2016: A Year in Review
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A Sample of ACLU of Rhode Island Activities in 2016
Each year the ACLU of Rhode Island lobbies on more than a hundred bills at the State House, speaks at dozens of events and contacts innumerable government officials to seek redress for civil liberties violations. At any given time, we are involved in more than 30 cases before the courts and administrative agencies. The list below summarizes just a small sample of the ACLU of RI’s activities thus far in 2016; we hope it provides some idea of the breadth of work that our Affiliate performs on a regular basis.
ACLU of RI Court Action
* The ACLU and the RI Disability Law Center filed suit against the Woonsocket Police Department for its illegal treatment of a deaf man wrongfully arrested for disorderly conduct, and held overnight without ever being allowed an interpreter.
* The ACLU filed discrimination lawsuits against the Harmony Fire District on behalf of two female EMT/firefighters who were terminated after raising concerns that female firefighters were being treated less favorably than men.
* The ACLU scored an important victory in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on behalf of a journalist who had been stymied for more than four years in obtaining access to thousands of pages of public evidence from a major prescription drug-dealing trial.
* North Kingstown officials quickly settled an ACLU lawsuit that was filed after the Town Council imposed improper restrictions on public comment at Council meetings.
* In our fight against the criminalization of poverty, the ACLU favorably settled a legal challenge to Cranston’s discriminatorily enforced ban on “roadside solicitations,” leading four other major municipalities in the state, including Providence, to voluntarily halt enforcement of unconstitutional ordinances prohibiting peaceful panhandling.
* As the result of ACLU complaints, the Division of Motor Vehicle and the Rhode Island Judiciary entered into consent agreements with the federal government that ensure those two agencies provide appropriate services to individuals with Limited English Proficiency.
* The ACLU obtained a favorable court decision against the Town of North Smithfield on behalf of a resident unable to retrieve his lawfully owned weapons that had been seized by police over six years earlier.
* In an important victory for families of limited means, a judge ruled that the state Constitution’s guarantee of a free public education meant that a school district could not impose hefty fees on a student in order to attend summer school.
ACLU of RI Legislative Action
* The General Assembly enacted a critical privacy measure proposed by the ACLU, restricting cell phone location tracking by police without a warrant.
* Our advocacy persuaded the Governor to issue her first-ever veto of a bill – a dangerous piece of overly broad legislation sponsored by the Attorney General that would have made it a crime to send even clearly newsworthy nude photos over the Internet.
* Lobbying by the ACLU and other organizations helped prevent passage of an intrusive Attorney General bill that would have given police unfettered access to Rhode Islanders’ drug prescription information contained in a Department of Health database.
* In response to a series of ACLU reports documenting public schools’ overuse of suspensions for minor disciplinary offenses, and their disparate impact on students of color and those with disabilities, the General Assembly passed landmark legislation to ban the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor misconduct.
* The General Assembly approved passage of an electronic voter registration bill that makes it easier to register to vote, and that includes model language proposed by the ACLU requiring the system to be fully accessible to persons with disabilities.
Other Advocacy Work
* A private attorney’s threat to sue two Warwick newspapers for libel for reporting on a public matter – an examination of a school district’s allegedly inadequate investigation of a complaint of sexual misconduct by a teacher – was speedily withdrawn after the ACLU publicly agreed to represent the news outlets.
* At least in part due to the threat of ACLU litigation, the Westerly Yacht Club reversed its Victorian-era ban on women members; and further bringing women’s rights into the 21st Century, the RI Supreme Court, in response to ACLU advocacy, adopted new policies providing breastfeeding accommodations for applicants taking the Bar exam.
* The ACLU obtained a commitment from the DMV not to share drivers’ license photos with the FBI, despite a strong push by that federal agency for such collaboration.