Friday, December 12, 2014

Why felon enfranchisement matters

As United States citizens we have the ability to cast a vote in elections to voice our opinion with regard to who we believe will best represent our community. But if you’re a convicted felon, that right can be taken away.  In a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege. Yet in our country, well over five million citizens are unable to participate in this most basic, fundamental right of citizenship. For example, Kelli Jo Griffin, a mother from Iowa, lost her voting rights when she was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. Griffin completed the terms of her probation, and turned her life around.  But when she brought her kids to her polling place to show them how we vote, she was arrested and charged with voter fraud. At trial, the jury acquitted Griffin, but she is still unable to vote. Iowa’s extreme disfranchisement policy permanently bars ex- felons from voting, which the ACLU is challenging in court 

This story signifies that even nonviolent felons are being blocked from casting their vote, a right we hold so dearly. In Wyoming, we have proposed legislation that will be debated in the upcoming session that would automatically restore the right to vote for one-time, non-violent felons, following completion of their sentence. The benefits of voting are significant. Research demonstrates that individuals who vote are more likely to be involved in their communities, and for those with felony convictions, participating in the voting process is consistent with a reduced likelihood of re-arrest.  

In Wyoming, individuals convicted of a single non-violent felony can have their voting rights restored five years after completion of sentence. Individuals with more than one conviction- even if non-violent- have their voting rights permanently removed unless they are restored by the governor, which rarely happens. As citizens of Wyoming, we understand that voting is a fundamental right and part of our civic duty, and we need to restore a political voice for those who have completed their sentences for mistakes they made. To do so will strengthen our community and honor our democracy. 

Click here to read more about Wyoming's current laws on restoration of voting rights, or here to learn more about the ACLU’s work to protect voting rights. 

Hannah Nerone
ACLU of Wyoming Intern

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What the numbers tell us about students with disabilities

On October 21 the U.S Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance to schools reinforcing the fact that bullying is not to be tolerated in our schools.  The guidance included a reminder that this applies to those students with disabilities.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act outline school’s responsibilities to take immediate action to investigate any allegations of bullying and to take steps to stop the bullying and ensure prevention of any reoccurrence. All programs that receive federal funding are mandated to bar discrimination on the basis of disability.

Unfortunately, in our nation’s schools and in Wyoming schools, discrimination and bullying of students with disabilities does not always come from students, but from teaching staff and administrators.  One in three of all children arrested have a disability and those with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before they leave high school than other students.

What we know is that children who are forced into the “school to prison pipeline” are less likely to graduate, less likely to be gainfully employed and more likely to end up in the adult prison system.

Wyoming has one of the highest rates of physically restraining students with disabilities in the nation.  Less than 15% of Wyoming students have been diagnosed with a disability, yet 93% of students physically restrained are disabled students.  These numbers show a shocking inability of our education system to effectively assist Wyoming children with disabilities to have productive healthy lives.  Click here to see your school district’s disciplinary data.

Linda Burt
Executive Director 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Are you ready for Election Day?

With less than a week until Election Day, it’s important to remember that every vote counts! In order to participate in the democratic process all voters need to understand the rules in our state, register on time, and show up at the correct polling place. Follow these steps to make sure can vote in this year’s election: 

Election Day is Tuesday, November 4th
Wyoming polls are open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm

·         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.   
·         Get to the polls early to avoid the rush.
·         Contact your Wyoming County Clerk’s office with any further questions
·         Learn more about the ACLU’s efforts to protect voting rights.

We encourage all Wyoming voters to make their voice heard and vote in the upcoming election. Voting is one of our most basic rights, and it is the fundamental right which all of our civil liberties rest. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Marriage Equality Comes to Wyoming

Federal Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban in Wyoming

CHEYENNE, WY – Today, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl declared Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The State of Wyoming has until October 23rd to decide if it will appeal the decision. Governor Mead indicated last night that the state would not appeal. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wyoming celebrates this decision. Wyomingites will soon have the freedom to marry the person they love without regard to gender. The ruling also requires Wyoming to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for this decision when it declined to hear appeals from states seeking to uphold bans on same-sex marriages. This included Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rulings from this summer.

“Gay couples in Wyoming will soon be legally entitled to share the pride and security that comes with a marriage license,” says Jennifer Horvath, staff attorney with the ACLU of Wyoming. “It is a historic and exciting day in the Equality State.”

The ACLU has been working for the rights of LGBT people since 1936, when it brought its first gay rights case. The organization filed the first freedom to marry lawsuit for same-sex couples in the nation in 1970, represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, and filed marriage lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples pending in several other states.

