed NOT to turn their body cameras on during the president’s inauguration and the following day’s “Million Women March.” Many people seem puzzled by this.

“ACLU Demands That Body Cams Are Turned Off During Inauguration While They Intend To Record Police” proclaims the headline of one widely circulated post, on a site called “Law Officer” (and seemingly based upon this local story by the NBC DC affiliate).

It’s not an ACLU “demand,” it’s actually DC law. True, the ACLU of DC supported and encouraged adoption of that law, but the wider District of Columbia community as represented by its city council agreed with us. And that law is not absolute; in its full form it says that

MPD officers may record First Amendment assemblies for the purpose of documenting violations of law and police actions, as an aid to future coordination and deployment of law enforcement units, and for training purposes; provided, that recording First Amendment assemblies shall not be conducted for the purpose of identifying and recording the presence of individual participants who are not engaged in unlawful conduct.

We supported that law for very good reasons. There is a long history of law enforcement compiling dossiers on peaceful activists exercising their First Amendment rights in public marches and protests, and using cameras to send an intimidating message to such protesters: “we are WATCHING YOU and will REMEMBER your presence at this event.” For a vivid picture of how photography can create chilling effects, recall the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama in 1965, when Alabama state troopers viciously attacked and beat peaceful protesters. Then take a look at this ominous photograph, which was taken after thousands of federal troops were finally sent to protect the marchers:

 

Trooper filming Selma march, 1965. Photo by Alfred M. Loeb; used by permission.

There’s also a long history of such information being used in abusive ways against Americans peacefully agitating for a better society.

The purpose of body cameras is to serve as a check and balance on the enormous power that society confers on police officers, including the power to use brutal or even deadly force in some circumstances—a power that we all now know has unfortunately been abused all too often. The purpose of body cameras is NOT to serve as an intelligence gathering tool helping police collect information on people exercising their rights. Even if intel gathering were not the intent at the time that video was collected, there would remain the possibility that police at some later date would be tempted to run face recognition on that footage, or use it for other, nebulous “intelligence” purposes (a word that in the police context is directly connected to a long history of surveillance and other abuses). There are serious concerns in many communities that, instead of being a tool for much-needed oversight over police officers, body cameras will become just another surveillance device.

Such concerns are why the ACLU recommends (including in our model legislation) that police department adopt a policy against the taking of video of people who are merely exercising their First Amendment rights.

Of course, none of this means that the police cannot turn on their cameras during the inauguration or march if something goes down. The policy of the DC police, like most, stipulates that officers are to turn their cameras when engaged in “police actions” such as calls for service, pursuits, searches, stops, etc. Thus, if a fight breaks out, or some larger disturbance, the cameras would go on.

Many of the articles and posts covering this issue point out that the ACLU also supports and encourages the filming of police by citizens through our Mobile Justice app, including the DC version thereof—and suggest this is a contradiction. A typical post, for example, says, “This one seems a bit hypocritical to us. The ACLU... are pushing a mobile app encouraging people to record the police... while not wanting to be recorded themselves.”

But this isn’t hypocritical at all. As we’ve said many times, there is no reason for the government to be filming or otherwise monitoring its citizens absent suspicion of wrongdoing—but it absolutely is the people’s right to monitor their government, including police officers, and how they are doing their jobs. Citizens should be watching their government—but not vice-versa.

WATCH: In His Former Life as Alabama’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions Abused His Power and Was Read the Riot Act Over It

January 12, 2017

Sessions overzealously prosecuted a case that a judge called the worst example of prosecutorial misconduct he had ever seen.

By ACLU

 

It is now well-known that Jeff Sessions’ record as a senator shows blindness or hostility to the rights of those the attorney general is responsible for protecting — people of color, women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and immigrants. Less well known, but equally disturbing, is his record as a prosecutor. When he last exercised the power of a prosecutor, as attorney general for Alabama in the 1990s, he abused that power. 

The biggest case his office handled was thrown out in what the judge called the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he had ever seen. In a remarkable opinion, the Alabama state trial judge hearing the case concluded that “the misconduct of the Attorney General in this case far surpasses in both extensiveness and measure the totality of any prosecutorial misconduct ever previously presented to or witnessed by the Court.”

