Thursday, December 27, 2012

Celebrating Christmas in America

Every year at about this time, the ACLU begins receiving scores of Christmas cards, generally unsigned, almost always without return addresses. Many are simple and nice. But some call on us to have a “Merry Christmas—whether you like it or not!” and similar not-in-the-spirit-of-the-season wishes.

We welcome all cards and well wishes! Many of our staff members across the country are practicing Christians and celebrate a religious Christmas; in fact, our offices are closed on Christmas Day! Our organization was founded to protect, among other liberties, the free exercise of religion. Although some claim that the ACLU is anti-Christian, the truth is quite the opposite: the ACLU has always stood up for the rights of all of us to practice our religion freely, and actively advocates for the right of all people to express and celebrate their beliefs, including, of course, Christians.

Governments should not be in the business of endorsing religious displays. Religion thrives best when government stays out of deciding which holidays and religions to promote. Religion belongs where it prospers best: with individuals, families, and religious communities.

As a seasonal greeting to all Christians: Merry Christmas from the ACLU of Wyoming! And for nonbelievers and believers in all other traditions: Thank you for enriching our world!

Read more about how the ACLU is not trying to take away Christmas.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Are you prepared for Election Day?

With less than two weeks until Election Day, it’s important to remember that every vote counts! The right to vote is one of the most basic rights we have as Americans. In order to participate in our democracy, all voters need to understand the rules in their state, register on time and show up at the correct polling place. Follow these easy steps to make sure your voice is heard in this election:

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th

Wyoming polls are open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm


Download our 2012 Voter Empowerment Card (pdf). Keep it as a reference, take it with you to the polls, and share the information with your friends and family.
• Make sure you are registered to vote. If you are not already registered, Wyoming allows qualified voters to register at the polls on Election Day. However, you must bring an acceptable form of ID to the polls for same day registration. (example: passport or Wyoming driver’s license)
• Locate your polling place. Polls are open on Election Day from 7:00 am - 7:00 pm.
• Consider voting early or absentee. If you plan to vote on Election Day, go early to avoid the rush.
Contact your Wyoming County Clerk’s office with any further questions.

There is no more important right in our democracy than the right to vote. We encourage all Wyoming voters to exercise their fundamental right to participate in the political process, and vote in the upcoming election.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Indian law expert to speak in Wyoming

The ACLU of Wyoming is pleased to welcome Stephen L. Pevar for 3 public lectures focused on Indian Law. Please join us at the following events:

The Right of Indian Tribes to be Self-Governing | More info
Monday, October 22, 11:00 am – noon
University of Wyoming, College of Law, Room 170
1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, Wyoming

Eight Fascinating Supreme Court Decisions
Affecting Indians and Tribes | More info
Monday, October 22, 5:00 - 6:30 pm AND 7:00 – 8:30 pm *
University of Wyoming, Berry Center Auditorium
1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, Wyoming

*The same presentation will be give at 5:00 & 7:00 to avoid conflicting with the final presidential debate.

The Rights of Indians and Tribes
*Approved for CLE by the Wyoming State Bar* | More info
Tuesday, October 23, 1:00 – 5:00 pm
Shoshone Rose Casino, 5690 US Highway 287
Lander, Wyoming

Mr. Pevar is a Senior Staff Counsel of the ACLU. He taught Federal Indian Law at the University of Denver School of Law from 1983-1999. He has litigated numerous Indian rights cases and has lectured extensively on the subject. Learn about Mr. Pevar’s most recent book, The Rights of Indians and Tribes, 4th Edition, published by Oxford University Press.

These events are free and open to the public. No RSVP needed. For more information, please email acluwy@aclu.org or call 307-637-4565.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kids These Days!

Growing up in 21st Century America is not as easy as it seems. Getting an education isn’t just about books and grades. Students are also learning the rights and responsibilities of being members of society. And while students may not have the same constitutional rights as adults in public, they do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate!

Advances in technology have impacted young people’s lives in ways we could’ve never imagined – from smart phones and social media to strange big brother-style surveillance. For liberty to be preserved, it must be nurtured in the hearts and minds of young people. But in order for students to be effective civil liberties advocates, they need to know their rights. Sometimes these rights can be unclear, which is why the ACLU of Wyoming published Know Your Rights: A Guide for Public School Students in Wyoming, a manual aimed at answering some of the most important questions public school students have about our freedoms.

It’s unfortunate that constitutional violations are far too common in public schools across the country. Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for students that is conducive to learning. But they also have a responsibility to respect every student's individual rights. These two missions are not incompatible. Students have rights too!

Students need to know their rights to protect themselves against abuses by police, school officials, and other adults. Know Your Rights: A Guide for Public School Students in Wyoming covers traditional civil liberties issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from unreasonable searches. The guide also tackles current issues affecting public school students like social networking. The manual addresses particularly the rights of different categories of students, including students with disabilities, homeless students, immigrant students, lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) students, and pregnant and parenting teens.

This manual discusses when students’ rights can be exercised, when school officials can limit them, and offers practical tips for students. Although written primarily for students, this publication will be useful to educators, school counselors, administrators, parents and guardians, and journalists alike. It devotes a section to discipline, and outlines tips on how parents and students can be their own effective advocates.

The future of liberty relies on young people to carry the torch of civil rights. We designed this handbook as a guide to the many important rights students enjoy. In doing so, we hope to prepare the next generation of guardians of liberty.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cheyenne PD Turns Up the HEAT on the Homeless

This week, the City of Cheyenne launched its new program entitled, “Operation HEAT” (Homeless Empowerment Action Team), with the stated goal of empowering the homeless, transient population living on the streets of Cheyenne to become law-abiding and productive citizens. The program will increase coordination among law enforcement, the courts and the COMEA House private shelter.

Here’s how Operation HEAT is supposed to work: A Cheyenne Police officer along with a COMEA House counselor will team up to make contact with homeless individuals who are violating the law to explain to them their three options:

1) Enter the COMEA House shelter and follow the case management program
2) Become law abiding or leave the jurisdiction
3) Be arrested and face criminal penalties

Emphasizing a recent increase in public intoxication citations of transients in the downtown Cheyenne area, the program aims to reduce these citations by 30% over the next year. At a press conference announcing the start of Operation HEAT last Wednesday, Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak stated, “Whether it’s trespassing, panhandling or threatening people, those people will be held accountable through the court system and will receive enhanced sentences to go to jail. That’s the program.” Defendants who are arrested more than once for the same type of offense within six months will be sentenced to a minimum of thirty days in jail.

Here at the ACLU of Wyoming, we are deeply concerned that Operation HEAT does little address the root causes of homelessness, and will likely burden our criminal justice system which results in higher law enforcement costs, courts costs and jail costs. A culture should be measured by how we treat those that are most vulnerable, and this is not saying anything good about our culture here in Cheyenne.

Many cities have found that criminalizing homelessness is much more costly than developing long-term solutions for society’s most vulnerable, the homeless, who live in extreme poverty. What’s more is that homeless folks often times have a mental illness, disability or are veterans of the armed services.

Despite claims from the Cheyenne Police Department that Operation HEAT is designed to divert people from the criminal justice system, this is, in fact, exactly what the program does. When a city enforces a law that imposes criminal penalties on a homeless person for engaging in necessary life activities, such as sleeping in public, that law could violate that person's Eight Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Criminalization of homelessness tends to be one of the most expensive “solutions” to the problem. According to a study published in 2011 by the National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty, cities spend an average of $87 dollars a day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter. Robin Zimmer, executive director of the COMEA House shelter in Cheyenne stated at last week’s press conference that the shelter has approximately 70 residents and is already near capacity. And while she did point out that they are seeking funds to add 12 more beds, the shelter is almost always full. A recent analysis estimated that there are approximately 500 homeless individuals living in Cheyenne. Even with added beds, it’s tough to see how COMEA plans to accommodate the influx of cliental as a result of HEAT.