“People can get married, but might not share their happy news for fear of getting fired or kicked out of their home,” Horvath said. “Discrimination against gay people is still legal in Wyoming. Where people work, live and play should not be dictated by sexual orientation. By extending existing nondiscrimination protections, we can all enjoy equal rights in the Equality State.”

Read Judge Skavdahl’s ruling.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Press Release: Statement on Marriage Equality

October 6, 2014

Contact: Jennifer Horvath, Staff Attorney;, 307.637.4565

CHEYENNE, WY – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wyoming celebrates the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions this morning denying certiorari in the pending marriage cases.  This is a wonderful victory for same-sex couples who will soon be able to marry, including right here in Wyoming.

The Supreme Court’s action this morning means the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions recognizing marriage equality are now final, and the stays will be lifted in those cases. Marriages will go forward immediately in some states, other states will soon follow. This brings the number of states with marriage for same-sex couples to 30.

“The freedom to marry the person you love is coming to Wyoming soon,” says Jennifer Horvath, staff attorney with the ACLU of Wyoming.  “The Supreme Court’s decisions this morning means that all states in the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuits, which includes Wyoming, are bound by circuit decisions recognizing marriage for same-sex couples.”

The Supreme Court’s action this morning sends an unmistakable signal that the Court is comfortable with the lower court decisions in favor of marriage equality, and the ACLU thinks that courts will read that loud and clear. The Tenth Circuit held earlier this year that it is unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from the protections of marriage. Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming are in the Tenth Circuit.  

“As happy as we are to see this day arrive in Wyoming, we know that we have more work to do before LGBT people have equal rights in the Equality State.” Horvath said. “We encourage public officials in Wyoming to stop defending discrimination.”   

Monday, October 6, 2014

Learn about new death penalty project - Final Words

Dear friends and ACLU supporters:

We wanted to share information with you regarding the launch of an incredible project – Final Words. Since 1982, the State of Texas has put to death 517 convicted inmates. This translates to a rate of more than one person executed every month for thirty-one years. Final Words is a haunting collection of the final statements by condemned men and women on the verge of a forced death. Collectively, these words remove a silence inherent within the conversation surrounding capital punishment, literally embodying the humanity systematically undermined by state-sanctioned death.

Final Words is a book and traveling exhibition featuring the final statements from the 517 prisoners executed by the State of Texas since 1982. Final Words is the first publication by Neverland Publications, and is far more than just a book or a collection of records; it is a grass-roots crowd-funded project that intends to create an insightful and humanistic-based dialogue around the world in various forums, including student associations, lawyer associations, academic colloquia bringing leading public figures together for education and debate, as well as public discourse in high schools, community colleges, and religious institutions. Speaking to each reader’s personal conscience, Final Words places the individual and their inherent humanistic rights back at the center of the conversation, changing the focus of the debate from criminal justice to human rights.

This project highlights the glaring contradictions found in a society that champions itself as a progressive protector of human rights, yet continues to allow the systematic execution of its own citizens, even with the unavoidable cost of innocent lives that inevitably are swept up in the criminal justice system. Neverland Publications aims to provide a free Final Words book and curriculum to each public high school within the 32 states where the death penalty is legal, totaling approximately 14,000 books, to facilitate insightful, honest and local debate for the next generation.

Click here to find out more about the launch of this important project.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's time to talk about militarized policing

(As originally run in the Casper Star Tribune)

Goshen County Wyoming has a grenade launcher. Converse County has four armored vehicles and Albany County has one. Sweetwater County has sixty assault rifles and Fremont County has twenty nine.  Natrona County has four armored vehicles and up to sixty assault rifles; Laramie County has an armored vehicle, assault rifles, flak vests and night vision goggles. Washakie, Big Horn and Hot Springs Joint Tactical Emergency Response Team acquired an armored vehicle last year.

The shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Illinois brought the reality of the militarization of local police to the forefront of the nightly news and front pages of our newspapers.  The ACLU has been investigating this issue, and in June of this year, published the report War Comes Home: – The Excessive Militarization of American Police.

In this report the ACLU outlines how, with the encouragement of Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Homeland Security, local policing has morphed from the philosophy of serve and protect to military-style SWAT teams, assault weapons and armored vehicles used to police local citizens and communities.

As a result of the drug war, the erosion of Fourth Amendment rights and the militarization of the police, sixty-two percent of drug warrants and searches for personal drugs were served by SWAT teams.  In these raids families with children were screamed at, searched and terrorized in an unnecessary manner. Innocent animals and citizens have been wounded and even killed in these raids. In many cases there was absolutely no need for the level of aggression used to serve a warrant or search a home for personal use drugs. SWAT teams use assault weapons, battering rams, and military flash bang grenades that can temporarily blind and deafen citizens.

