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Planned Parenthood: Ryan lies about access to health care in Wisconsin

During a CNN town hall meeting last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan told a patient who relies on Planned Parenthood that she would have many other places to go for her health care if he is successful in kicking Planned Parenthood out of the Medicaid program.

However, ending funding for preventive care at Planned Parenthood would devastate essential health care access among the country’s and state’s most vulnerable populations — most prominently in Paul Ryan’s own back yard.

If Paul Ryan really wanted women to get the health care they need, he would not propose ending Planned Parenthood’s ability to serve 50,000 people in Wisconsin, leaving most of them without another provider.

As a part of the pubic health network in Wisconsin, no one knows better than Planned Parenthood the lack of access people in our state already face. We have been unable to identify alternative health care providers who are able to absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients in Wisconsin — including in Paul Ryan’s own district.

In 73 percent of the counties PPWI serves, there is not a provider who could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients. In those rare communities where there are other community health care providers, many would be unable to meet our patients’ need if Planned Parenthood could not provide care.

In fact, more than 6,000 people living in Speaker Ryan’s own district rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment and birth control. On behalf of these patients, we ask Speaker Ryan where these people go for health care? Community based health centers like Planned Parenthood are critical for especially vulnerable patients without easy access to other providers.

Even with Planned Parenthood’s continued care, there is a tremendous unmet need for health care in Wisconsin and in Speaker Paul Ryan’s own district. In Ryan’s district specifically, STD rates, teen births, poverty, infant mortality and unemployment rates are all higher than the state average. We’ve been hearing from leaders, partners and patients across Wisconsin, including those in the Speaker’s district. What they all know is ensuring continued access to a trusted and affordable community health care provider like Planned Parenthood is something we should all agree is important to help keep our communities safe, healthy and strong.


Judge rules against federal guidance to schools about protecting transgender students

A U.S. District Court judge on Aug. 22 issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government’s guidance to public school districts regarding their legal responsibility to allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuit, Texas v. United States.

Five civil rights organizations who had submitted a joint amicus brief in the lawsuit – Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders – issued the following statement in response to U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling:

“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination.

“This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students. So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly.

“The scope of this injunction has no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.

“The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse.

Texas v. United States was brought by Texas and 10 other states — subsequently joined by two additional states — against the United States, the Departments of Justice, Education and Labor and numerous federal officials.

The plaintiffs include the states of Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky (through its governor), Louisiana, Mississippi (through its governor), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, the Arizona Department of Education, the Heber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona, Harrold Independent School District in Texas, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Several of these plaintiffs lie in the 4th, 6th, 9th and 11th Circuits, which had issued binding appellate decisions consistent with the guidance of the federal agencies.

In May, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released the guidance because schools and districts requested clarification on their obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in education programs based on sex.

Clarifying how schools can safeguard transgender students’ rights to privacy and safety, the guidance says transgender students have the right to be free from discrimination, including the ability to use gender-separated facilities (such as restrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity.

The guidance follows similar policies in states and school districts across the country, including many that have been treating transgender students with dignity and respect for more than a decade.

The lawsuit targets various federal letters, guides, memos and statements regarding Title IX of the Education Amendments that conclude that federal bans on sex discrimination encompass gender identity discrimination and that transgender individuals should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The lawsuit claims that that guidance is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution.

Another lawsuit was filed recently by the state of Nebraska, joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan (through its attorney general), Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, said in a statement, “As lawsuits on the scope of Title IX proceed, we believe that justice will prevail as courts continue to recognize that discrimination against transgender students is a form of sex discrimination.”

HRC pointed out that the judge who issued the preliminary injunction also also sought to block Family and Medical Leave Act rights for legally married same-sex couples despite the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in United States v. Windsor.

On the Web

The court’s order can be read here.

School officials probe racial slurs at soccer game

A Wisconsin school district is investigating after racial taunts were directed at female high school soccer players during a recent game, including references to Donald Trump’s vow to clamp down on illegal immigration from Mexico.

