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ACLU: Proposed Beavers, Womick Abortion Legislation ‘Tries to Coerce, Shame Women’

Press release from the Tennessee Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; January 9, 2015:

NASHVILLE –This week state legislators introduced a second bill to regulate abortion in Tennessee.  SB 13, introduced by Senator Mae Beavers this week, mandates what physicians must tell patients who are considering an abortion.

HB 2, filed by Rick Womick in November, would mandate an ultrasound for a woman seeking an abortion, and require her to either view the ultrasound or listen to a verbal description of it, to listen to a fetal heartbeat, and to wait at least twenty-four hours after the ultrasound before having an abortion.

Legislators have indicated that they plan to file a number of other bills regulating abortion this session.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“No matter what you call them, the abortion bills introduced so far are not about providing evenhanded information to patients so that they can make the best decisions for themselves possible.  These bills amount to nothing more than political interference intended to bias a woman’s personal health care decisions.  A woman needs to be informed about the risks involved with any medical procedure, but the information should not be provided in a way intended to coerce, shame or make her change her mind.  Doctors, not politicians, should decide what is said to a patient, based on a woman’s unique circumstances. ACLU is committed to protecting Tennessee women’s ability to make personal, private health care decisions without government interference.”

Information about the ACLU of Tennessee is available at: www.aclu-tn.org.

ACLU: Victory for Free Speech in Occupy Lawsuit Ruling

Press release from American Civil Liberties Union-TN; June 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE – In a ruling underscoring Tennesseans’ right to political speech, a federal judge ruled late yesterday that the state of Tennessee’s arrest of Occupy Nashville protesters was an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights.

“The Court’s ruling is a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest championed by Occupy Nashville and the ACLU,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney David Briley, of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC. “This decision reinforces that the state cannot just arbitrarily limit free speech in any manner it wants to.”

In the ruling, Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote, “The First Amendment cannot yield to the enforcement of state regulations that have no legal effect…In choosing to adopt and implement new regulations by fiat without seeking necessary approval from the Attorney General, they made an unreasonable choice that violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights in multiple respects.”

“The right to free speech and political protest is crucial to a healthy democracy, perhaps today more than ever,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. “We applaud the Court for safeguarding the essential guarantees of the First Amendment.”

ACLU-TN filed the lawsuit, Occupy Nashville et. al., v. Haslam et. al., in October 2011 after the State of Tennessee met in secret and revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza to implement a curfew and require use and security fees and $1,000,000 in liability insurance prior to community members engaging in assembly activity. The state then arrested the Occupy Nashville demonstrators under the new rules. Prior to their arrests, the demonstrators had been gathered at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to peacefully express their frustration with the government for a couple of weeks.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

In addition to Briley, the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU-TN Legal Director Tom Castelli; ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Patrick Frogge of Bell Tennent & Frogge PLLC; and ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Tricia Herzfeld of Ozment Law.

The decision for this case can be found here.

The order for this case can be found here.

Voter ID Opponents Shift Focus to Education, Rallying Democratic Voters

Liberal critics of Tennessee’s voter identification requirements passed in 2011 by the state Legislature say they’re presently focused more on education, outreach and fanning outrage in the court of public opinion than a direct legal challenge.

Clearly, litigation-focused groups like the American Civil Liberties Union still despise the new law, which requires voters to show a form of government-issued photo ID in order to cast their ballot, says Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee ACLU.

But plans for a lawsuit are on the back burner, she says.

“No matter what, this law exists, and we have to figure out how those individuals who want to vote can get the documentation to get the free voter ID if they don’t have the money or the resources to pay for a photo ID,” she said after a town hall meeting on voter suppression hosted by the United Steelworkers at the Fithteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Nashville Thursday.

Weinberg has said the ACLU has for months been trying to decide whether to file a lawsuit. But with elections drawing ever nearer, she and the largely Democratic leaders are trying to rally voters who might run into problem, particularly in black communities, saying it’s imperative voters get the tools they need to adhere to the law before it’s too late.

“We need to remind people how critical this is,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, who sat on the panel and made a point to say the new law came at the hands of Republicans. “People are trying to take over our country that are not looking out for the best interest of our children and our grandchildren. We need to stop them, we need to stop them now.”

The bill in 2011 passed easily in both chambers largely along partisan lines. The measure passed 57-35 in the House with one Democrat voting in favor, and 18-14 in the Senate without Democrat help, although an earlier version of the bill had the aid of a Senate Democrat.

According to a poll earlier this year by Middle Tennessee State University, four out of five Tennesseans support the law, which requires voters bring a state- or federal government-issued ID with them in order to vote.