The origin of military policing came from Los Angeles in the 1960’s. SWAT teams were patterned after the Marine Special Forces and trained to deal with hostage situations, barricades or active shooter emergencies.   Far from the serve and protect approach, military training turns the policing culture to a warrior mentality that sees citizens as enemies.  We have gone from Andy of Mayberry to Robocop in a few generations.

While no one wants to endanger law enforcement in the line of duty, we need to ensure that military tactics and weapons are used only in appropriate emergency situations. We must have a public discussion about standards, reporting and transparency to protect the citizenry from the abuse of these weapons and tactics.

Law enforcement must be done in a way that protects both our safety and our rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It sends the wrong message when our neighborhood cop is no longer a keeper of the peace, but appears like a soldier going to battle.

Linda Burt
Executive Director, ACLU of Wyoming

Monday, July 14, 2014

10th Circuit weighs in on the freedom to marry

Two weeks ago, in Kitchen v. Herbert, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah’s constitutional ban on same-sex couples’ ability to marry. The court held that “The Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws.”

This case is a major victory for same-sex couples. It is also likely to go to the Supreme Court on appeal. The case hinged on two key points: the federal courts authority to dictate state law on this issue and whether there is a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry.

The first issue basically boils down to balancing the nation’s federalist structure and the rights of a minority class. Courts don’t want to hinder the rights of states, but they also must protect the freedoms of minority classes. As the court explained, exercising fundamental rights are not something to be put up to a vote by one’s peers. This is so the majority may not take away constitutional freedoms from minority classes.

We saw this with the civil rights movements of the 20th century. When the ACLU challenged bans on interracial marriage in the pivotal case Loving v. Virginia, a mere 20% of the population approved of such marriages. Now, a majority of Americans actually support allowing same-sex couples to marry (for example 61% of Coloradans approve of same-sex marriage), yet only 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. So it would seem that even the majority does not support taking away the fundamental right to marry.

Utah’s Attorney General argued that the freedom to marry is not a fundamental right for same-sex couples and that same-sex marriages are not conducive to the “family structure”.  First, Utah contended that same-sex marriage cannot be a fundamental right because it has not been deeply rooted in our nation and its history. According to Utah, “many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage.” The court disagreed, using the same logic as Loving. They found that marriage is a basic civil right of man. Not of a man and a woman, but of man in the colloquial sense. Marriage is a right for all men and women, regardless if they choose to marry someone of the same sex. Marriage has had a tradition of being between a man and a woman. Just because there has been a tradition of discriminating against a class of people that doesn't make it right. “It is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian.”

Second, Utah argued that same-sex couples should be denied the freedom to marry because they are not naturally procreative and can’t reinforce the childrearing family structure. This just doesn't make sense. Allowing individuals to marry who they choose and to create a loving family of their choice can only reinforce the childrearing family structure. Recent studies have alluded that children raised by same-sex couples are happier and healthier than their peers raised by heterosexual couples, not the other way around. By denying same-sex couples the ability to marry, children that are already being raised by these couples are humiliated and increased hardship is added to their lives by making it harder for them to understand their own family structure. So, the exact opposite of what Utah argues.

Further, just because same-sex couples can’t procreate, in the classical sense, that is no reason to deny them a fundamental freedom. Same-sex couples may simply not choose to have children, which is a right of any married couple. Or, if a same-sex couple so chooses, there are options for them to conceive, such as surrogacy. The other reason this argument doesn’t make sense is that other non-procreative couples are permitted to wed by the state. Parents who adopt and don’t have babies of their own are given full rights and are allowed to marry. Are we to strip the right to marry from all who are sterile? The 10th Circuit doesn't think so, and neither does it think the freedom to marry should be denied to same-sex couples.

With this groundbreaking decision in the 10th Circuit, ripples are already starting to be felt in 10th Circuit states. In Wyoming, a motion for summary judgment citing this decision has already been filed for the Courage v. Wyoming case. Three county clerks in Colorado have recently announced that they will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though the ruling in Kitchen has been stayed pending a petition to the Supreme Court. Just last Wednesday, Utah announced it is appealing directly to the United States Supreme Court and that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage will be presumed constitutional until struck down by the highest court. With these developments, now all we can do is wait and see if the Supreme Court takes the case and finally resolves this issue for the country. We wait to see if marriage for all committed couples is finally allowed throughout the country.

Seth Griswold
ACLU of Wyoming Legal Extern
JD Candidate 2016

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ACLU of Wyoming goes to Cody

Last week the ACLU of Wyoming staff attended the 26th Annual Conference of the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts hosted by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation in Cody. Keynote addresses from Honorable Judge Lance Ito, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, and former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson set the tone for the entire conference. Each of them spoke about their experiences with Heart Mountain, and detailed how these experiences impacted their respective professional careers.