When homeless shelters are closed or full, it is terribly unfair, and possibly unconstitutional, to impose fines and jail sentences on persons who have no choice but to sleep outdoors. Furthermore, laws that restrict or penalize begging may raise free speech concerns, as courts have found begging to be protected speech under the First Amendment. Most importantly, incarcerating homeless individuals at the expense of taxpayer’s dollars is counter-productive and does not address the underlying problem of homelessness in our community. People who are homeless should be afforded all the rights and protections guaranteed to all people by our Constitution, and should not be treated as criminals simply as a result of their misfortune.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Can I See Your ID? How Voter ID Laws Are Undermining Our Democracy


This week marks the forty-seventh anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson to ensure that states did not discriminate against certain classes of voters that had traditionally been disfranchised. The VRA came into effect in the midst of the civil rights struggle in the United States. Southern states systematically enacted laws that circumvented the Fifteenth Amendment and disfranchised African Americans. Following the passage of the VRA, southern states brought a number of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Act. In 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court conclusively stated:

"Congress had found that case-by-case litigation was inadequate to combat wide-spread and persistent discrimination in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics invariably encountered in these lawsuits. After enduring nearly a century of systematic resistance to the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress might well decide to shift the advantage of time and inertia from the perpetrators of the evil to its victims."
South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 327-28 (1966).

On its 47th anniversary, the Voting Rights Act is more relevant than ever. Voter ID bills, bills that would require voters to present a valid, government issued ID, are popping up across the country. Today, only three states -- Wyoming, Oregon and Vermont -- who do not already have voter ID laws on their books did not consider such legislation this year. During the past year, seven states enacted voter ID laws, six states passed voter ID legislation in one chamber, five states had voter ID legislation vetoed and, in one state, voter ID legislation is currently pending. States that have voter ID laws are often unclear on what types of ID can be used. Some say it must be a valid, government issued ID. Others, allow valid student IDs. However, in Pennsylvania in particular there was confusion over what constituted a valid student ID. Pennsylvania required an expiration date on the student IDs in order to consider them valid but, most Pennsylvania schools do not include an expiration date on their IDs.

This is a problem because voter ID laws disproportionately affect low-income, minority, elderly, disabled and young voters. There are approximately 21 million Americans who do not have a government issued photo ID. It is estimated that voter ID laws will disfranchise as many as 5 million voters nationwide in the upcoming election cycle. See our infographic on the facts about voter suppression.

Even more worrisome is the fact that voter ID laws are alleged to correct a problem that is virtually non-existent, voter fraud. In Wyoming there have only been two cases of attempted voter fraud in the past sixteen years, and both culprits were apprehended and tried. The Department of Justice conducted a nationwide study and discovered that between 2002 and 2007, out of 300 million votes cast, there were only eighty-six cases of voter fraud.

Under the guise of protecting the integrity of elections, voter ID laws effectively push people out of the electorate. The consequence of these laws is that they erect barriers to the ballot box that disfranchise many low-income, minority, elderly, disabled and young voters who do not possess the type of identification required. Voting is an integral part of our democratic system; the more people who vote the more accurately the results represent the will of the people. Preventing any portion of the population from voting is an abuse of the democratic process.

On the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, it is important to ensure that we continue to move forward and not regress to similar tactics used to keep many African Americans from the polls. Voting is the most basic right we share as Americans, and in order for this to be a true democracy, every eligible American must be able to vote.

Julianne Gern
ACLU of Wyoming Legal Extern

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Boy Scouts Want Us To Be Prepared. For Intolerance?!

When asked about his position as an executive Board member of Boy Scouts of America, an organization that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, Mitt Romney said in 1994: “I have let my views be known…I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts, regardless of their sexual orientation."

Nevertheless, earlier this month, after a two-year confidential internal review, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its decision to continue to ban gay boys from being scouts, and gay and lesbian men and women from serving as troop leaders. The Boy Scouts of America say that the reason they are reaffirming the policy is that parents want to be able to address the issues of same-sex orientation within the home, and because banning gays reflects the beliefs and perspectives of members of the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America believe that by banning gay youth from being scouts, and gay adults from becoming leaders, the organization is better able to focus on its mission to build character, and create responsible, well-rounded individuals prepared to be productive within society.

The Boy Scouts of America’s mission is admirable. However, their reasoning is flawed. The only thing that the ban is teaching these young men is that prejudice, bigotry and discrimination are acceptable. Their organization claims to want to aid and prepare youth to become productive, responsible and conscientious members of society. The Boy Scouts of America’s mission is to aid youth, but their ban leaves out an entire segment of the population who will eventually grow up and enter society as adults. Perpetuating hate will not build the society that the Boy Scouts seek to create.

In the past, the Boy Scouts have been just as bigoted towards other groups of people, originally banning African Americans from becoming scouts. History has proven that discrimination based on race was wrong and the Boy Scouts now fully accept scouts of all races. Hopefully the Boy Scouts of America will soon recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation is also wrong. The Boy Scouts of America need to change their policy of discrimination in order to fully embrace the mission they claim to support. Perpetuating fear and hate does not aid in the development of young men with strong values. Discrimination causes instability within society. The Boy Scouts of America need to end their discriminatory policy and embrace boys and scout leaders from all walks of life.

While we consider discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation to be a very serious matter, you should also watch this clip called Gaywatch – Holdouts Edition, from the brilliant minds at The Daily Show.

Julianne Gern
ACLU of Wyoming Legal Extern

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole Sent Up the River

“When a young person is sent ‘up the river,’ we need to remember that all rivers can change course.” -- Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY)

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory life without parole sentencing for juveniles violates the cruel and unusual punishment provision of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. With this new decision, the Supreme Court extended its 2010 ruling in Graham v. Florida, in which the Court concluded that that juvenile life without parole for non-homicide cases is unconstitutional. This decision does not mean that a minor can never be sentenced to life without parole, it simply means that the sentencing judge must have the opportunity to consider age and circumstance when handing down a punishment.

We believe that the high court made the right decision this week. In finding that juveniles cannot be subject to mandatory life without parole sentences, the Court recognized that juveniles are in a special category, and should therefore be treated differently under the law. Kids often make rash decisions without thinking about the consequences. Recent studies have shown that children’s brains function quite differently from adults. Children’s brains continue to develop throughout their adolescent years. This continued development means that kids make impulsive decisions and usually, at the time they make a decision, they do not fully appreciate or recognize the possible consequences.

This scientific research also demonstrates that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation. By allowing courts to take into account children’s age and circumstances, children are more likely to have an opportunity to be rehabilitated. To be sure, some children have the capacity to commit horrific acts. But mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences has required judges to sentence children to die in prison without any consideration for where a child comes from or what a child has been through. This mandatory sentencing structure has forced us, as a society, to give up on kids rather than provide them an opportunity to reform. This week’s decision helps to restore some rationality to the treatment of juveniles in our criminal justice system.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on mandatory juvenile without parole sentences echoes what the ACLU of Wyoming has been saying all along: kids are different than adults and deserve to be treated as kids, not adults, in our justice system. Learn about our efforts to fight against juvenile life without parole sentencing in Wyoming.

Julianne Gern
ACLU Legal Extern

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Equal Rights in the Equality State


The ACLU of Wyoming is teaming up with Wyoming Equality to fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and marriage equality in Wyoming because we believe in a society that values fairness and equality.

Current trends show a rising tide of public support for marriage equality in Wyoming and across the country. Recent columns from both the Casper Star Tribune and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle describe very clearly why this is such a salient issue for Wyoming, and why the time for marriage equality is now. Both President Obama and the NAACP have recently announced their support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The message of stronger families and greater fairness is resonating. But there’s still a long way to go!

The concept of equal protection under the law, enshrined in the Constitution, requires that fundamental rights like the right to marry be made available equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. While religious faiths are free to distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages, according to their beliefs, the government may not.