There is already one lawsuit trickling through the judicial system, the case of former four-term congressman Lincoln Davis. Davis alleges his voting rights were violated when he was incorrectly purged from the voter rolls and was denied the right to vote on Super Tuesday.

“Don’t get mad. Get even,” said George Barrett, Davis’ attorney, who sat on the panel during the town hall meeting. Barrett, who is working with the ACLU, said he’s looking for plaintiffs to help him challenge the voter ID law. In the meantime, he has a court hearing in the Davis lawsuit set for later this month.

“If we don’t get up, and we don’t register our neighbors, and we don’t go to the polls, and if we don’t persist, then we deserve what happens to us,” he said.

Lawmakers this year added a requirement that senior drivers have a photo on their driver’s license, which would make that ID usable at the polls. Lawmakers also agreed to reduce the absentee voting age to 60 from 65 and allow former state employees to use their old work badges to prove their identification.

Leaders at the Tuesday meeting say they’re focused on getting out the vote and poll watching to make sure people with valid IDs are not turned away.

“It is our job as activists to harness the momentum to make sure that we don’t stay at home on election day,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the state conference of the NAACP. “We need to make sure we don’t sit this one out.”

Critics Say Anti-Terrorism Bill Went from Bad to Worse to Much, Much Better

The Legislature spent months flirting with ideas for broadening the power of the state to designate groups and individuals as suspected terrorist and punish people who provide them with “material support.”

But in the final days of the session, lawmakers voted simply to toughen existing penalties in the law after dropping provisions that drew global attention and allegations that Tennessee planned to target people based on their religion.

The issue galvanized Tennessee’s Muslim community, with so many supporters and practitioners of Islam and defenders of “Sharia Law” descending on Legislative Plaza that meetings at times had to be broadcast in multiple overflow-rooms — and many still, for lack of available seating, were left sitting on the floors to watch closed-circuit monitors.

Proponents say they’re happy with the final form of the bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, while Muslim activists, civil libertarians and other critics are breathing easier with many of the most worrisome elements of the bill scrapped — including specific mention of “Sharia Law” and dramatic expansion of the government’s power to designate people as terrorists and to punish those who in any way support them.

“It’s a sigh of relief knowing that the most controversial and most dangerous portions of the bill ultimately came out,” said activist Remziya Suleyman, policy coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which opposed the bill.

Under the bill that passed, material support of terrorists would bring the same punishment as manslaughter, sexual crimes, burglary and drug crimes — a 15- to 60-year jail sentence and up to a $50,000 fine. The crime would be a Class A felony, more serious than the current Class B designation, punishable with eight to 30 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The more serious punishment would cost an average of $369,000 per inmate.

The plan is less far-reaching than what Sen. Bill Ketron originally proposed, but the Murfreesboro Republican said he’s satisfied with the final product.

Wrote Ketron in his hometown newspaper at the conclusion of the session last month:

There is no prosperity in Tennessee without security. Despite the best efforts of many to thwart legislation to strengthen our laws against homegrown terrorism, we succeeded in passing an anti-terrorism bill, which I sponsored, that updates Tennessee’s Terrorism Prevention Act that was passed shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. There has been much misinformation published regarding this bill. The “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” simply makes the provision of “material support” a Class A felony and helps to close the prevention gap left by the 2002 statute. This will help give our local law enforcement agencies the tools they need to prevent homegrown terrorism.

The Refugee Rights Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, and the Islamic Center of Nashville were among those that teamed up to fight the earlier versions of the bill.

“It was not just to protect our citizens. It was very clear it was targeting the Muslims,” Mohamed Ahmed, an imam at the center, told TNReport. “Is there anyone proposing a bill saying we’re going to damn the Jewish law? Of course not.”

“The bill as first drafted was very troubling, mean-spirited and ripe with constitutional problems,” said Hedi Weinberg, executive director of the state’s ACLU chapter. “The bill that passed essentially was gutted.”

In addition to prompting outrage in the Muslim community, Ketron’s plan hit snags with vocal members of his own party who refused to go along with it. First, because it seemed to single out a religious minority, then later because they felt it gave the governor and the attorney general too much power — outside the constitutionally established realms of due process in criminal court — in allowing them to ID individuals and groups as potential terrorists.

Among them was Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield, who called the bill a “Patriot Act Part Two for Tennessee.”

“I felt it could have led to targeting of groups that may not be guilty, but only unpopular at this time,” Campfield later said on the Senate floor. “As they come out for Muslims today, they could come out for the Tea Party tomorrow or the Republicans the next day or the Democrats the day after that.”

Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said the bill, prior to being dramatically reined-in, had disturbing “Big Brother” implications. Lundberg quietly promised he’d loudly oppose the bill on the House floor if the sponsors tried to run a version that he believed would legitimize the violation of people’s rights.

They didn’t. The next time the bill appeared before the Legislature, it had been scrubbed down to a version most all could support — or at least no longer passionately oppose.

“It looks decent,” said Ahmed who originally planned on challenging the earlier versions through the legal system had they passed but has since dropped that idea. “Don’t forget the original intent of the bill. It was not just to protect our citizens. It was very clear it was targeting the Muslims.”

Lundberg called the evolution of the bill “frankly, a pretty ugly process.”

“My concerns before were, were we targeting religion? Number two, then, we became ‘Big Brother,’ and we gave incredible power to a couple of people in this state,” Lundberg said on the floor before the vote. “This takes it back.”

Although a majority of Democrats opposed earlier versions of the bill, they aren’t taking credit for it’s paired down final version — it was the Republicans policing themselves, said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

“I think they were trying to play to a certain segment of their party and I think that it might have backfired on them,” he told reporters.

Indeed, once the “Sharia Law” aspects of the bill disappeared, some Democrats began to warm to the measure. Sen. Tim Barnes and Reps. Eddie Bass and Gary Moore voted for what Lundberg described as the “Big Brother” version in their respective chambers’ judiciary committees.

Sen. Barnes, D-Adams, remarked that if from the outset the measure had been dubbed the “Timothy McVeigh Bill,” rather than the “Sharia Bill,” not nearly so much outrage would likely have ensued.

Campfield, who unlike Barnes voted against Ketron’s bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, later noted that the debate brought to light the “weird divide” among tea-party conservatives.

“You had the people who didn’t want a whole bunch of government intrusion sort of competing against people who are strong on national security. A lot of times those are the same people,” Campfield told TNReport. “It was sort of a weird split that was going on at the time, but I think both sides are happy with what came out.”

The final version was hashed out behind closed doors between bill sponsors and high-level administrators in the Department of Safety and Office of Homeland Security. They stripped down the bill, deleting provisions that would have let the governor and attorney general designate possible terrorists and deny the accused the right to fight the classification before an administrative law judge.

They agreed to give the existing law more teeth and allowed for local district attorneys to report suspicions directly to the Department of State, which handles terrorist designations, instead of reporting to the FBI.

“We are pleased with the final version, which enhances the existing state penalty for groups or individuals who support terrorist organizations,” Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in an emailed statement.

“I like where the bill ended, quite frankly,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters. “I wasn’t quite sure why the governor and the attorney general had those roles in terms of whether that was appropriate.”

Still, some Democratic lawmakers held out, saying they still felt the measure got off on the wrong foot and they ultimately wanted no part of it in any way, shape or form.

“I am very concerned of the fact that we are demonizing certain people or putting a stigma on certain people because of their religion,” said Sen. Beverly Marrero, a Memphis Democrat who voted against the bill. “I believe so strongly that America is a place where people came for freedom of religion, I really want to speak up for people who feel like they are being prosecuted because of their religious beliefs.”

Also voting “No” in the Senate were Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis and Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, the Tennessee General Assembly’s longest serving member.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, on a 26-3 vote in the Senate and 76-16 in the House. No Republicans in either chamber opposed the final version. Haslam is expected to sign the bill.

Andrea Zelinski is a staff writer for TNReport.com and can be reached at 615-489-7131 or andreazelinski@tnreport.com. TNReport is a not-for-profit news service supported by readers like you.

Republicans Broaden Anti-Terrorism Bill

Tennessee lawmakers stress that an expanded plan to fight “homegrown terrorism” has nothing to do with religion.

To prove it, they’ve crafted a bill that focuses not only on suspected radical Islamic fundamentalists or proponents of “Sharia Law,” but any group or individual in Tennessee suspected of harboring terrorist intentions or providing “material support” to groups “designated” by the government as potential terrorists.

Hundreds of Muslims who packed into Legislative Plaza Tuesday still beg to differ — although it was unclear whether they’d received a copy of the amendment, which at post time was not on the internet.

Members of the Muslim community jammed into two overflow committee rooms and a legislative lounge and lined the hallways to watch the House and Senate judiciary committees ultimately advance a measure that would give the administration power to identify terrorist entities and punish people who help them.

The original version of the bill specifically targeted people who practice Sharia Law, the foundation of Islamic Code. The two Republican sponsors have since given the bill a make-over by stripping any language about religion and instead widening the reach of the bill to anyone exhibiting potentially terrorist-like tendencies.