The National Consortium is a group committed to encouraging the highest courts of each state to examine the treatment accorded minorities in their courts; sharing the collective knowledge of task forces and commissions with courts, law enforcement, and the community; and providing technical assistance and expertise to commissions, task forces, and other interested organizations and individuals on the subject of racial and ethnic fairness.

Heart Mountain was an ideal setting to host this conference which focused on the equal treatment of all parties involved our judicial system. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center memorializes the history of the confinement of over 14,000 Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain during World War II through photographs, oral histories and interactive exhibits. This site stands as a reminder of when our legal system failed, and relates directly to the purpose of the conference.

Our staff attended panels focused on everything from juvenile justice to jurisdictional issues between state and Tribal Courts. The speakers at each of these panels were outstanding. One of the panels included Eric Balaban, a senior staff attorney with the National Prison Project of the ACLU. Mr. Balaban gave an excellent presentation on debtor’s prison and the ACLU’s 2010 report on this issue. During Sen. Al Simpson’s keynote address, he told conference attendees that the failure of most things, from court rulings to public policy, can be explained by one of four things: emotion, fear, guilt, or racism. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lock ‘Em Up and Throw Away the Key

We believe that the character of society should be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable members. The ACLU of Wyoming advocates for the safe and humane treatment of prisoners – both for their sake while they are incarcerated and for society’s sake when they are released.

While it’s easy to think we can just “lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” about 97% of Wyoming prisoners will eventually return to our communities. How we treat prisoners should give us an idea of what we can expect from them when they come home.

Last week, we released our annual report, Incarceration in Wyoming, which compiles data of complaints our organization received from prisoners in Wyoming in 2013. Prisoners requesting assistance with their criminal cases generated nearly fifteen percent of complaints from Department of Corrections prisoners, which is more than double the number from the previous year, and over twenty percent of complaints from prisoners in jails. Oftentimes, people sitting in jail request help with their criminal cases before they go to trial. People who are writing from prison are requesting help on cases for which they have been tried and sentenced. This may reflect a growing loss of faith in the integrity of the justice system. There was a significant decrease in complaints of inadequate medical care in both jails and prisons; however, we believe that access to adequate medical and mental health care remains a serious problem for prisoners.

This year’s report focuses on the cost of overincarceration in Wyoming, and across the country. More Americans are imprisoned than ever before at a great cost to taxpayers, with limited benefits to public safety. There are 2.3 million people behind bars in this country – which is larger than prison populations in either China or Russia. Our bloated prison system has grown not as a result of an increase in crime, but in large part due to changes in sentencing policies and the war on drugs.
In Wyoming, less than one tenth of crimes are considered violent – property crimes alone constitute approximately 91% of the crimes in the state. A quarter of those incarcerated in America are locked up for drug offenses, and in 2010, at least 67% of all drug arrests in Wyoming was for simple marijuana possession. These are staggering numbers when you consider that it costs between $35,000-$53,000 per prisoner per year to keep people in prison in Wyoming. In fact, the biennial budget for the Wyoming Department of Corrections rose to over $300 million in 2013-14.

Studies have shown that prison does not deter crime. In addition to keeping communities safe and treating people fairly, our criminal justice system should be cost effective – using taxpayer dollars and public resources wisely. We can reduce the amount we spend on corrections – not by slashing budgets and forcing prison officials to take shortcuts and cut rehabilitative programming, but by reconsidering who we send to prison in the first place.

In order to reduce incarceration, we recommend:

         Expanding the use of deferred adjudication and expungement of criminal records for 
        low-level offenders
         Reducing reliance on pre-trial detention
         Increasing use of alternatives to incarceration, such as community sentencing
         Instituting a review process to consider modification of sentence after a period of 
         Expanding time credits for good behavior
         Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and possession

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

 >>> Download<<< Incarceration in Wyoming: 2013 Report on Prison and Jail Complaints (in pdf)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Budget Session: Legislative Wrap-Up

The Wyoming Legislative session ended last week on a disappointing note with Representatives Bob Nicholas (R- Cheyenne) and Tim Stubson (R-Casper) destroying SF 28 Post- Conviction actual innocence and SF30 Compensation for persons exonerated based on DNA evidence. Rep. Nicholas amended both bills to include onerous hearing provisions that indicated that he was on a crusade to ensure that those wrongly incarcerated would not be compensated for the miscarriage of justice.  The House members refused to compromise on the amendments in the conference committee which led to both bills being indefinitely postponed. The Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming Tribune Eagle and WyoFile all wrote excellent articles on this travesty. Both bills started with good support on introduction and an understanding with most legislators and observers that the bills were needed, if not long overdue. It is frustrating to see such willful pique in legislators. 