Marriage is about loving, committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other, in good times and bad. It is a basic freedom that should not be denied to anyone.

The true measure of us as a state is how we treat each other. Every individual should have the opportunity to make a lifetime commitment legally to the person he or she loves. Want to help us fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality in Wyoming? Please contact us to find out ways to get involved.



Monday, June 4, 2012

Where to turn when Plan B becomes Plan A

 

In a political climate where we seem to read about new barriers to women’s reproductive freedom in each news cycle, it’s good to know what the facts are and where to turn when Plan B becomes Plan A.

Sometimes referred to as "Plan B" or the “morning after pill,” emergency contraception is a method of birth control that can substantially reduce the risk of pregnancy after sex. It will not work if you are already pregnant, and it’s not the abortion pill.

Nearly half of all pregnancies in America are unintended. For the women who face a potential unintended pregnancy, widespread and timely access to emergency contraception is crucial. Emergency contraception must be taken within 72 to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but most experts agree that it’s more effective the sooner it is taken. Access to emergency contraception is especially important for sexual assault survivors. This narrow window makes ready access to emergency contraception critical in order to be most effective.

The difficulty of a woman’s search for emergency contraception may be further compounded by her own economic or geographical limitations. Thus, it is important that a customer have access to emergency contraception as soon as it’s needed.

It may be challenging for women, particularly those living in rural areas here in Wyoming, to know where to turn in the event that emergency contraception is needed. That is why we teamed up with NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, Planned Parenthood of Wyoming and the Wyoming Health Council to produce this brochure which provides information about emergency contraception, and more importantly, where to find access to emergency contraception in Wyoming.

Deciding whether or when to become a parent is one of the most private and important decisions a person can make. Access to emergency contraception promotes public health, helps prevent unintended pregnancies and reduces the need for abortions.

Read more about the ACLU’s dedication to reproductive freedom.




Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Ongoing Evolution of Marriage

“Marriage originated as a social construct that allowed family patriarchs to facilitate the transfer of chattel property such as livestock or daughters through lawful contracts…”


--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, May 9, 2012
(watch video here)

Two things happened last week in the battle for marriage equality. First, the State of North Carolina once again voted to deny a group of citizens their right to marry. The last time North Carolina amended their constitution on marriage was in 1875 to ban interracial marriage:

“All marriages between a white person and a Negro, or between a white person and a person of Negro descent to the third generation inclusive are hereby forever prohibited.”

The second thing that happened was President Obama endorsed marriage equality. We were thrilled for our country upon hearing his announcement! Steps like these build a true foundation of equality and freedom for a country that has always presented itself as the land of equality, but has often not lived up to that representation.

The arguments against same-sex marriage are discriminatory and exclusionary. While those who would deny the right of marriage talk quite often about the history and traditions of our country, they neglect to acknowledge one of our most enduring traditions: the tradition of excluding many of our citizens from the rights and privileges that other citizens enjoy.

From the very inception of our country when only white property owners could vote, discrimination has been a blemish on the face of our nation. As a country we have supported and practiced discrimination toward Blacks, Asians, Irish, Italians, Hispanics, women, the poor and children, to name a few. In the past, women and children were seen as the property of men; Blacks and Asians, slaves. Our history is rife with the exclusion of whole segments of the population from the rights and privileges of the majority.

Our history does not include a legacy of universal acceptance and support for the rights of the minority; but rather a history of bitter and long battles for minorities to achieve their rights – a battle that continues even today. Women are still fighting for equal pay and for the right to make their medical decisions without the interference of the state. The hateful backlash after President Obama’s election exposed clearly that the battle for racial equality is far from won. Marriage equality is just another part of that struggle.

The primary arguments against marriage equality are couched in religious terms, or the supposed established tradition of marriage only being between one man and one woman. The truth is that marriage has been defined in numerous ways throughout history, and is continuing its evolution.

Many tribal societies traditionally have children living with aunts and uncles, or moving from household to household within a village. Some cultures and religions support polygamous marriages. Divorce is very easy in some cultures, and endemic in ours. The so-called traditional marriage of one man and one woman is a myth that excludes single- parent families and gay couples, over half of all American families.

Even the traditional marriage in America has been an evolving construct. Early in our country’s history, both women and children were seen and treated as property owned by the husband. Both wives and children could be beaten lawfully; women belonged to their husband and legally a husband had absolute sexual rights. Therefore, there was no such thing as rape in marriage. In marriage the husband held all property and controlled all assets.

We have redefined marriage in this country as recently as 1967, when it was made legal for interracial couples to get married. Prior to 1967, it was illegal in most states for interracial couples to marry based primarily on religious grounds. In deciding the case that overruled all statutes against intermarriage of the races, the U. S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) wrote:

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

Vital personal rights, unless you’re gay of course. Politicians, legislators and congress should be making decisions based on equality, justice and the law not writing a moral code based on theology. In Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) which overturned a Texas sodomy statute, the U. S. Supreme Court states:

“The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions as accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law. ‘Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.’”

The obligation of lawmakers is, and should be to define the liberty of all, not to mandate their own moral code.

For further reading and a legal analysis of Gay Rights in Wyoming, please take time to read Cathy Connolly’s examination of federal and state law published by the University of Wyoming Law Review.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Does the Wyoming ACLU Represent Prisoners?

Because few, if any, other organizations in Wyoming do. Prisoners, though some have committed awful deeds, are a vulnerable population in our society. The ACLU subscribes to the principle that if the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everyone’s rights are at risk. And according to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, about 97% of people in our prisons will return to our communities -- how we treat prisoners should give us an idea of what we should expect from them when they come home.

For the first time, the Wyoming ACLU has released data based on the complaints we received in 2011 from prisoners in Wyoming. "Incarceration In Wyoming" (in pdf) gives an overview on our prison work over the past year. We hope that making this information available will increase public awareness, accountability and transparency of detention facilities in Wyoming.

Promoting humane conditions of confinement, consistent with constitutional protections like health, safety and human dignity, is one of our highest priorities. The Wyoming ACLU receives complaints about jail and prison conditions and other legal claims from prisoners, attorneys, friends and family members.

Deficiencies in medical and mental health care top the list of complaints from prisoners in Wyoming. These complaints are especially concerning in light of the fact that many mental health patients end up in Wyoming’s justice system. Other areas in which we received a high frequency of complaints include civil liberties, conditions of confinement and threats to personal safety.

The ACLU also works to combat over-incarceration in America. The U.S. imprisons more individuals – both in numbers and by percentage of the population – than any other country in the world, resulting in heavy costs to society, communities and taxpayers.

Did you know…

• With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer.
• Since 1970, U.S. prison population has risen 700%
• One in 99 adults are living behind bars in the U.S. This marks the highest rate of imprisonment in American history.
• One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, counting prison, jail, probation and parole populations.

A large part of the challenges jail officials face is how to handle an ever-growing prison population where inmates are getting longer sentences, despite limited resources and demands for budget cuts. Understaffing and overcrowding often play a significant role in the complaints received by the ACLU.

Wyoming has no statutes that address minimum standards for jails or prisons. The Wyoming ACLU is the only agency in the state that will investigate or review inmate complaints regarding the conditions of confinement.

"Incarceration" (in pdf) includes a directory of all Wyoming Department of Corrections institutions and county jails, along with “Know Your Rights” resource guides. We distribute “Know Your Rights” guides to inform prisoners of their constitutional rights based on the nature of their complaint.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

War on Women: We Just Keep Fighting the Same Battles


According to a recent study by the National Women’s Law Center, Wyoming women earn 64 cents to every dollar earned by men. Nationally, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The war on women is not a new war; it’s a war as old as our country. My grandmother was born into a time in our country’s history when she could not vote, hold property or go to a university. Her husband was her master (at least according to the law); he made the decisions, controlled the money and would have automatically taken the children if they divorced. Women in my grandmother’s generation fought for their right to vote and were beaten and jailed for their efforts; it took years of fighting before women’s suffrage was granted in 1924.