The court found that the “the prosecutorial misconduct is so pronounced and persistent that it permeates the entire atmosphere of this prosecution and warrants a dismissal of these cases.” It also found the misconduct so pervasive that “this court can only conclude it is dealing with either intentional and deliberate misconduct or conduct so reckless and improper as to constitute conscious disregard for the lawful duties of the Attorney General and the integrity and dignity of this court and this Judge.”

Sessions’ office filed a 222-count indictment against a business competitor of a company that was contributing to Sessions’ first senatorial campaign, using the power of his office to intervene in a private business dispute. The court dismissed every count of the indictment — some as baseless, but others because of egregious prosecutorial misconduct. 

Senators must ask themselves: Should we be confirming a man to the most powerful prosecutor’s office in the country who has a record of prosecutorial abuse? 


 

For more, see our written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee or this clip of ACLU National Legal Director David Cole discussing the case on The Rachel Maddow Show: 

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/past-abuse-of-power-a-concern-about-sessions-as-ag-853072451614

2017 Legislative Session: We've Got You Covered!

January 11, 2017


The 2017 Legislative Session is in full swing, and is scheduled to run through April 2. A slew of bills has been proposed and assigned. Don't worry! The ACLU of Mississippi is tracking all legislation that has a criminal justice reform, equality, and Freedom of Speech and Expression focus. You will find our position statements on each piece of legislation, stating why we oppose or support.

Stay tuned to our website to follow how these bills move along the process. Then, TAKE ACTION by contacting your legislator to let them know how you want your representative to respond to these measures. You can make the difference between a bill passing or dying. 

Click here for Criminal Justice Reform bills.

Click here for Equality bills.

Click here for Freedom of Speech and Expression bills.

 

Together, we can ensure equality and justice for all Mississippians. Let's make Mississippi better!

Senator Jeff Sessions Has a Long History

January 11, 2017

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union national legal director, David Cole, testified at Senator Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing for attorney general. 

The ACLU is nonpartisan, and as a matter of longstanding policy does not support or oppose nominees for federal office. As a result, the ACLU rarely testifies in confirmation hearings. However, the organization is taking the extraordinary step of testifying in this hearing because Sen. Sessions’ record raises significant, serious questions about his hostility to civil rights and civil liberties. The ACLU believes he must satisfactorily answer questions on these issues before a confirmation vote proceeds.

WATCH: Cole's testimony here.

Cole’s remarks will be available before his testimony at:
https://www.aclu.org/feature/david-cole-senator-jeff-sessions-testimony

ACLU’s analysis of Sessions’ civil liberties record prepared for the confirmation process is available here:
https://www.aclu.org/feature/confirmation-sessions

More information on Cole is available here:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-taps-constitutional-expert-david-cole-national-legal-director

 

Why is the Death of a Community Member not a Top News Story?!?

January 09, 2017

It is time for this state to ensure protections for all Mississippians.

By Jennifer Riley Collins, Executive Director

 

Over the last couple of days, I have observed with a bit of disappointment the lack of coverage of the horrific death of a community member. This is Mississippi! We are a community. I do not think we have become so insensitive when people in our community are shot, killed, and left on the side of the road. In fact, we typically would be outraged.  

So, what’s different? Why is the death of Mesha Caldwell not a top news story? Very simply - because we focus more on the fact that she was transgender than the fact the she was killed. Come on Mississippi! This young woman is a Mississippian. She was a member of our community. She has family and friends who mourn her loss. She also has family and friends who deserve answers and protection. 

Transgender people are at a greater risk than others in an already trying environment. We all know that Mississippi is an impoverished state. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey that was just released in December 2016, the rate of unemployment for transgender people is three times higher than the general population. For transgender people of color, it’s even worse. Mississippi struggles with disparate and harsh treatment practices within its school halls. Nearly 80% of transgender people report experiencing harassment at school when they were young.  

Despite the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurants Association’s “Everyone’s Welcome Here” campaign or private organizations echoing “If you’re buying we are selling” slogan to show support, state elected leadership have failed to ensure all Mississippians are secure. Greater awareness and inclusive logos have not yet translated into broader acceptance and security. Transgender community members are subject to being physically assaulted and harassed in retail stores, restaurants and other public accommodations. For transgender women of color, who face transphobia and racism, the barriers to equity and risks are greater. According to GLAAD, 26 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2016, and “nearly all of the victims were transgender women of color.” 