In other news of willful pique, the Medicaid expansion proposals to provide health care for Wyoming’s poor was again blocked in the name of political grandstanding to the base and a pathetic little bill allowing that the Governor “may” explore the expansion with the feds was passed. Given the fact that the Governor has stated that he has no intention of ever doing anything of the sort it was more like a slap in the face to those who go without adequate health care in our state. This despite the hundreds of constituents that made it clear to their representatives that they supported the bill.

HB49 Marijuana possession was a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of Marijuana which did not pass introduction. It was given  little legitimate discussion as one legislator thought it would bring drug cartels roaring into Wyoming to do business. Of course, legalization and decriminalization bills have proven to do exactly the opposite, and not only keep millions of citizens out of jail, but keep criminals out of the marijuana business. Wyoming spends millions a year jailing and prosecuting small time offenders leaving those offenders with a criminal record that can follow them their entire life. For further information on how marijuana laws are harmful and ineffective, read our Program Coordinator, Ryan Frost's article It's time to rethink pot laws in Wyoming, or go to the The Uncovery to use the ACLU's new interactive online tool for marijuana arrest information.  

HB77 The Student Religious liberties bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Kroeker and supported by the WyWatch Family Action group outlined a number of protections that are already stated in the Constitution and case law the bill then went on to provide statutory protection for students that proselytized or prayed in the classroom and at student events. Testimony in the committee hearing decried the fact that Gideon Bibles were no longer passed out in the classroom and that teachers were forced to lie to their students about evolution, science, history, and socialism.  The ACLU of Wyoming was the only group that testified against the bill in committee, but fortunately the bill was never considered in the Committee of the Whole.  The WyWatch group blamed Rep. Kermit Brown R- Laramie for this, according to their website.  

Similar bills have popped up across the nation and are a clear danger for all of us.  A grave concern is that this type of law would allow students to harass and bully other students under the guise of religious freedom.  The bills are similar in nature to the religious refusal bills. (A religious refusal bill was just vetoed by the Governor of Arizona to much hue and cry)

Rep. Connolly’s HB 87 Marriage Equality bill also failed introduction, but it is heartening to continue to see these bills being sponsored and of course the ACLU will vigilantly continue to work for passage.

HB100 Investigative subpoenas Our perennial favorites are the investigative subpoena bills and we see one almost every session as the law enforcement folks continue to try and broaden their power for investigating without probable cause.  Glad to see this one fail in the Committee of the Whole.

HB105 Unmanned aerial surveillance  We were sorry to see this “drone” bill fail. It was a good bill and provided the privacy protection needed by requiring that law enforcement have a warrant for the use of drones in criminal investigations. It is unfortunate that this bill did not pass as the use of drones is going to grow at an incredible rate in the next few years and it would have been good to be in front of this growth with our laws.

This mean-spirited HB108 Validity of marriage bill from Representatives Gay, Davison, Halverson and Jaggi would ensure that same-sex couples married in other states would have absolutely no rights in Wyoming and was surely partly in response to the Wyoming Supreme Court case that allowed for same-sex couples married in other states to divorce in Wyoming.  The bill failed introduction.

HB126 Restoration of rights after felony conviction No easing of requirements for restoration of rights, but kudos to Representatives Zwointzer (Dan), Barlow, Connolly, Greene, Kroeker, Loucks, Petroff and Senator Case for continuing to try.

HB134 Death penalty repeal Rep. Watt filed a this bill – what a surprise. That it failed introduction, not a surprise.

HB158 Indecency A really scary, undoubtedly unconstitutional indecency bill sponsored by Representative Jaggi, Davison, Gingery, Halverson, Krone and Senator Craft that would have changed public indecency to private indecency if it caused “affront or alarm”. Your Uncle Bob in his boxers and t-shirt might cause affront or alarm sitting in his Barcalounger. But should he go to jail for it?!? We were glad to see this bill fail.

SF34 Involuntary hospitalization - emergency hearings  Using very good sense the legislature passed this short clarification of the County Attorney’s responsibility in involuntary hospitalization (mental health holds) instead of the complicating, due process killing sister bill SF40 Involuntary hospitalization and treatment.    

SF47 Katie’s Law  After a great deal of amending and discussion, Katie’s Law was again defeated.  These laws allow for the collection of DNA upon arrest and are basically just fishing expeditions for law enforcement for individuals who are considered innocent until proven guilty. Statutes now allow for DNA to be taken and stored upon conviction of certain violent crimes.