My mother was born almost 50 years after her mother, and women were still expected to defer to their husbands in all things financial, political or worldly. Women could not have credit in their own names, and generally could not get credit without a husband. Women were expected to stay at home with the children while men went out into the world. The women who did work, worked at low-paying jobs that we still see as traditional “women’s work.” Despite the fact that women proved they could succeed doing the same jobs as men during the war-effort in WWII, women who worked at high paying war industry jobs were thrown out of those jobs after the conclusion of the war. As a widow, my mother worked to support herself and her child. She often trained the young college men that would eventually become her supervisors. She was sexually harassed, verbally abused and paid substantially less than the men she trained.

I was part of a generation of women who tried to change the world for women. Even though we came into an age that was much like my mother’s age, we saw a different future for ourselves. A future where women had both choices and power. A future where women had a voice and that voice would be heard. Women in my generation fought for equal rights, reproductive rights, protection from domestic violence and the right to our own sexuality and independence. Unfortunately, these battles continue to this very day in all areas of society, including the working world.

Today, on April 17th we mark Equal Pay Day, the day women must work from last year into 2012 to make the same amount of money as men made in one year in 2011. Wyoming women have the largest gender wage gap in the nation and make only 64 cents for every dollar a man makes. Women in the rest of the nation make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes; minority women make even less. These statistics are reported by the Casper Star Tribune, the Billings Gazette and the National Women's Law Center.

It has been illegal to pay women less for the same job for over a half century, yet today even in traditionally male dominated high paying fields, women still make less. 40% of American women are the primary breadwinners in their family, and yet we have male politicians pushing legislation to weaken laws that protect women in the work place. Earlier this month, the state of Wisconsin repealed its Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in the state’s courts.

The gender gap has been in the forefront of the presidential campaign with both sides blaming a “war on women” started by the other party. Women have less political power because they make less money, yet pay more for insurance, health care and services. During our current recession men’s employment rates have improved slightly, but women’s unemployment has gone up.

Women also have less political strength because they still have a disproportionately smaller segment of women in political office. In Wyoming there is only one woman in the Senate. One. In addition, politicians have done a masterful job of dividing women by playing wedge issues to ensure that women do not unite over common beliefs. The massive campaigns exploiting reproductive rights issues have divided women’s political power for 40 years to the great advantage of those that are very aware of the political power that women would have if they ever united.

April 17th will go by with little recognition from most of the population. Women will continue to work for lower wages and men will continue to vote on laws that affect every aspect of women’s lives with little attention to fairness or equality. Women should stop allowing the political manipulation that stills their political power and voice, which keeps them from making progress on those issues that all women should be able to agree on: equal pay for equal work, a healthy economy, jobs, access to education and health care.

Last week, President Obama wrote in an op-ed that, “Closing this pay gap — ending this pay discrimination — is about far more than simple fairness, it's about strengthening families, communities and our entire economy.” I couldn’t agree more.

Linda Burt
Executive Director
ACLU of Wyoming

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Someone Else’s Free Speech Rights Matter to Me


Yesterday, the Wyoming Supreme Court handed down an opinion finding that the city of Jackson suppressed the free speech rights of Operation Save America (OSA), a conservative pro-life group that protested last year during Elkfest, an annual event in Jackson celebrating nature, hunting, outdoor skills and ecological education and awareness. The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports that the group plans to protest again during this year’s Elkfest. OSA’s “word in warfare” protest will specifically target a clinic in Jackson that is considered to be Wyoming’s only abortion provider. The group plans to read the bible from beginning to end outside of the clinic during the upcoming protest.

Last year’s visit to the Jackson community by the OSA protesters was not well received by many community members. OSA protesters used large signs containing graphic images of aborted fetuses for their shock value, with the stated purpose of attempting to sway public opinion to their side in the abortion debate. Many Jacksonites expressed indignation that OSA had scheduled their demonstrations at the same time as the Boy Scouts of America were holding their annual antler auction at Elkfest. Approximately 200 boys, ages seven to fourteen, attended the Boy Scouts event and were exposed to the protesters’ graphic posters.

The town of Jackson filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to bar the group from Town Square, citing public safety concerns and worries about exposing the Boy Scouts to the vivid photographs used by the demonstrators. A Wyoming District Court granted a TRO, but this week the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling because it infringed upon the free speech rights of OSA. The high court held that the TRO imposes content-based restrictions in a traditional public forum, and upheld core First Amendment principles designed to protect even the most unpopular speech on matters of public concern.

Last week, the state of Wyoming settled a free speech case filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming by the Wyoming-based conservative Christian anti-choice group, WyWatch. After receiving authorization to set up a booth in the Herschler Gallery of the capitol building, WyWatch’s display was removed based on several complaints about the offensive nature of the images. To be sure, WyWatch’s display was consistent with the building’s guidelines, and included a poster of a fetus with a biblical verse, but was certainly not of the same graphic nature of OSA’s pickets. The state censored the display based on content; censorship that infringed upon WyWatch’s constitutional right to free speech. The ACLU of Wyoming filed an amicus brief in support of WyWatch’s claim that the removal of the display was unreasonable and obstructed the group’s First Amendment rights.

It’s important to note that the ACLU does not agree with the anti-choice message of groups like WyWatch or OSA, but we firmly support their right to share them. This is a critical distinction to make; one that is very important to me personally. When I first saw the striking images used by groups like OSA, I was shocked, then outraged. I was infuriated that groups were choosing to use this type of imagery to advance their message. I thought about conversations that took place around dinner tables in Jackson after the OSA protests last year, where parents were forced to explain why their children were subjected to these offensive images outside their middle school.

Then I remembered a statement I heard long ago; one that’s relevance I had not fully understood until I began working for the ACLU. If we don’t believe in the freedom of expression for those with whom we disagree, we don’t believe in the freedom of expression at all. I challenge all readers to sit back for a moment and ponder the true meaning of this statement.

The principles of the First Amendment grant all Americans, regardless of their views, the right to express themselves. Throughout its history, the ACLU has defended the free speech rights of many types of groups, from WyWatch, to the Westboro Baptist Church, to the KKK. We defend these groups not because we agree with their messages; in fact, we find them to be reprehensible. We represent them because we believe in the principle of free speech, and because once you chip away at one person’s rights, everyone’s rights are at risk.

It is for these reasons that both the Wyoming Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court of Wyoming made the right decision in each of these cases. The First Amendment ensures that the government cannot suppress free speech, no matter how distasteful the speech may be. When the government restricts speech, the government bears the burden of proving the constitutionality of its actions. Clearly, they were unable to do so in either case here.

While the ACLU is unapologetically pro-choice, we believe so strongly in the principle of the freedom of expression that we will continue to defend the rights of all Americans, even for those with whom we disagree.

Ryan Frost
Program Coordinator
ACLU of Wyoming

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Juvenile Justice Denied: One Year After "Inequality"


It’s been one year since we issued our comprehensive report on juvenile justice in Wyoming, Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming. In 2010, we issued A Call to Stop Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Courts. These two documents were the last in a series of reporting that started in the 1960’s calling for changes in our bifurcated juvenile system. Most, up to 85%, of our juveniles are seen in adult court with none of the protections generally afforded to juveniles. These children are seen by judges in an adult court with few options other than fines or detention. As a result, Wyoming has historically had one of the highest detention rates in the nation. Even those counties that purport to have programs for youth still continue to have high detention rates.

The judges in these courts are not required to have any specialized training to deal with adolescents and some still clearly believe, despite all information to the contrary, that putting kids in jail is the best remedy for immature behavior. Of course, what we know from years of research is that detention is the worst option for juveniles and often exacerbates bad behavior. Children put in detention are more likely to drop out of school, continue involvement in the criminal justice system and have unsuccessful adult lives. In addition, because these youth are processed through adult courts, they often have an adult criminal record which can cause problems later in their life when applying for jobs or student loans. Yet we continue.