Mississippi has no state law and very few local ordinances that clearly prohibit discrimination against transgender people. The Mississippi Civil Rights Act, proposed by the ACLU of Mississippi last year and again in 2017, would eliminate the open practice of discrimination and provide equal treatment and protection for Mesha and all Mississippians. Similar bills that embrace equality for all, such as the establishment of an actual state “hate crime” statute inclusive of gender identity and not just an enhanced penalty, would also have provided protection. Instead, some of our legislators have focused their attention on hateful and divisive rhetoric and unnecessary legislation that echo partisan sound bites and codify discrimination.  

Will Mesha’s family and friends get that protection in Mississippi? Legislators and state leaders, this could be your daughter or son. Please protect them, protect us, and ensure that all Mississippians live secure lives.   

Image Source: Facebook

Trump and Sessions: Great for the Private Prison Industry, Terrible for Civil Rights

January 09, 2017

With Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the private prison industry will have a direct line to President Trump.

By Carl Takei and Katie Egan

 

Donald Trump’s victory has been nothing but good news for the private prison industry.

The day after the election, shares of the two biggest private prison corporations — Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group — jumped 43 and 21 percent, respectively. And share prices continue to soar. Since Election Day, CCA and GEO’s stock value has increased by 75 and 54 percent. 

Investors have good reason to believe that Trump will rely heavily on private prison companies. When asked how he planned to reform the country’s prison system during a town hall in March, Trump stated: “I do think we can do a lot of privatizations, and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better.”  

Additionally, Trump’s hardline stance on immigration practically guarantees an increased need for detention facilities, a gap that private prison companies are more than eager to fill. If Congress fully funds Trump’s proposal to round up and deport 2 to 3 million immigrants in the first year of his presidency, the immigration detention population will more than quadruple — requiring the construction of scores of new jails for immigrants.  

Read the full blog here.

2016 Legislation Tracking: Freedom of Speech & Expression

January 05, 2017

2016 Legislative Tracking

Oppose

HB49 - Prohibits school employees from participating in or promoting political activity or events while acting in their official capacities.

Status: Died in Committee

HB49 is as an attempt to silence and intimidate teachers through a proposed law banning political activity during schools hours and imposing a penalty of $10,000. A school teacher has the right to identify and express his or her own point of view in the classroom as long as it is indicated clearly that it is the teacher's own. Where parents, as individuals, or parent or other community groups raise the question of suitability of any material, out of concern for maturity level, morality, patriotism, literary merit, etc., the decision as to its acceptability should be vested in a representative professional committee.

HB958 - Similar to HB49

Status: Died in Committee.

This bill is an attempt to silence and intimidate education professionals. This legislation prohibits all political activity during school hours, including sporting events and other extracurricular activities at elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges and institutions of higher learning. It even prohibits these professionals discussing issues with their elected representatives, whether or not those issues are related to a political campaign. We oppose this bill because the highlighted overreach is a restriction of the First Amendment.


HB840 - An act to make the Holy Bible the state book of MS.

Status: Died in Committee.

This bill violates the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it promotes one religion over others. It fails to recognize the diversity of Mississippi citizens.


HB578 & SB2078 - See Something, Say Something Act; Provides civil and criminal immunity for anyone who makes a report of suspicious activity.

Status: HB578 Signed by the Governor; SB2078: Died in Committee.

Extending criminal or civil immunity from the law will likely lead to violations of privacy, racial and religious profiling, and interference with constitutionally-protected activities. In other states, this legislation leads to more dead ends than substantial intelligence gathering.  What is even more troubling is that anyone who is not a law enforcement professional and has no professional training or background can determine what “suspicious behavior” is.  There must be a balance of power between accuser and accused. HB 578 and SB 2078 disrupt that balance by limiting an individual’s right to seek legal redress for false accusations. The ACLU of Mississippi opposes HB 578 and SB 2078.


HB786 - Would create the Mississippi Protection Act.

Status: Signed by the Governor.

This bill is in reaction to the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina when a white male entered a black church and killed nine church members in 2015. We are opposed to this legislation because it would provide immunity to armed church groups and could be abused, especially in demonstrations of free speech and expression.


HB758 - Adds agency, commission or board to the law prohibiting a county or municipality from adopting an ordinance or regulation restricting possession, carrying, transportation, sale, transfer or ownership of firearms or ammunition.

