ACLU of Florida Seeks to Protect Individual Freedoms From Legislative Assaults

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 5, 2001 12:00 am

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MIAMI — As state lawmakers prepare for a busy three-month legislative session, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is equally busy gearing up to defend anticipated attacks on individual rights by helping to pass laws that secure the personal freedoms and civil liberties of all Floridians.

“This is going to be a difficult and challenging legislative session,” said Larry H. Spalding, ACLU Legislative Staff Counsel, “with plenty of work to be done to address a variety of civil liberties concerns including voting reform, and the discriminatory application of the death penalty.”

“However,” he added, “it looks as though our major task this year will be to defend the traditional role of the courts to protect individuals and minority groups from governmental abuses.”

The following are civil liberties goals that have been set by the ACLU for the upcoming legislative session, which convenes on March 6, 2001 and runs through May 4, 2001:

Assault on the Courts

Defending the independent role of Florida courts will be a high priority for the ACLU of Florida this legislative session. Several bills threatening the independence of the courts have been pre-filed, or are being drafted, to:

· establish term limits for all trial and appellate judges; · abolish merit selection and require all appellate judges to be elected to prohibit the Florida Bar from hiring lobbyists; · repeal ethics rules that prohibit judicial candidates from saying how they would decide certain issues that may come before them; · create a special ‘death court’ to handle capital appeals; · reconstitute the Judicial Nominating Commissions to permit the governor to fill all appointments now rather than letting current terms expire; · expand the composition of the Florida Supreme Court from seven justices to nine.

Death Penalty

Death penalty advocates have already resurrected Amendment Two, Preservation of the Death Penalty. The amendment was approved by voters at the same time several proposed amendments were placed on the ballot by the Constitutional Revision Commission. The Florida Supreme Court, however, ruled that the ballot language describing Amendment Two was deceptive.

The Legislature is now prepared to resubmit the amendment with new ballot language, which many believe will address the State Supreme Court’s concerns. The only practical import of the new joint resolution, however, is to enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution and to overrule a Florida Supreme Court decision prohibiting the execution of 16 year-old children.

The ACLU is lobbying legislators to support legislation addressing problems in the administration of the death penalty. These bills would:

(1) call for a moratorium on the death penalty pending review of its application and fairness; (2) prohibit the execution of juveniles under the age of 18 years; (3) prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded, and (4) provide for a unanimous jury verdict to recommend death to the trial court.

Voting Rights

As the session begins, voting reform does not appear to be a to priority for state legislators despite Governor Jeb Bush’s appointment of a task force to investigate alleged voting irregularities following the 2000 Presidential Election. Although the task force has made several recommendations for electoral reform, such as the elimination of punch-card voting machines, it now appears questionable whether the Legislature is prepared even to address the technical recommendations.

The ACLU’s legislative office, in conjunction with its newly established Equal Voting Rights Project, will support many of the task force’s recommendations and continue to lobby legislators to expand the voting rights agenda and address the following areas of concern:

· restoring voting rights for ex-felons; · increasing access to translators in precincts with largely Spanish and Creole speaking voters; · investigating the purge system that removes voters from the rolls; · addressing voter identification issues; · helping to draft a Voters Bill of Rights; · advocating procedures for voters to be trained in the methods of voting.

School Vouchers

Advocates for private and parochial schools in the Florida Legislature hope to enact legislation that will significantly expand Florida’s school voucher program. One pre-filed legislative proposal would grant tax credits to corporations that provide ‘opportunity scholarships’ to designated recipients. Another more expansive proposal would permit ‘opportunity scholarships’ to be given to selected students in overcrowded schools. The ACLU and other defenders of public education will continue to oppose the expansion of school vouchers.

DNA Testing

The ACLU will continue to support legislation that would permit any inmate, capital or non-capital offender, to undergo DNA testing at state expense when:

(1) identity was an essential element of the offense; (2) DNA testing was not available at the time of trial, and (3) sufficient samples of evidence, which can be subjected to DNA testing, have been retained. Driving While Black or Brown

The ACLU also will lobby to support legislation that would require all state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies to report and compile statistical data relating to traffic stops.

Domestic Partnerships

The ACLU will actively support legislation that recognizes domestic partnership agreements which, among other things, authorize certain medical, hospital and surgical expense benefits for a person’s domestic partner.

Financial Data Privacy

The ACLU will work to help pass laws that would protect Floridians’ privacy in the following manner:

(1) Customers must be advised about the information that is being collected about them; (2) Customers must be assured that information collected for one purpose is not used for alternative purposes; (3) The sharing of sensitive customer information, such as account numbers, should be prohibited absent the customer’s consent.

Political Speech

In an effort to protect the First Amendment rights of all Floridians, the ACLU will support legislation that would preclude homeowner and condominium associations from prohibiting members from displaying political signs on their property during the campaign season.

Sexual Violence Against Women in Prison

The ACLU will actively support legislation that prohibits sexual misconduct by county and municipal employees in detention facilities and requires the development of sexual assault identification and prevention programs.

For more information, visit the ACLU of Florida website at

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