Senator Bruce Burns’s SF49 Death penalty – execution  “death by firing squad bill” failed introduction. Death penalty states are facing severe problems as drug makers that supplied the execution drugs are no longer willing to supply them for execution due to changing attitudes toward the death penalty.

SF87 Public records preservation, a good bill that died in committee.

SF116 Expungement of felonies a bill that allowed for an expansion of the number of felonies that might be expunged passed with added amendments.  Good bill supported by Senators Burns, Case, Driskill, Rothfuss and Schiffer along with Representatives Berger, Blevins, Colemen, Connolly, Greear, Greene, Throne and Dan Zwonitzer.

There are always a number of other bills that we follow, and a number of those bills passed giving the state more felonies with harsher penalties. There are other bills that sure waste a lot of legislative time, but can also be somewhat entertaining and we try and follow those bills during the session, too.

What’s up next?

Here’s a list of the topics we will be following during the interim. The interim will be especially busy for the Joint Judiciary Committee as they have an unusual number of topics this year and we will be following a most of them.


Firearm Background Information
The Committee will examine background information provided to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for purposes of determining eligibility to purchase a firearm including information relating to involuntary hospitalization orders.

Juvenile Data Collection
The committee will receive information and consider the need for legislation relating to the collection and protection of juvenile justice data.

Criminal Trespass for Data Collection
The Committee will receive information and investigate the need for legislation to address trespassing on land to collect data.

Sentencing and Detention
The Committee will received information from the Department of Corrections and consider legislation relating to sentencing and detention, including mechanisms for improving and managing criminal justice populations.

Forfeitures and Seizures
The Committee will review forfeiture and seizure provisions and consider the need to clarify, update and create uniformity among statutes.

Method of Execution
The Committee will receive information from the Department of Corrections concerning the need to amend provisions relating to the method of execution.


Electronic Records

Employers Review of Social Media

Social Media Accounts Upon Death


Mental Health and Prevention Management
The Committee will study access and quality of care issues in the states’ mental health system, including overall access to substance abuse/mental health care, suicide prevention and the prevention management organization, and employee drug testing at the state institutions.


The Committee will receive reports and review information regarding education, including mechanisms for improving the quality of education and for improving graduation rates the committee will review opportunities for vocational and medical field training and will also receive a report on the new Wind River Job Corps Center.

Law Enforcement and Juvenile Justice
The Committee will consider issue relating to law enforcement, jurisdiction, juvenile justice and domestic violence. The Committee will also receive a report from the Indian Law an Order Commission.


General Responsibilities Relating to Public Information and Public Outreach
As previously assigned by management Council, the Select Committee on Legislative Technology and Process will oversee legislative public outreach initiatives and efforts to improve the information available to the public about legislative activities.

All of the committees work is available here. Citizens are welcome at committee meetings to listen or give testimony. It is a great way to interact with and influence legislators.

Written by Linda Burt, executive director

Thursday, March 6, 2014

ACLU of Wyoming statement of support on marriage lawsuit, Courage v. Wyoming

Yesterday, four couples and Wyoming Equality filed the first-ever challenge to Wyoming’s laws on marriage in the case of Courage v. Wyoming. While we are not directly involved in this lawsuit, the ACLU of Wyoming stands in solidarity with Wyoming Equality and the plaintiffs who are arguing that current law violates the Wyoming’s Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process.

Marriage is a unique, one-of-a-kind promise that represents love, commitment and responsibility, and the ACLU of Wyoming believes that LGBT people, like everyone else, should have the freedom to marry the person they love. The ACLU is proud to have been part of the LGBT rights movement since 1936 and we will continue to work alongside our partners until the freedom to marry exists in every state. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Legislative Update: Week Two

As usual the first week of the 2014 Wyoming legislative budget session was brisk and many non-budget bills had been filed for consideration. During a budget session any bill that is not an appropriations or budget bill must receive a 2/3 vote for introduction.  A number of bills received that 2/3’s vote this year giving committees a lot of work to accomplish in the first weeks of the session. Thursday February 20, 2014 was the last day for bills to be reported out of the Committee in the House of Origin. Those bills that were not reported out were effectively dead for the rest of the session.  The last Medicaid expansion bill to be considered was not reported out of committee and so died in committee on Wednesday the 19th. The Chairman of the Committee did not hold a vote on the bill and effectively killed it without having any of the members on record with a vote.

The Wyoming Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Superintendent of Education, Cindy Hill’s case has further confused the future of the Department of Education and the role of both the legislature and the superintendent.  This issue has widened the apparent difference of opinions within the Republican Party. It remains to be seen if the legislature will be able to fashion a solution to this incredibly divisive issue or if they will even try.