Status: Died in Senate Committee.


HB458 - Would bring forward all the code sections pertaining to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

Status: Died in Conference.

This  bill attaches a reverse repealer, a measure that will force the bill to a conference committee where three members of the House and three members of the Senate, appointed by the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor, could make changes. This is problematic because it would allow details to be worked out in private while giving the public a last-minute opportunity to engage. Considering that the only problem we see with MAEP is that it has been historically underfunded thus hindering students' right to a quality public education, we are opposed to this legislation.


HB91 (along with HB36, HB164, HB206, HB212, HB218, HB223, HB1010, HB1015, SB2159, Sb2436) - All of these bills are connected by one theme: school choice - the ability for parents to move their children out of one school into a school more preferable to them.

Status: All died in Committee.

The language in this bill is vague; however, our concern is the amount of resources that will have to be expended and the long-term effect on the public school system in Mississippi.


Support

SB2533 - Revises Open Records Law by allowing information provided by third parties to public bodies be released 21 days after notification. 

Status: Signed by the Governor.

We support this legislation as it provides for timely release of records after a proper review and consent.


HB799 - Would prohibit altering of precinct boundaries for a certain time.

Status: Died on Senate Calendar

We support this legislation because it sets a time limit on when precincts can be changed. Local governments would have seven years from the previous U.S. Census to make such a change and only during that time.  Since pre-clearance with the U.S. Department of Justice is no longer required, this would be an effective way to limit changes that could cause confusion and lead to a decline in voter participation.


SB2485 - Would prohibit drones near and above correctional facilities.

Status: Died in House Committee


SB2081 - Would make technical correction to clarify the meaning ascribed to public meetings for purposes of the Open Meetings Act.

Status: Approved by the Governor.

2016 Legislation Tracking: Equality For All

January 05, 2017

2016 Legislative Tracking

Oppose

HB737 - Provides that clergy and other officials would not be required to perform a marriage ceremony if it goes against their religious belief.

Status: Died in Committee.

We strongly oppose HB737 because it opens the door for discrimination and limits the rights of groups that could be targeted by a religious objection. Does this mean that ministers could deny an interracial couple their right to marry, too?  


HB1523 - An act to create the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act

Status: Signed by the Governor.

This bill would provide protections for those who refuse to service and mistreat customers in public spaces on the basis of religion.  It would allow virtually anyone, including religious organizations, employers, businesses, foster care/adoption agencies, housing institutions, healthcare organizations, clergy, even governmental officials, to discriminate against other people in the name of religious liberty.  We oppose HB1523 because it would allow religion to be used for blatant discrimination. Instead of protecting religious freedom, this law would use freedom of religion to cover prejudice and to justify discrimination.  


HB1258 - Birth Gender Privacy Act

Status: Died in Committee.

This legislation prohibits transgender person from using a restroom facility opposite from their gender at birth unless they have medical proof of their transition.  All this bill would do is target transgender people for discrimination.  Transgender people are already living and working in Mississippi, and they should be treated with dignity and respect like everyone else.  We oppose HB1528.


HB548 - Would require residents convicted of a second misdemeanor DUI to get a special car tag to broadcast their offense.

Status: Died in Committee.

We adamantly reject the notion that law enforcement should target drivers with criminal records because of an unfair presumption that past criminal activity demonstrates a propensity for subsequent criminal behavior.  Not only do such practices deny those who have paid their debts of equal treatment, but they damage police-community relations and hinder the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society.


HB654 - Requires that officials documents to be in English language.

Status: Died in Committee.

Although the official language of the state of Mississippi is English, our state is made of up of diverse cultures and languages.  It is imperative that official documents should be able to be translated into other languages so that all of our citizens receive the fairness they deserve in all legal and governmental proceedings. To imply that a document is not legal because it is not written in English is a dangerous precedent to set and infringes on the rights of all Mississippians. 


HB591/SB2306 - Prohibits sanctuary cities.

Status: HB591 Died in Committee. SB2306 Died in Conference.

Any legislation that limits further home rule of municipalities in this state is detrimental to the growth of the state. This bill would prohibit municipalities from designating themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants looking to establish a permanent resident status in the U.S.  It would create an unfunded mandate for those municipalities to execute federal law with already strained financial resources. We are opposed to this legislation.