Forty years of reports have criticized the lack of a uniform juvenile justice system and court, which would provide privacy and protections that youth can generally expect elsewhere in the country. Every county in Wyoming does something different when handling troubled youth. Wealthier counties may have diversion programs for kids; poorer counties usually have jail, fines or both. There is no statewide data available in order to accurately track problematic or successful programs in the counties, and there never has been. County Attorneys often provide anecdotal stories about how well their programs are working, but concrete data to substantiate these claims does not exist. Wyoming’s taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being spent efficiently and effectively.

As a result of reviewing all the systemic problems, Inequality in the Equality State made five major recommendations for reform:

• Establish a unified juvenile or family court system with exclusive jurisdiction for all non-traffic juvenile matters and a judiciary professionally trained in juvenile law.

• Create a comprehensive juvenile justice system that applies equally and fairly to all Wyoming juveniles. This system should include the procedural framework for a central intake system that provides uniform procedural criteria for the decision-making steps in juvenile case processing and contain a consistent juvenile detention policy. This policy must be devoid of loopholes and include community-based programs.

• Create a comprehensive juvenile justice system based on restorative justice principles that promotes accountability and increased competency development for youthful offenders, without sacrificing community protection.

• Provide systematic data collection and analysis to guide decision making, assess program effectiveness, and provide assurances of equal treatment.

• Provide a dedicated funding source to ensure statewide accessibility and utilization.

The Joint Judiciary Committee added juvenile justice reform to its interim study issues in 2011, and several of the interim meetings have been dedicated to this issue. Unfortunately, no substantive changes have come from these meetings. County Attorneys are adamant that no changes be made, and lobbied both the Governor’s Office and the Judiciary Committee against making any changes. Few legislators on the committee were interested in real reforms, and some were openly hostile.

As a result, Governor Mead appointed a task force with no budget and all the authority and power that task forces usually have – none. The volunteer facilitator to the task force certainly should be thanked for her dedication and valuable time, but at this point we are not encouraged there will be any positive outcomes from the task force. Yet we continue.

The ACLU of Wyoming is committed to advocating for reforms to our outdated and ineffective juvenile justice system; Wyoming’s youth and our future are worth it.

Linda Burt
Executive Director
ACLU of Wyoming

Thursday, March 22, 2012

61st Legislature – The End of the Trail


Thank you to all our supporters who participated in the 2012 Legislative Budget Session! Whether you were tracking specific issues or actively contacting your legislators, your voice made a difference!

Earlier in the week, we released our 2012 Legislative Review. In the review, you will find summaries and outcomes of the bills we monitored this session. All information related to voting records came from the Wyoming Legislative website.

We were proud to partner again this session with several groups, including The Equality State Policy Center, The Wyoming Associations of Churches, Wyoming Equality, Planned Parenthood Wyoming, and NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, to protect and advance civil liberties in Wyoming. A considerable amount of credit goes to our coalition partners; our victories couldn’t have been won without them!

During the session, we kept our supporters informed about the types of issues we were working on. We sent an action alert and posted 10 blogs on various legislative issues. For up to the minute updates, we frequently updated our Twitter feed and live-tweeted many of the hearings and floor debates for their respective bills.

Please take time to read our 2012 Legislative Review.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Religious Freedom or an Assault on Women's Healthcare?


We should all be troubled by the attempts to ban insurance coverage for reproductive health care. These bans stop a woman from using insurance to pay for legal medical procedures and medication and take way her ability to make private medical decisions. This hurts both women and families. The bottom line is that banning insurance coverage for reproductive medical care isn’t about who pays, it’s about politicians trying to take away access to contraception.

In Wyoming, HJ7 Resolution - Conscience Rights is being represented as a religious freedom issue. This bill is not about religious freedom, it is about erecting more barriers to women’s reproductive rights. Medical decisions should only be made by women, her family, and her doctor – not by politicians or her employer.

Action needed: Tell the Wyoming Senate that you support women’s access to health care coverage no matter who their employer is.

Real religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control, based on personal beliefs. It does not give one group the right to impose its beliefs on others, or use religion as an excuse to discriminate against women by denying them access to vital medical services.

At the ACLU, we respect and protect religious liberty and so did President Obama, when he exempted churches and other houses of worship from having to provide contraceptive coverage. He has now announced a modification that will enable religiously affiliated institutions to not directly provide coverage either. Again, the measure totally exempts churches and houses of worship and the modification applies to secular public institutions like universities and hospitals that receive taxpayer dollars. Still, groups like the Catholic bishops’ conference and WyWatch are not satisfied. They have tried to paint this as a war on religion instead of what it is: part of the war on women’s reproductive freedom.

Join us in showing the Wyoming legislature that it’s gone too far. Tell the Wyoming Senate that you support women’s access to health care coverage no matter who their employer is.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Legislative Update: The Budget Session Continues...

Facts – who really needs them to make decisions? In Wyoming we have a citizen’s legislature and our legislators do not have staff. It is important for lobbyist in our state to provide the legislature with information and facts on the important issues that they consider. Our office provides information as requested by legislators and also gives pertinent facts to legislators on those bills that we have a particular interest in. We provide not only case law and constitutional direction, but whatever factual data that might assist in decision-making. We are currently working the following bills in these last days of the legislative session.

HB0032 Redistricting of the Legislature
Sponsored by: Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee

Description: AN ACT relating to state legislative districts; providing definitions; providing a plan for state legislative districts based upon the 2010 census; providing for election of the senate; providing for severability; and providing for an effective date.

Position: Monitoring – neither support nor oppose

Status: Redistricting passed easily through the House with some minor amendments affecting southeastern Wyoming. There may be additional amendments offered in the Senate on districts in southwestern Wyoming. This bill passed second reading in the Senate on February 29, 2012 with no additional amendments. Our office will continue to follow the redistricting process to ensure the constitutional mandate of one man one vote

HB0062 Investigative subpoenas
Sponsored by: Vranish

Description: AN ACT relating to criminal procedure; providing for issuance of investigative subpoenas; and providing for an effective date.

Position: Support (in its current form)

Status: This bill passed 3rd reading in the House and has been sent down the hall to the Senate. There have been a number of good amendments to this bill, including the addition of a probable cause clause and the elimination criminal acts in the bill. With these added protections provided by the recently added amendments, we would support this bill. Unfortunately, the sponsors appear to have wavering support of the bill now that it no longer allows for fishing expeditions.

HB0082 Public assistance - drug testing
Sponsored by: Miller

Description: AN ACT relating to welfare and the personal opportunities with employment responsibilities program; requiring controlled substances testing for applicants as specified; providing exceptions; providing for suspension of eligibility following a positive test for controlled substances; providing a definition; providing for rules and regulations; and providing for an effective date.

Position: Strongly Oppose

Status: The Senate Labor Committee heard this bill yesterday (2/29) and laid it back for further work on possible amendments, including randomized drug testing of individuals receiving benefits through the Personal Opportunities with Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program. The testimony on this bill was very good and the questions from the Senate Labor Committee brought to light a lot of good information, including the fact that there is already a rule in the POWER program that would allow referral to drug treatment as a requirement for the program if there were drug/alcohol problems with recipients. Department of Family Services (DFS) provided good testimony as to the costs associated with implementing mandatory drug testing. DFS clearly stated that it does not encounter many problems with drug addiction in this program, as the requirements for participation are already very stringent. The Labor Committee will be considering this bill again on Friday (3/2). Read more about HB82.

HJ0007 Resolution - conscience rights
Sponsored by: Brechtel

Description: A JOINT RESOLUTION requesting Congress and the President of the United States to reverse the policy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding health plan coverage of sterilization, abortifacients and contraception.