A small group of Elkhorn students shouted racial slurs at minority players from Beloit during a game late last week, including chanting, “Donald Trump, build that wall,” according to Beloit Memorial coach Brian Denu.

Denu told WISC-TV that some of the players left the game, saying the taunts may have come from a small number of students, but they made a huge impact.

“I could just see the hurt and pain on their faces and know that this was obviously something that they hadn’t seen before,” Denu said. “You know, it was from a small pocket of the Elkhorn fans, but those words are things you can’t take back.”

Denu said he and other coaches consoled players during and after the game

“Seeing the impact on those kids is something I’ll never forget as a coach,” he said, adding that this isn’t behavior he would expect to see in 2016.

Elkhorn district administrator Jason Tadlock said officials have confirmed some students on the sidelines were yelling offensive comments and that the matter is being investigated.

Students in Indiana and Iowa have recently been admonished for similar chants at high school games in apparent support of the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.


Minneapolis school board calls Utah-made books offensive

Minneapolis school board members are demanding an apology and a refund from a Utah-based publisher of educational books after a community backlash against what some called racial and cultural stereotypes in the material.

The books from Reading Horizons include a story about a black girl called “Lazy Lucy” and a stereotyped illustration of an American Indian girl in a book called “Nieko the Hunting Girl,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Board members said the Utah-based company Reading Horizons should return the $1.2 million the district paid for the books for children in kindergarten through third grade.

“Reading Horizons needs to step up to the table,” board member Carla Bates said. “I want them to bring me a check, bring you a check, bring the taxpayers of Minneapolis a check.”

The dust-up comes as critics say the school district isn’t doing enough to help students of color close a wide achievement gap.

The books are designed to help teachers reinforce reading lessons, but administrators acknowledged during a Tuesday meeting that they didn’t fully vet the material before buying the books, which have since been returned.

“We rushed the contract,” Interim Superintendent Michael Goar said. “Where we can hold people accountable, we will.”

The company is overhauling its teaching material to be more culturally sensitive, but Reading Horizons representative Laura Axtell said wouldn’t say whether it will issue a refund.

The titles were published in 2012 and have been used in other schools without complaints, Axtell said.

“That doesn’t matter to us, because as soon as we became aware of the concerns in Minneapolis, we took action,” she said, adding that the company takes responsibility for its role in the controversy.

Though the subject material may be questionable, the skills taught in the books do help kids learn to read, said Peter Sage, an elementary school reading specialist in Minneapolis. Students are falling behind, and faculty can’t afford to wait for new books, he said.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the North Salt Lake-based company is considering a voluntary recall of the series, which also includes a book about Kenya that says “Kenyans are able to run very fast.”

The books were purchased as part of a program designed to help close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The district will continue to use the Reading Horizons focus on phonetics and decoding words, though without the 54 books in the series, Goar said in a statement.

XXXtra XXXtra: Court nixes new rules for New York’s X-rated businesses

A court gave a green light to what’s left of the city’s red light district this week, turning aside the city’s desire to further restrict its racy adult establishments by finding new rules are unconstitutional.

The 3-2 decision from the state Supreme Court Appellate Division was derided by two dissenting judges as resulting from a “mechanical and mathematical approach” to analyzing changes the city has tried to make for 14 years in a 1995 law that reduced the number of businesses offering sexually explicit materials and chased others from residential areas.

The city has claimed that adult bookstores, movie houses and strip clubs were “superficially complying” and have made a sham of rules requiring that they limit the space devoted to a sexual focus to no more than 40 percent of their space if they want to exist in areas where sexually explicit businesses are otherwise not permitted.

The appeals ruling conformed with the conclusions of a lower-court judge who analyzed 13 stores such as Thunder Lingerie, Blue Door Brooklyn and Video Excitement, finding they did not have graphic signage such as “XXX” and there were “almost no garish neon lighted signs, no hard-core sexual images or language on them.” The judge also sided with dance clubs including Bare Elegance, Lace, Private Eyes, Pussycat Lounge, Vixen and Wiggles.