For the first year in sometime the ACLU was not dealing with controversial reproductive rights legislation which was a great relief. While there were two LGBT issue bills filed they died early in the first week. Representative Connolly filed a definition of marriage bill that would have simply defined marriage as a between two persons.  Representative Gay filed a validity of marriage bill which would have denied LGBT couples married in other states any rights in Wyoming. Fortunately, that also died a quick death.
We were left this year to lobby a number of bills that contained interesting but sometimes complicated constitutional issues.  We also watched a number of bills that might provide some concern to the ACLU.  Normally we do watch the elections bill to make sure there is nothing of note in the changes promoted.  Our office also watches criminal bills with the same concern.

Our office was working with Representative Sue Wallis on a marijuana legalization bill when Representative Wallis unexpectedly died a week before the session. Representative Wallis was a great representative who we often worked with on reproductive rights issues and she will be greatly missed by many in the legislature.  Her replacement, Troy Mader, has little background for the legislature and once published a book saying that individuals with HIV/AIDS should be prohibited from having sexual relations, quarantined because of their “filthy sexual habits”. 

Representative Byrd filed a bill to decriminalize the use of Marijuana that failed introduction.  There has, however, been talk of changing these laws for the past two years.  There are still many in the legislature that have an archaic view of marijuana use and prefer to see our young people locked up in huge numbers for possession.  Ryan Frost had a great op-ed published in both the Casper and Cheyenne papers outlining the argument for the loosening of penalties for possession or use of marijuana. I hope that this bill will come up again in the next session and will at least be given a fair discussion.

I testified this week in the House Judiciary Committee on HB 77; a bill that would “ensure” religious liberties for students.  The reasoning behind this bill is that Christian students are being discriminated against in public schools because of their beliefs.  I think you would find it interesting to review the bill:

This was our statement on the bill -

Children’s religious education should be directed primarily by parents, families and religious communities and not by the public schools.

HB 77 is unnecessary: students’ rights to express and practice their faith in the public schools are already well-protected by existing law.

The First Amendment already protects students’ voluntary ability to pray and express religious viewpoints. The U.S. Constitution, the Wyoming Constitution, and federal laws already guarantee that these rights cannot be denied.

 Sections of HB77 21-4-701 through 21-4-704 cover rights that are already settled law and statutory authority is not necessary.

Section 21-4-705 which attempts to devise a limited public forum does not meet the criteria necessary to set up that forum.

In an attempt skirt the Constitution, Section 21-4-705 requires that, whenever a student is slated to speak at a school event, a school must establish a so-called “limited public forum.”  This fix rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes a limited public forum and the nature of religious coercion.   Schools that set up the policy required by Section 21-4-705 are not likely to have set up a true limited forum that would be recognized as such under the law.

“The right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to have a captive audience listen, or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is in any way coerced to participate in religious activity.”  See “Religious Expression in the Public Schools,” issued by the United States Department of Education, Secretary of Education, May 1998.  This guideline issued by the U.S. Department of Education is consistent with the constitutional strictures on public schools recognized by the Supreme Court and other federal courts.  Under the Establishment Clause, students may not be subjected to unwanted prayer and proselytizing as a condition of attending a public school.  Section 21-4-705 would flout this fundamental principle of Establishment Clause law.  It would subject students to religious coercion in a limitless range of settings, including those which the Constitution already prohibits, e.g., prayers over the loudspeaker at football games and reciting Bible verses during morning announcements.  

As a result, students of minority religious faiths (and non-believers) may be routinely required to accept religious messages or participate in religious exercise that conflicts with their own religious beliefs.  Conversely, if a student of a minority religious faith (e.g., a Muslim, Wiccan, Buddhist, etc.) or a non-believer were to be selected (under a “neutral criteria”), that student would be permitted to subject all classmates to prayer and proselytizing specific to his or her faith tradition and beliefs in connection with school events.  In both cases, parents would have no recourse to ensure that their children were not coerced into such religious exercise. 

Every session we deal with law enforcement agencies that want the power to be able to issue investigative subpoenas without probable cause. HB100 is another one of these attempts; but so far legislators have resisted allowing this without probable cause but we will continue to keep watch on it.  Basically subpoenas without probable cause are just fishing expeditions.

Our office had drafted and offered a bill on unmanned aerial surveillance (drones) to the joint judiciary committee with no takers but Representative Loucks has offered a bill that looks like it took some items from our bill and we are supporting it.

Representative Zwonitzer once again offered a bill to make the restoration of rights after a felony conviction easier but there are still members who believe that there should be no second chances and the bill failed introduction.