Position: Strongly Oppose

Status: The sponsor of HJ7 is characterizing this as a religious liberty issue, but this is, again, another attempt to construct barriers to women’s reproductive rights. Rep. Mary Throne gave testimony to this from the House floor yesterday. HJ7 has unfortunately passed through the House and has been referred to the Senate Labor Committee. It will have to pass out of the Committee by Friday in order to go to the full Senate for consideration. We strongly oppose this bill. Take Action: Tell the Wyoming Senate that you support women’s access to health care coverage no matter who their employer is.

SF0023 Death penalty method of lethal injection
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

Description: AN ACT relating to criminal procedure; amending protocol permitted for lethal injection for execution; and providing for an effective date.

Position: Monitoring

Status: We are simply following this bill as it allows for use of an expanded protocol of medications for lethal injections. After researching the basis for the one drug protocol, we choose to speak in favor of the bill. While we oppose the death penalty generally, the single drug protocol is the most efficient and humane protocol to use in executions. This bill passed the Committee of the Whole and 2nd reading in the House.

SF0025 Public records
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

Description: AN ACT relating to public records; amending and repealing definitions; amending provisions relating to inspection of documents and exemptions from disclosure; amending penalty provision; and providing for an effective date.

Position: Support

Status: Our office has been following SF25 Public Records and its sister legislation SF27 Public Meetings with the goal of providing greater transparency and easier access for the public. Wyoming currently has some of the worst laws in the nation with the municipalities and county commissioners arguing against more availability and transparency. These bills would be an improvement to the current statutes. After failed attempts in the Senate to amend this bill and weaken SF25 to exclude legislators’ documents used in decision-making, including e-mails etc. (not personal documents or e-mails), this bill has made it into the House intact and looks good for passage. We support the bill as it’s currently written.

SF0027 Public meetings
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

Description: AN ACT relating to public meetings; amending definitions; clarifying provisions relating to minutes and notice; amending provisions relating to meetings, special meetings, emergency meetings, executive sessions and penalties; and providing for an effective date.

Position: Support

Status: See SF25 Public Records. This bill arrived in the House intact and looks good for passage. We support this bill as it’s currently written.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drug Testing the Poor? Unconstitutional, Bad Public Policy


HB82 - Public Assistance: Drug Testing mandates that all individuals applying for public assistance submit to a drug test, and would deny assistance to the person if the applicant tests positive. The applicant must pay for the test at the time of application (average cost of drug test is $35.) The ACLU of Wyoming strongly opposes HB82 because suspicionless, mandatory drug testing policies are unconstitutional, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Our Primary Concerns:

• Mandatory drug testing policies violate the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that the government have individualized suspicion before forcing someone to submit to a drug test.
• Requiring drug tests as a condition of eligibility for public assistance is an ineffective an inefficient use of taxpayer money.
• Mandatory drug testing policies disproportionately impact, women, the poor and communities of color.
• People who seek public assistance do not use drugs at a greater rate than the general population.
• Mandatory drug tests are an unabashed attempt by the government to intrude upon people’s privacy.

Being poor is not a crime. Low income people and communities are entitled to the same fundamental constitutional protections that all Americans enjoy. No other state benefit program requires drug testing on application. Mandatory drug testing policies exacerbate existing stigmas associated with receiving public assistance and may deter people in need from applying for aid. Furthermore, these policies disproportionately impact poor communities and women.

Public assistance programs provide basic food and shelter for families. Drug addiction is a disease, and if we want to combat drug addiction and its corresponding societal costs, Wyoming should expand resources for drug treatment programs rather than try and block access to public assistance for struggling families.

In the first 6 weeks of Florida’s now halted drug testing program, the cost to the state of Florida was $1,140 as only 2 individuals out of 40 applicants tested positive – the savings to the state was $240. The Casper Star Tribune editorial board recently wrote that: “In addition to singling out poor people for no reason, other states’ experience with similar programs suggests that if the practice is implemented in Wyoming, it will cost more to implement than it saves.” Clearly, this measure would be an ineffective use of our taxpayer dollars.

HB82 has been filed under the guise of budget cutting and saving the state of Wyoming money; however, the Personal Opportunities With Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program the bill targets has an average statewide monthly enrollment of 347 families. A family of three receives a maximum of $577 per month. According to Chesie Lee, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Churches, 2/3 of all families enrolled in the POWER program are grandparents who are taking care of their grandchildren. Does Wyoming really want to drug test a Grandma who is doing the best she can for her grandkids?

During a recent hearing on HB82, one Wyoming senator stated that, “We’re tired of being taxed to subsidize wrong and poor decision making of others.” We can only assume that what the senator meant by the “poor decision making of others” is drug use. Unfortunately what this statement fails to recognize is that drug addiction is a disease. If we want to combat drug addiction and its corresponding societal costs, Wyoming should expand resources for drug treatment programs rather than try and block access to public assistance for struggling families.

Wyoming has a minimum availability of treatment options especially for women with children. (Residential treatment beds available for women with children – 19 [statewide] primary treatment beds available for women without children – 23 [statewide] [these figures do not include outpatient treatment or VOA beds as they would not provide us with their numbers]). In other words, drug treatment programs, especially for Wyoming’s women, have limited access, which should be the legislative focus of combating drug use, not violating the privacy of folks who are asking for public assistance.

Another question from last week’s hearing was, “If I have to be drug tested for my job, shouldn’t these people should get drug tested too?” The facts are clearly different when the government is testing a group that it has singled out. But, there is a more important concept here: The 4th Amendment has been horribly crippled in the past 20 years in our country and the use of suspicionless, mandatory drug testing is one of the ways we have rolled back the important right of privacy. The real issue is why anyone’s privacy is being violated without probable cause.

This type of mean-spirited drug testing bill has been around in several other states in recent memory, in one form or another. Fortunately, courts have found these measures to be unconstitutional. In 2003, a federal court in Michigan held that mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of applicants for public assistance violates the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 2011, a federal judge in Florida blocked a law requiring applicants for public assistance to submit to mandatory drug tests, calling it unconstitutional.

Mandatory drug tests are an unabashed attempt by the government to intrude upon citizen’s privacy. They have been found to be unconstitutional, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. A recent letter to the editor from a concerned Wyoming citizen said it best: “It’s bad public policy, it’s cruel, and it’s beneath the people of Wyoming.” We most certainly agree.

While we take this issue very seriously, we encourage you to watch this hilarious clip from The Daily Show, where they point out the hypocrisy and unfairness of this issue when they tell Florida legislators, “I think I’m gonna need you to pee in this cup.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Action Needed to Stop Resolution HJ7

House Joint Resolution No. HJ0007, "Resolution-conscience rights," passed introduction on Friday and passed out of the House Education Committee yesterday. This anti-choice resolution has now gone back to the full Wyoming House of Representatives for consideration and will likely come up on "General File" for a vote in the next day or two.

HJ7 calls upon President Obama to reverse a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requiring insurance coverage of all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods as well as sterilization without a co-pay or deductible. The rule excludes churches/houses of worship and makes accommodations for religiously affiliated employers such as universities and hospitals. HJ7 would put the Wyoming Legislature on record as opposing health insurance coverage of contraception and sterilization.

State Representatives need to hear from us and realize that there is significant opposition to this resolution. Please look below for a list of Representatives by county with e-mail addresses. Please send an e-mail to your Representative (or all of the Representatives for your county). Include your city/town as well as your name in any e-mails you send so the Representative(s) know that you live in their area. You may also leave a message at the Voter Hotline -- 866-996-8683 (777-8683 in Cheyenne) -- for your county's delegation to "Vote NO on House Joint Resolution 7". Or, use the Online Hotline to contact your representative.

Our Primary Concerns:

• The HHS rule on essential services is not about government mandates. This is about the importance of reproductive medical care and women's health. HHS heeded the findings of an independent panel of experts, the Institute of Medicine, which recommended that birth control be included as a preventive health care benefit.