The city went after sex trade establishments in 1995 after a study begun two years earlier by the city planning office concluded that the rapidly growing number of adult businesses led to increased crime rates, deteriorating community character, reduced commercial activities and decreasing property values. New zoning rules banned the establishments from residential districts and manufacturing and commercial districts where residential development also occurred and required they be located at least 500 feet from churches, schools and day care centers.

New rules approved in 2001 would have made it more difficult for businesses to qualify as non-adult establishments by imposing tougher restrictions regarding signage, displays of merchandise and booths for viewing adult movies.

The additional restrictions had not been enforced because of a lengthy legal battle.

The city’s law office said it was reviewing the ruling.

Erica Dubno, an attorney for the businesses, said: “Obviously, we’re very pleased with the decision. We believe that it was well reasoned and carefully considered the issues.”

She said at least several dozen businesses had closed after enforcement of the law began in 1998 and those that remained in business were careful to change signage to better fit neighborhoods. She said people walking by might not know some establishments have adult-oriented materials or entertainment.

ACLU sues over ‘prison-based gerrymandering’ in Florida

A federal lawsuit challenges an election system in Jefferson County, Florida, which counts the inmate population of a state prison in the drawing of district maps.

The lawsuit, filed this week by the ACLU of Florida in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, states that by treating the approximately 1,157 inmates at the Jefferson Correctional Institution as residents for redistricting purposes, Jefferson County is engaging in “prison-based gerrymandering,” violating constitutional voting rights protections by watering down the voting strength of residents in all the other voting districts.   

Under the current maps for Jefferson County Commission and School Board elections, enacted in 2013, the incarcerated population at JCI makes up 43.2 percent of the voting age population of Jefferson County’s District 3. Because Florida law removes a person’s right to vote upon receiving a felony conviction, the remaining population in District 3 has an inflated political influence on county elections relative to the other four county districts.

“This is another example of how the ballooning populations of our prisons impacts so many facets of our communities,” stated ACLU of Florida legal director Nancy Abudu. “The public safety and economic costs are already well documented, but here we see how over-incarceration can even erode voting rights across an entire county. Because of the enormous prison population relative to the total size of Jefferson County, every four actual residents of District 3 have as much political influence in county and school elections as seven voters in the county’s other four districts.”

Four residents of Jefferson County — Kate Calvin, former Jefferson County Commissioner John Nelson, Charles Parrish and Lonnie Griffin — and local civic organization Concerned United People are the plaintiffs in the challenge to the voting scheme. They are represented by attorneys for the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute.

“The way the lines are drawn is clearly unfair,” stated Calvin, a resident of Monticello, Florida, whose home is in District 2. “Why should my vote on what happens in our county and our schools have less of an impact than someone else’s?”

“People all across the community are rightfully upset,” stated Nelson, who represented District 2 on the Board of County Commissioners from 2010 to 2014. “Peoples’ votes are their voice. I spoke out against this plan when it came before the Commission because it watered down the voice of so many in our community.”

As of December 31, 2014, the Florida Department of Corrections housed 100,873 inmates in its 56 state prisons. The ACLU is also investigating how inmates are counted for drawing election districts in the localities where some of those other prisons are housed.

The complaint filed today argues that the 2013 Redistricting Plan violates the “one person, one vote” standard of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Fate of Texas voter ID law in federal judge’s hands

The fate of Texas’ tough voter ID law moved into the hands of a federal judge this week, following a trial that the U.S. Justice Department said exposed another chapter in the state’s troubling history of discrimination in elections.

State attorneys defending the law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 urged the judge to follow other courts by upholding photo identification requirements. The most recent such case came this month when a federal appeals panel, without issuing a final ruling on the measure, reinstated Wisconsin’s law in time for Election Day.

Whether Texas will also get a ruling before then is unclear. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ended the two-week trial in Corpus Christi without signaling when she’ll make a decision, meaning that as of now, an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters will need a photo ID to cast a ballot in November.