HB519 - The "Mississippi Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act" designed to criminalize doctors who, in the process of performing an abortion, knowingly dismembers a fetus upon extraction. 

Status: Signed by the Governor.

Even though the legislation states that this act does not prevent abortions, it makes clear that this bill does not recognize abortion as a right, which goes against the central legal holding in Roe v. Wade. This bill is an overreach as a result of an overreaction to stories that have been refuted within the last year. At any given point in time, a doctor performing an abortion can be criminally charged with dismemberment and have an injunction placed upon them to halt further abortions.  That doctor would have to go before the State Board of Medical Licensure to prove their case no later than 30 days before any criminal proceedings occur. This is another tool to deny women in the state of Mississippi the right to control their own health care decisions, therefore putting Mississippi women at risk.


HB868 - Revise boundaries for Supreme Court Districts.

Status: Died in Senate Committee.

HB 868 is a bill that changes the makeup of Mississippi’s 1st Supreme Court District, known by many as the Central District, by adding Simpson County to the district. This piece of legislation is unconstitutional because it dilutes the Black Voting Age Population in the district, making it harder for Blacks to have representation on the Supreme Court, the Transportation Commission and the Public Service Commission.

The US Supreme Court defines voter dilution as, “…a certain electoral law, practice, or structure interacts with social and historical conditions to cause an inequality in the opportunities enjoyed by black and white voters to elect their preferred representatives.” It is obvious that race was a motivating factor in the purposeful crafting of this legislation, by stacking a majority white county into the Central District. The ACLU of MS vigorously opposes this attempt to undermine the citizens of Mississippi of their 15th Amendment Rights.


SB2167 - Would require increased qualifying fees for independent and party candidates.

Status: Signed by the Governor.

This legislation seeks to raise the qualifying fees for elective office.  The raising of fees is intended to limit how many people can qualify to run for a position in government, thus limiting participation in the democratic process.  We are opposed to this legislation.


SB2238 - Would prohibit Division of Medicaid from reimbursing Planned Parenthood for family planning services.

Status: Headed to Governor.

We oppose SB2238 because it creates undue burdens on a woman's ability to access healthcare in Mississippi. Government should not interfere with a woman's right to make informed decisions about her own healthcare.


HB519 - Designed to criminalize doctors who perform an abortion

Status: Signed by the Governor.

At any given time, a doctor performing an abortion can be criminally charged with dismemberment and have an injunction placed upon them to halt further abortions. We oppose this legislation because it limits the reproductive rights of women by setting the stage for abortions to halt altogether in the state.


Support

HB972 - The "Mississippi Student Safety Act" would prevent certain student restraint and seclusion procedures in schools.

Status: Died in Committee.

We support HB972 because it establishes minimum safety standards for the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.  Mississippi is one of few states that lacks a statewide policy restricting and reducing the use of restraint and seclusion in schools and learning environments. This Act addresses that and helps to keep our students safe.  


HB624 & SB2738 - Establishes Mississippi Civil Rights Act, an inclusive, non-discrimination law.

Status: Died In Committee.

Currently in the state of Mississippi, there is no state law which explicitly protects individuals from discrimination in housing, employment, and or the use public accommodations.  We support HB624 & SB2738 because it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  All people are created equal and deserve to be treated as equals under the law. This legislation provides that protection that all Mississippians deserve.


HB121HB796HB864SB2513SB2681 - Early Voting

Status: HB121, HB864, SB2513, SB2681 All Died in Committee; HB796 Died in Senate Committee.

This legislation allows for early voting 21 days prior to any given election in Mississippi. SB2681 furthers access by allowing online voter registration. We support this legislation because giving voters more access to participate in the process strengthens our democracy. 


HB809SB2647 - Create online voter registration system in Mississippi.

Status: HB809 Signed by the Governor. SB2647 Died in Committee.

This legislation would create an online voter registration system for Mississippi citizens. HB809 was amended to allow voters to update existing registrations online.  


HB638HB1167SB2070 - Allows mothers to be free from discrimination while helping nurture their children.

Status: HB638 and HB1167 Died in Committee; SB2070 Headed to the Governor.

Providing more accommodations for breastfeeding mothers should be encouraged in a society that promotes the general welfare of its citizens, especially those most vulnerable - our children.

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