• Forcing women to pay out-of-pocket for contraceptives puts an unfair, discriminatory cost burden on a certain segment of society, and women may choose not to use the most effective form of birth control due to cost concerns.

• Birth control pills are sometimes prescribed and used for many other medical conditions. Allowing employers to exclude contraceptives from health insurance plans could also prove costly to individuals with such conditions.

• Contraception helps prevent unintended pregnancies, improves the quality of women's lives, and reduces the need for abortion.

Email Your Representative and ask them to Vote NO on HJ7:

Albany County: Kermit Brown kermitbrown@wyoming.com - Cathy Connolly cconnolly@wyoming.com - Matt Greene mgreene@wyoming.com - Glenn Moniz gmoniz@bresnan.net

Big Horn County: Elaine Harvey harvey00@tctwest.net (also Park County) - Lorraine Quarberg lquarberg@wyoming.com (also Hot Springs and Park Counties)

Campbell County: Gregg Blikre gblikre@wyoming.com - Norine Kasperik nkasperik@wyoming.com - Tom Lubnau tlubnau@vcn.com - Sue Wallis sue.wallis52@gmail.com

Carbon County: Donald Burkhart dburkhart@wyoming.com (bill sponsor) - Jeb Steward jebsteward@union-tel.com (also Albany County)
Converse County: Richard Cannady rcannady@wyoming.com - Frank Peasley fpeasley@wyoming.com (also Platte County)

Crook County: Mark Semlek msemlek@wyoming.com (also Weston County)

Fremont County: Rita Campbell rcampbell34@wyoming.com - Patrick Goggles pgoggles@wyoming.com - Del McOmie dwmcomie@bresnan.net - David Miller repmiller@wyoming.com

Goshen County: Ed Buchanan ebuchanan@wyoming.com - Matt Teeters mteeters@wyoming.com (also Platte County)

Johnson County: Michael Madden madden@wyoming.com (also Sheridan County)

Laramie County: James Byrd jbyrd@wyoming.com - Amy Edmonds aedmonds@wyoming.com (bill sponsor) - John Eklund jeklund@wyoming.com - Ken Esquibel kesquibel@wyoming.com - Pete Illoway pete_chloeilloway3@msn.com - Bob Nicholas bnicholas@wyoming.com - Bryan Pedersen bpedersen@wyoming.com - Mary Throne mthrone@wyoming.com - Dan Zwonitzer dzwonitzer@wyoming.com - Dave Zwonitzer davezwonitzer@wyoming.com

Lincoln County: Kathy Davison kdavison@wyoming.com (also Sublette and Sweetwater Counties) (bill sponsor) - Robert McKim rmckim@wyoming.com (bill sponsor)

Natrona County: Bob Brechtel bbrechtel@wyoming.com (lead bill sponsor) - Gerald Gay ggay@wyoming.com - Steve Harshman sharshman@wyoming.com - Kendell Kroeker (bill sponsor) - Thomas Lockhart tlockh1617@aol.com - Bunky Loucks bloucks6@bresnan.net (bill sponsor) - Tom Reeder treeder@wyoming.com (bill sponsor) - Tim Stubson tim@stampedeforstubson.com

Niobrara County: Hans Hunt hhunt@wyoming.com (also Weston, Converse, and Goshen Counties)

Park County: Dave Bonner dbonner@wyoming.com - Pat Childers childers@wyoming.com - Samuel Krone skrone@wyoming.com

Sheridan County: Rose Berger rberger@wyoming.com - Jon Botten jon@bottenlaw.com - John Patton johnpatton@wyoming.com

Sweetwater County: Joe Barbuto jbarbuto@wyoming.com (also Fremont County) - Stan Blake sblake@wyoming.com - Bernadine Craft bcraft@wyoming.com - John Freeman freeman@wyoming.com

Teton County: Keith Gingery kgingery@wyoming.com (also Fremont County) - Ruth Ann Petroff rpetroff@wyoming.com - Jim Roscoe jim@roscoeco.com (also Lincoln and Sublette Counties)

Uinta County: Allen Jaggi ajaggi@wyoming.com (also Sweetwater County) (bill sponsor) - Owen Petersen opetersen@wyoming.com - Clarence Vranish vranish@wyoming.com

Washakie County: Mike Greear mgreear@rtconnect.net

Monday, February 20, 2012

President's Day at the Wyoming Legislature


Both Washington and Lincoln would probably be surprised to see the breadth of legislation offered in our current legislative session. There were numerous bills filed for consideration, some of which were introduced, some were not. Many failed on introduction and some failed in committee. There were some good bills that didn’t make it, and some very bad bills that did.

Make sure to check back with the ACLU of Wyoming blog as we keep you updated on bills that impact civil liberties during the 2012 legislative session.

HB0030 Sex offenders-residence near child care facilities
Sponsored by: Petersen

This bill prohibits sex-offenders from residing within 1000 feet of child care facilities

Position: Oppose

Status: This bill was pulled by the sponsor after extensive testimony as possible problems with the bill itself and in administration in addition to the number of people it would affect.

HB0032 Redistricting of the legislature
Sponsored by: Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee

This bill provides a redistricting plan based on the 2010 census

Position: Monitoring – neither support nor oppose

Status: Our office has followed the redistricting process throughout the year to ensure the Constitutional mandate of one man one vote. HB32 passed easily through the House with some minor amendments affecting southeastern Wyoming. There may be additional amendments offered in the Senate on districts in southwestern Wyoming.

HB0056 Penalties for misdemeanor offenses
Sponsored by: Gingery

This bill modifies penalties for misdemeanor offenses

Status: This bill failed introduction

HB0062 Investigative subpoenas
Sponsored by: Vranish

This bill provides for the issuance of an investigative subpoena

Position: Oppose (unless amended)

Status: This bill has been placed on General File. We believe it should contain a probable clause provision which it does not at this time. Basically, it’s a way for law enforcement to go on a fishing expedition for evidence.

HB0082 Public assistance-drug testing
Sponsored by: Miller

This bill requires controlled substance testing for those applying for public assistance and denies assistance for up to one year for those testing positive

Position: Strongly Oppose

Status: These types of bills have been considered in other states in the past year and generally states have not passed them In the where these types of measures have passed, they are being found not only unconstitutional but expensive as states have ended up paying more for drug testing than they save. The rate of positives in Florida was 2% of those tested. We strongly oppose this bill because suspicionless, mandatory drug testing policies are unconstitional, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

HJ03 Resolution-parents' rights
Sponsored by: Botten

This resolution requests that the US Congress submit to the states a proposed amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting infringement of parents’ rights.

Position: Oppose

Status: These joint resolutions are often just political statements and as such are often a waste of time. The basis of this bill is the belief that by signing the U.N. Treaty on the Rights of the Child U.S. citizens lose their rights to discipline their children and raise them as they see fit. This is clearly not the case; however, the bill passed out of committee and has been placed on General File.

HJ0007 Resolution-conscience rights
Sponsored by: Brechtel

This resolution requests that the US Congress and President of the United States reverse a policy requiring health care plans to cover sterilization, abortifacients and contraception.

Position: Strongly Oppose

Status: This bill has passed introduction and will go to committee. The sponsor is presenting it as a religious liberty issue but this is, again, another attempt to construct barriers to women’s reproductive rights. We strongly oppose this bill.

SF0023 Death penalty method of lethal injection
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

This act amends the protocol permitted for lethal injection for execution

Position: Monitoring

Status: We are simply following this bill as it allows for use of an expanded protocol of medications for lethal injections. After researching the basis for the one drug protocol we choice to speak in favor of that provision of the bill. While we oppose the death penalty generally, the single drug protocol is the most efficient and humane protocol to use in executions.

SF0025 Public records
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

This bill relates to public records; amending and repealing definitions; amending provisions relating to inspection of documents and exemptions from disclosure; and amending penalty provision.