The U.S. Justice Department, which is fighting the law, began closing arguments by flashing onto a projection screen how many eligible voters it says lack an acceptable form of ID: 608,470, a revised lower number than what the DOJ and other law opponents said when the trial began. It also argued that black residents in Texas are four times as likely not to have an ID as white residents, with Hispanics being three times as likely not to have an ID. Both minority groups are traditionally Democratic voters.

“It imposes punishing costs. The burden is far beyond what is usual to vote, and under the circumstances, unsupportable,” said Richard Dellheim, a Justice Department attorney.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took the unusual step of bringing the weight of his federal office into Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the heart of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which blocked Texas and eight other states with histories of discrimination from changing their election laws without approval from the DOJ or a federal court. Prior to that landmark ruling, Texas had been barred from enforcing voter ID.

The ruling freed those states from the federal oversight, but Holder still dragged Texas back into court to challenge the voter ID law under a remaining – but weaker – section of the Voting Rights Act. Known as Section 2, the provision requires that opponents meet a far higher threshold and prove that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters.

The office of Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is favored to win the race to replace Perry as governor next year, said law opponents didn’t clear that hurdle.

Several minority voters testified during the trial, including a black retired grandmother who grew up in the segregationist era of poll taxes who described hurdles to voting since the Texas law took effect last year. The voter ID law, however, “will not prevent from voting a single one of the 17 voters who testified,” said Adam Aston, Texas’ deputy solicitor general.

Nineteen states have laws that require voters to show photo identification at the polls, and Texas is among four states where legal fights are pending over the issue, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But opponents view Texas’ law as the toughest. Georgia, another Republican stronghold, also recently passed a voter ID law, but the Justice Department portrayed that state’s framework as reasonable in comparison. But unlike in Georgia, Texas’ list of acceptable forms of ID doesn’t include college IDs, but it does permit concealed handgun licenses.

The Justice Department also accused the Texas of intentionally skimping on voter outreach after the law was passed. The state deployed mobile voter card units after the law took effect, but those were on the ground for only 11 days. Texas has issued fewer than 300 free voter IDs since the law took effect, according to opponents. Georgia, meanwhile, has issued 2,200 voter IDs under a similar but more robust program.

U.S. judge: Indiana must recognize out-of-state gay marriages

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young ruled on Aug. 19 that Indiana’s law prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions is unconstitutional.

The decision was stayed, pending an appeal.

Young previously struck down the state’s marriage ban in a ruling in Baskin v. Bogan, which was consolidated with two other cases for an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit in that case will hear arguments next week, including argument in a Wisconsin marriage case.

After learning of Young’s ruling, Sara Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign stated, “Where you live should never determine your ability to have your marriage recognized. These discriminatory bans only serve to harm LGBT families, and they should be erased from our nation’s laws once and for all.”

In his ruling in the Baskin case striking down the state’s marriage ban, Young said that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was not a proper defendant in the marriage cases because he did not have the authority to permit or deny marriage rights under the law.

Hundreds of couples across the state began marrying until the Seventh Circuit stayed the ruling following a request from the state.

Pence later said the state would not be recognizing those marriages.

In his more recent ruling, Young said the governor is “a proper party to such lawsuits. The court wishes to reiterate that it finds the governor’s prior representations contradicting such authority to be, at a minimum, troubling.”

This is the 20th consecutive federal court ruling against state bans on marriage equality since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States struck down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

There are more than 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 of the 31 states where such a ban exists, plus Puerto Rico.

Cases from 11 states are pending before four federal appeals courts, including cases from Indiana and Wisconsin which will be heard by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 26.

The Tenth and Fourth circuits both recently upheld rulings striking down state bans on marriage equality.

In total, 33 states either have marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in court.

The Supreme Court is under no obligation as to which case or cases — if any — it choses to hear on appeal. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told reporters the Court will not “duck” a marriage case.

“I think the court will not do what they did in the old days when they continually ducked the issue of miscegenation,” Ginsburg said. “If a case is properly before the court, they will take it.”

U.S. appeals court hears widow’s challenge to Defense of Marriage Act

A U.S. appeals court considering the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act demanded an explanation of the government’s decision to abandon defending the federal law restricting recognition of same-sex unions.

