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ACLU wants to restore voting rights for ex-convicts

Post by News Tribune Staff on Jan. 21, 2009 at 8:59 am with No Comments »
January 21, 2009 8:59 am

Here’s the ACLU agenda:

Here are the ACLU of Washington’s legislative priorities as the 2009 session begins. Attached is the more extensive agenda posted on our website – which will be regularly updated as bills progress and new measures emerge.

Our lobbyist in Olympia this year is Shankar Narayan. As a basic media ress contact, you can always reach me at the ACLU office at 206-624-2184. I can reach Shankar as needed.

Doug Honig

Communications Director


Voting Rights Restoration


Over 160,000 Washingtonians cannot vote because of prior convictions. Support has been growing for ACLU-backed legislation to automatically restore the right to vote to individuals who have come out of the criminal justice system. For these citizens, voting is an important way to reconnect with the community. One study shows that former offenders who vote are 50% less likely to reoffend than those who don’t vote.

Under the current system, people convicted of a felony and who have served their time still can’t vote until they’ve paid all of their outstanding court fees and legal financial obligations. As a result, people of means can vote, but those with limited incomes cannot. The system also disproportionately affects communities of color: The disenfranchisement rate among African-Americans is five times that of the general population and roughly three times as high among Latinos. And the system for restoring voting rights is so convoluted that even elections officials have difficulty determining who is and is not eligible to vote.

We support legislation proposed by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Jeannie Darnielle that automatically restores the right to vote to individuals once they have exited the criminal justice system. The legislation would not relieve anyone of the obligation to pay court-imposed fees and penalties—but that obligation would no longer be tied to the right to vote. The legislation would create the bright-line rule so badly need for voting rights restoration to be effective. In enacting this legislation, Washington would join a growing list of states, including Oregon, that have successfully implemented automatic restoration.


Fair Play in Community Sports


Females and males should have equal opportunities to participate in athletic activities and under comparable conditions. Since the early 1970s, the federal Title IX law has banned discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity receiving federal money. As a result of this law, the number of girls participating in high school sports has increased tenfold, and the number of girls participating in college sports has increased fivefold.

But women and girls who play in community recreation leagues often do not have facilities and playing conditions comparable to those of males. In many instances, female teams are relegated the worst maintained fields, the most undesirable practice and play times, and the least experienced referees.

We support legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Christine Rolfes to strengthen and clarify state law providing protections against gender inequities in government-supported local and regional programs. The legislation would require cities and counties to ensure equal access to sports facilities for all athletes, regardless of sex.


Tracking Your Car Trips


Technology in newer cars is posing new threats to privacy. Many cars have tracking systems such as GPS and OnStar which record and store information, including the locations of the vehicle and the times it was there. And many cars contain electronic data recorders (aka "black boxes") that capture the details of the car’s functioning just before an accident. This information may be useful, but there are no restrictions on who can access the data or when they can access it. In addition, this data is at risk for misuse by government and others without regulations to protect privacy.

We support legislation sponsored by Sen. Claudia Kauffman and Rep. Deb Eddy that would regulate access to and dissemination of information gathered by electronic vehicle surveillance technologies. Individuals should be able to know about and control dissemination of their travel information collected and stored by others.


Domestic Partnership


All committed couples deserve the same legal protections for their relationships. In the past two sessions of the legislature, ACLU-supported legislation passed that grants dozens of rights and responsibilities to registered domestic partners. Included were the right to visit a partner in a nursing home, community property rights, and the right not to testify against one another in court.

But the rights and responsibilities gained by same-sex couples still fall far short of those enjoyed by heterosexual couples who marry. The ACLU supports legislation sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen to further expand the rights of domestic partners. Meanwhile, we will continue working toward the ultimate goal of full marriage equality for same-sex couples as a matter of fundamental fairness.


Marijuana Reclassification


In 2007, enforcement of Washington laws for possession of marijuana resulted in over 11,000 arrests, 3,600 convictions (with an average sentence of four days in jail), and cost an estimated $7.5 million dollars. These misplaced resources are part of our nation’s failed War on Drugs.

We need to get smarter with marijuana laws. The ACLU supports legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Dave Upthegrove that would reclassify low-level marijuana possession as a finable, civil offense—as Massachusetts did in last fall’s election. Reclassifying marijuana would free up police to attend to more important matters, and the collected fines could be earmarked for drug treatment.

Save a Life: Prevent Overdose Deaths


Drug overdose deaths are rising rapidly in Washington. Many drug overdose incidents take place in the presence of friends, who could help avoid the victim’s death by acting quickly to seek help. However, they often hesitate to seek that help because they fear arrest and prosecution on drug charges. The ACLU supports legislation—similar to New Mexico’s 911 Good Samaritan Law—that would provide immunity from prosecution to people who report a drug overdose in order to help the victim. Sponsored by Sen. Rosa Franklin and Rep. Marko Liias, such legislation would save lives and focus public resources on resolving medical emergencies.

State Government
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