The current measure would allow the governor and the attorney general to label anyone as a terrorist if investigations from the state Department of Safety as well as the Office of Homeland Security suggest they are enough of a threat.

The 15-page “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” would ultimately fight “homegrown terrorism,” whether the state finds that threat in gangs, cults, religious groups or individuals, according to lawmakers carrying the bill.

However, no one group would be specifically targeted, according to Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny who is sponsoring the measure, HB1353, in the House.

“I would just, please, like to implore the Muslim community, this is not against you,” said Matheny. “This is not a witch hunt. This is nothing but to protect ourselves where the federal government can’t or won’t.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill 12-4 while the measure won a 6-3 favorable vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both measures now advance to the houses’ Finance, Ways and Means committees.

The problem is the bill doesn’t give enough of a recourse for people falsely accused of being or helping terrorists, said Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat.

“It’s un-American as far as I’m concerned,” said Stewart. “What we’re saying here is that somebody in Tennessee, a regular person, can be declared a terrorist, and they have no right to a trial of their peers to clear their good name. That’s just completely the opposite of what we should be doing in this country.”

Votes for the measure fell on mostly partisan lines, although in both chambers, one Democrat voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, and one GOP lawmaker voted with Democrats against it.

Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he’s worried the move would give the governor’s office too much power to brand people — and ultimately groups — as terrorists or supporters of terrorists.

The measure feels a lot like the “Patriot Act Part Two for Tennessee,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican.

“I may be wrong, and by God I really hope I’m not, but for me at this time it’s a bridge too far,” he said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee agrees, saying the language is much too vague and potentially unconstitutional.

Last year, the ACLU landed on the state’s Fusion Center tracking list — which monitors suspected terrorism and suspicious activities —  for penning a letter about respecting religious preferences during the December holiday season. State officials later said the posting was a mistake.

Democrats like Rep. Gary Moore of Joelton and Sen. Tim Barnes of Adams, siding with Republicans, said they are comfortable with the bill as is, although Barnes expects to draft an amendment that would clear up language on due process rights for those accused of being mixed up with terrorism.

Barnes noted to sponsor Ketron that not nearly the outrage would have arisen had the legislation been dubbed the “Timothy McVeigh Bill,” rather than the “Sharia Bill.”

“You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s where we are now,” Barnes said. “This bill has evolved remarkably from where it started out.”

Mohamed Ahmed, an imam from the Islamic Center of Nashville, testified briefly before the House Judiciary committee, telling lawmakers the new version of the measure dwells on emotional blackmail and penalizes the Muslim community, but more than that, it violates the rights of all citizens.

“We believe in justice. We trust our representatives. We’re going to oppose the bill. We’re going to go all the way, Finance Committee, the Senate,” he told reporters after the hearing. “We’re not going to give up. This is not the end. This is the beginning, and we still have a very long way to go.”

Here’s what the measure would do, according to the latest draft adopted Tuesday:

  • The Safety commissioner and state director of homeland security can investigate and recommend the governor and attorney general jointly label a person or group as a terrorists or a terrorist entity.
  • Terrorists are defined as any person or group of two or more people with the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity that threatens the security or safety of any U.S. resident.
  • Terrorist activity, according to U.S. Code Section 1182, includes any unlawful activities which involve any of the following: highjacking or sabotage of an aircraft, vessel or vehicle; holding someone hostage to compel a third party to do or not do something; a violent attack on public officials or their families; or use of biological or chemical agents, explosives, or weapons to endanger people or cause substantial property damage for more than monetary gain.
  • Anyone knowingly helping a person or group deemed a terrorist or terrorist group would be found guilty of a Class B felony, which would be upgraded to a Class A felony punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole if someone dies as a result of their material support.
  • “Material support” means “any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, transportation, and personnel of one (1) or more individuals, including the entity itself; and does not include medicine or religious materials.”
  • Seven days before the designation is made official, the individual or group of people shall be served a summons. The individual or group will then have seven additional days to challenge the classification before it is posted on the Secretary of State website and made public in major newspapers.
  • Once the terrorist label becomes public, designees can seek a judicial review at the chancery court of Davidson County no more than 30 days after the designation kicks in.
  • Any confidential information used by the administration to designate the person or people as terrorists will remain confidential but may be disclosed at the administrative review.
  • A terrorist label can only be removed or blocked by a joint resolution of the General Assembly, a joint decision by the governor and the attorney general or by a court after a challenge by the designee.