Judge Chester Straub, of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, demanded to know why the government quit defending the constitutionality of a 1996 law that defines marriage as involving a man and a woman after having spoken in favor of it for nearly 15 years.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery said the switch came in early 2011 at the direction of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder after the administration reviewed the law and concluded that it deserved a stricter view of what constituted discrimination than the legal reasoning that had previously been applied.

Months from now, the 2nd Circuit is expected to rule whether Manhattan Judge Barbara Jones was right when she found the law unconstitutional in June, just like several other federal judges and a federal appeals court in Boston have done.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said last week she believes the Defense of Marriage Act will reach the U.S. Supreme Court within the next year.

Repeatedly, Delery spoke about discrimination in America against people over their sexual choices.

“Gay and lesbian people have been subjected to a long history of discrimination that continues to this day,” he said.

He called the expression of sexual orientation “an integral part of human freedom.”

Yet, he added: “It’s still the case that the rights of gays and lesbians usually lose when put up for a vote.”

He said it was “crystal clear” that passage of the law was “motivated in significant part by disapproval of gay and lesbian people.”

Straub responded with a snap: “Did you tell that to Congress in 1996, what you just now told us?”

Delery said some letters may have been sent to some representatives at the time.

“What is it that changed your view?” Straub demanded before Delery explained the February 2011 switch by Obama and Holder.

Jones ruled that the law intrudes upon the states’ regulation of domestic relations. Her decision came after Edith Windsor sued the government in November 2010 because she was told to pay $363,053 in federal estate tax after her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. They had married in Canada in 2007.

The law, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize such marriages, was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton after it appeared in 1993 that Hawaii might legalize gay marriage. Since then, many states have banned gay marriage but several have approved it, including Massachusetts and New York.

Lawyer Paul Clement, speaking on behalf of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, which is defending the law, told the appeals court that the Defense of Marriage Act was consistent with the intention of Congress to continue “preserving programs the way they’ve always been – not opening these programs to others.”

He said the desire to save the government money was a rational basis for the law as well, though “you can’t go about that rational basis in an irrational way.”

As an example, he said the government cannot deny benefits to blue-eyed people.

Judge orders district to stop filtering LGBT sites

A federal judge has ordered a central Missouri school district to stop using Internet filtering software to restrict access to educational websites about gay, lesbian and transgender issues.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued the preliminary injunction this week against the Camdenton R-III School District at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union. The district has 30 days to comply.

As part of a national campaign, the ACLU sued the district last fall in federal court in Jefferson City on behalf of organizations whose websites were being blocked by the filter. The blocked organizations include the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. 

The ACLU wasn’t concerned that sexually explicit content was blocked, but that some schools used filtering software to block purely educational sites.

Camdenton schools use urlblacklist.com to categorize web addresses. The company, Laughrey wrote, assigns categories to websites. Ones that express a positive view toward LGBT individuals are put into its “sexuality” category, which Camdenton blocks. Ones expressing a negative view toward LGBT individuals fall into the “religion” category, which Camdenton does not block.

The Camdenton School District allows students or employees to submit a request for access to a blocked website. School officials then view the site and decide whether to override the filtering service.

But Laughrey said the system doesn’t go far enough because it “stigmatizes, or at least burdens, websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals.”

She also noted that community members had testified in support of keeping the software, with one saying at a meeting, “If the parent allows this in the house, that’s one thing, but to do it outside the family circle, you usurp the authority of the parents.”

“These statements,” Laughrey wrote, “are direct evidence that Camdenton continued to use the provider, despite it being ineffective and falling below professional standards, out of an intent to continue to burden websites expressing a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals.”

The district’s attorney, Thomas Mickes, said the provider has made changes since the case was brought against the district.

But ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said the changes didn’t fix the underlying problem.

“They did a little bit of fixing of a few websites, unblocking of a few websites,” Rothert said, “but the underlying system going forward continues to engage in viewpoint discrimination.”

Source: AP