Representative Watt brought a death penalty repeal bill that was a surprise and of course failed introduction but we did take the opening to write an op-ed about abolition that should be in the papers within the next week.

One of the tougher discussions has surrounded the involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill.  The Joint Judiciary Committee had this as an interim topic last year and took a lot of testimony from folks, much of it contradictory.  The Committee did come up with two bills and a third bill (SF114) was offered by the county attorneys.  During the Senate committee hearing for SF36 and SF40 our office, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association and the County Attorneys Association all argued against SF40 which promptly passed out of committee.

This is our statement on the bills:


The inadequacies within the involuntary commitment procedures (W. S. 25-10-109 – 110) are not addressed in SF0040 – Involuntary hospitalization and treatment.  This cumbersome bill obliterates due process for those held against their will and exacerbates the current systems deficiencies.

SF0034 – Involuntary Hospitalization – emergency hearings is a simple straight forward bill that solves the current problem of individual county attorney’s refusal to participate or facilitate the emergency detention and involuntary hospitalization process.  

The most significant issue for Wyoming is the lack of facilities for treating mental illness in our state.  Even larger towns struggle to find appropriate treatment facilities and the waiting list for the Wyoming State Hospital is sometimes as long as two months. Neither bill addresses this issue.

Please vote no on SF0040 to protect the individual right to due process and the liberty interest.
Vote yes on SF0034 in order to ensure county attorney participation in the Title 25 process.

Senator Nutting brought Representative Esquible’s Katie’s Law bill from last year. We were able to kill the bill last year and this year so far there has been some improving amendments but we are still not in favor of the bill.

This is our statement on the bill:

SF0047 – Katie’s law does not meet the constitutional protections required for obtaining and retaining personal DNA information.  In a recent Supreme Court case decision Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. ____ (2013) the Court found that Maryland was not prohibited from taking a DNA cheek swab from an arrestee under the Maryland DNA Collection Act.

In his dissent Justice Scalia stated:

The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence.

We agree with Justice Scalia and urge you to read his entire dissent.  While we agree with Justice Scalia and find the majority decision troubling even the majority Court found that a number of safeguards must be in place in order for this intrusion into privacy to take place.

SF0047 – Katie’s Law contains none of these protections.

The Maryland DNA Collection Act:
1.      The DNA sample may not be tested or placed in the DNA data base prior to arraignment.
2.      If charges are dropped the DNA is automatically destroyed and the arrestee and his attorney are notified of the destruction.
3.      Information filed in DNA data base is automatically expunged on all data bases’ upon a not guilty finding, a conviction that is reversed or vacated or an unconditional pardon.
4.      Data must be expunged from all data bases (local, state, federal) within 60 days and a documentary letter sent.
5.      Any samples that are matched prior to expungement may not be used as admissible evidence or for probable cause in a criminal case.

SF0047 contains none of these protections and requires that innocent individuals must request that DNA be removed from state data bases (no mention of federal or local data bases) and must secure and provide documentation of innocence.

Update written by Linda Burt

Friday, January 17, 2014

2013. It was a good year for freedom.

The ACLU’s victories are your victories.

 ACLU National highlights:

·         Securing the Freedom to Marry. The Supreme Court ended the federal government’s discrimination against legally married same-sex couples
·         Standing with Service Women. Congress reversed the ban on insurance coverage of abortions for service women who became pregnant as a result of rape.
·         Taking Back Our Genes. In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that corporations could not own DNA.
·         Promoting Fair Sentencing. President Obama commuted the sentences of four individuals highlighted in an ACLU report on people serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses.
·         Exposing Unlawful Spying. ACLU lawsuits forced the release of secret court documents showing abuse of surveillance power by the NSA.

ACLU of Wyoming highlights:

·         Issued annual report Incarceration in Wyoming, based on data from 2012 jail and prison complaints
·         Promoted safe and humane conditions in Wyoming’s prisons and jails; successfully resolving numerous prisoner complaints
·         Expanded board membership
·         Approved 3-year organizational Strategic Plan
·         Settled Fourth Amendment unreasonable search lawsuit where a man was forcibly catheterized
·         Filed lawsuit contesting results in local special district election
·         Hosted film screening of Code of the West, a documentary about medical marijuana in Montana, followed by guest speaker - former Municipal Court Judge Leonard Frieling of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)
·         Participated in Equal Pay Today! Campaign advocating for closing the gender wage gap
·         Strengthened  relations with coalition groups, such as Wyoming Equality, NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, and the Equality State Policy Center
·         Continued year-round legislative lobbying and education efforts
·         Provided legal assistance and information on civil liberties issues

To our community of supporters, thank you!