Position: Support

Status: Our office has been following the public records amendments with the goal of providing greater transparency and easier access for the public. Wyoming currently has some of the worst laws in the nation with the municipalities and county commissioners arguing against more availability and transparency. The current amendments are an improvement to the statute.

SF0027 Public meetings
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

This bill relates to public meetings; amending definitions; clarifying provisions relating to minutes and notice; amending provisions relating to meetings, special meetings, emergency meetings, and executive sessions and penalties.

Position: Support

Status: See also SF25 – Public Records. We will continue to follow and support these bills and currently they are going through the process with little opposition.

SF0044 Parental responsibilities
Sponsored by: Case

AN ACT relating to parents, guardians and custodians; increasing penalties relating to school attendance; and providing for an effective date.

Status: Our office is following this bill as part of our general interest in the school to prison pipeline and juvenile justice in the state. This bill failed introduction.

SF0056 Primary elections
Sponsored by: Rothfuss

This bill allows any voter to vote for any candidate during primary elections, eliminates election of precinct committeemen and woman, and allows the candidates with the two highest votes to advance into the general election.

Status: This bill is a bill that would change the primary election process in Wyoming and we will be following to ensure compliance with voting rights. This bill failed introduction.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Legislative Update: HB30

HB30: Sex Offenders – Residence near child care facilities was first heard in the House Judiciary committee meeting on Wed, Feb 15th. There was testimony in favor of the bill by two daycare providers and Prevent Child Abuse Wyoming. The ACLU of Wyoming testified against the bill based on the fact that the registry contains a broad spectrum of registrants, including juveniles, minor offenses and Romeo & Juliet offenses. There is no available database that shows daycare centers in the state, as their locations frequently change. In addition, daycare facilities are not required to identify their locations, which would make it difficult for registrants to know whether or not they would be in compliance with the law. The law currently applies only to schools, which all have clear identification. Yesterday, HB30’s sponsor, Rep. Owen Petersen, asked that the bill be laid back indefinitely, in light of some of these concerns. After speaking with the Department of Family Services and others, Rep. Petersen felt that these problems needed to be addressed, and ultimately the bill was tabled by the Judiciary committee.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We Need Your Help

The ACLU of Wyoming needs your help to defeat House Joint Resolution HJ0007: Resolution-conscience rights. The bill will need a two-thirds vote to be introduced, and the vote could occur any day this week!

We need e-mails and calls to Wyoming Representatives urging them to "VOTE NO ON HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION 07." (This resolution would put the Wyoming Legislature on record as opposing health insurance coverage of contraception and sterilization.)

Locate your Wyoming House Representative, and ask them to vote no on HJ07.

Other ways to contact your legislators:

• Call the Voter Hotline at 866-996-8683 and tell the operator/receptionist that you want a "NO vote on House Joint Resolution 07". (The Hotline is usually staffed 7:30 A.M.-5:30 P.M.)
• Use the Online Hotline to urge a NO vote on House Joint Resolution 07. (You may also type in a short message.)

Click here to read the text of HJ07

The ACLU of Wyoming opposes House Joint Resolution 07 for many reasons, including the following:

• Contraception saves lives, helps prevent unintended pregnancies, improves the outcomes for children, and reduces the need for abortion.
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' rule that is the subject of this resolution already strikes a careful balance between protecting women's health and religious liberty, by including a refusal provision for churches/houses of worship allowing them to refuse to provide birth control for their employees.

Thank you for helping us defeat this unnecessary and harmful resolution.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

61st Legislature Begins

The 61st Wyoming Legislative Budget Session opened with a good, but predictable, State of the State Address by Governor Matt Mead. Gov Mead focused on the fact that Wyoming’s budget is doing much better than most states, but still not as good as we once were. He explained what his priorities will be during this legislative session, including a large emphasis on education. Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite gave an excellent speech on the current state of the Wyoming judiciary. Justice Kite politely, but firmly, asked the legislature to address the low level of judicial salaries in Wyoming. The legislature has failed to tackle this issue for the past few years, and Justice Kite stressed that providing equal justice demands adequate funding.

Things have already been moving quickly in both the Senate and the House, despite the requirement for a 2/3 majority during a budget session. The budget session will only last for 20 days and we expect a fast-moving pace throughout the session. Yesterday, the House introduced HB0032, which will be one of the session’s substantial bills.

We anticipate redistricting and budgetary issues to be critical during this year’s session, and as always, will advocate for laws that safeguard our civil liberties and fights against bills that threaten our freedoms. Here is a quick preview of some of the bills we plan to monitor. This list will change as things advance throughout the session.

HB0030 Sex offenders-residence near child care facilities.
Sponsored by: PETERSEN

AN ACT relating to crimes and offenses; prohibiting sex offenders from residing near child care facilities; and providing for an effective date.

The statute already prohibits residence near schools; in many areas this may mean that there is nowhere a registrant can reside. The current registration requirements mandate registration for every level of “sex” crime including urinating in public and “Romeo and Juliet” relationships.

HB0032 Redistricting of the legislature.
Sponsored by: Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee

AN ACT relating to state legislative districts; providing definitions; providing a plan for state legislative districts based upon the 2010 census; providing for election of the senate; providing for severability; and providing for an effective date. Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Wyoming: Section 1. W.S. 28 2 116 through 28 2 119 are repealed and recreated as W.S. 28 2 116 through 28 2 119 to read: CHAPTER 2 LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS OF MEMBERS 28 2 116.  Legislative districts generally;

Our office has followed the redistricting process throughout the year to ensure the Constitutional mandate of one man one vote. We will continue following this bill during the legislative session.

HB0056 Penalties for misdemeanor offenses.
Sponsored by: GINGERY

AN ACT relating to crimes and offenses; modifying penalties for misdemeanor offenses; providing for classes of misdemeanors; making conforming amendments; and providing for an effective date.

We are watching provisions that may affect the rights of minors to obtain an abortion: W.W. 35-6-118

HJ0003 Resolution-parents' rights.
Sponsored by: BOTTEN

A JOINT RESOLUTION requesting Congress submit to the states a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the infringement of parents' rights.

These joint resolutions are often political statements and as such are a waste of time; they are, however, often interesting to read.

SF0023 Death penalty method of lethal injection.
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee
AN ACT relating to criminal procedure; amending protocol permitted for lethal injection for execution; and providing for an effective date.

We are simply following this bill as it allows for use of an expanded protocol of medications for lethal injections.

SF0025 Public records.
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

AN ACT relating to public records; amending and repealing definitions; amending provisions relating to inspection of documents and exemptions from disclosure; amending penalty provision; and providing for an effective date.

Our office has been following the public records amendments with the goal of providing greater transparency and easier access for the public. Wyoming currently has some of the worst laws in the nation with the municipalities and county commissioners arguing against more availability and transparency. The current amendments are an improvement but not much of one.

SF0027 Public meetings.
Sponsored by: Joint Judiciary Interim Committee

AN ACT relating to public meetings; amending definitions; clarifying provisions relating to minutes and notice; amending provisions relating to meetings, special meetings, emergency meetings, executive sessions and penalties; and providing for an effective date.

See Public records

SF0044 Parental responsibilities.
Sponsored by: CASE

AN ACT relating to parents, guardians and custodians; increasing penalties relating to school attendance; and providing for an effective date.

Our office is following this bill as part of our general interest in the school to prison pipeline and juvenile justice in the state.

SF0056 Primary elections.
Sponsored by: ROTHFUSS

AN ACT relating to elections; providing for primary elections allowing any voter to vote for any candidate running; eliminating election of precinct committeemen and committeewomen; providing for the candidates with the two highest votes in the primary to advance to the general election; providing for filling of vacancies in nomination; providing conforming amendments; and providing for an effective date.

This bill is a bill that would change the primary election process in Wyoming and we will be following to ensure compliance with voting rights.