Endgame for DNA Collection Debate?

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

DNA Collection

For five years, the ACLU of Pennsylvania has fought legislation to collect and store DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime. The varying forms of the legislation demanded DNA collection from people who had been arrested for or charged with certain crimes, flipping the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.

In each of the last two sessions, a bipartisan coalition of state representatives has turned back the legislation when it has reached the House. If you follow the personalities of state politics, check out this amendment vote from 2012. Those voting “yea” voted to remove the preconviction collection provision from that bill. Yes, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County) and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh) voted together, along with a host of liberals and conservatives and moderates.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee took up yet another version of this legislation. But instead of moving the bill along with the offending language, as the committee has done in the past, Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin County) offered an amendment to remove the language that requires DNA collection from people who have been arrested. His amendment replaced it with expansion of the current postconviction collection to include all first-degree misdemeanors and some second-degree misdemeanors.

While some civil libertarians won’t like expanding the post-conviction practice, which is currently for all felonies and a few misdemeanors, stopping across-the-board, blanket DNA collection from people who have not been convicted is, in the words of Vice President Biden, a big (frickin’) deal. Twenty eight states and the federal government collect DNA from people who have been arrested or charged but not convicted, and in 2013, a divided Supreme Court upheld the practice.

The privacy implications of preconviction DNA collection are huge. First, the government must jam a swab into your mouth or pluck a hair from your head or take blood to get a DNA sample. (The swab is the most common form of the practice.) In that practice alone, the government is in choppy privacy grounds in invading the person of someone who is still considered innocent under the law and in doing so without a warrant approved by a court.

Then, the government takes that very personal, very private information and uploads it to a database at the Pennsylvania State Police, which is linked to a query system at the FBI called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. Remember, our DNA contains more than 1,000 identifying characteristics about us. And while the profile created for these databases only contain the markers that identify a person, don’t kid yourself. The infrastructure is in place to store more. If you’re acquitted or never charged or exonerated, you have to go back to court to get your DNA profile out of the database.

Of course, every win comes at a cost. The Marsico amendment maintained and actually worsened language in the bill on “modified DNA searches,” or what are more commonly known as familial searches. You and your family members share DNA. The more distant the relative, the less DNA you share. If this language becomes law, a law enforcement agency can go to the state police and ask for a modified search. PSP would then determine if the evidentiary sample is a close enough match to someone in their database that it could be linked to a family member of that person. If your troublemaker cousin is in the DNA database, you’re in the DNA database.

(If any of my cousins are reading this, apologies for throwing you under the bus.)

Senate Bill 683 contains all sorts of requirements before a familial search can be conducted, but the Marsico amendment added language that prohibits a person from challenging an arrest, conviction, search, or any other investigatory action because the law enforcement agency did not follow the requirements. So the limitations on familial searches are, essentially, meaningless.

This will probably be a contentious issue if and when this bill makes it to the House floor. Familial searches are highly controversial. And in its opinion upholding Maryland’s arrestee DNA law, the Supreme Court suggested that familial searches may be unconstitutional.

This bill still has several steps to go before it is finished, so no one is declaring victory. But the House Judiciary Committee, for the first time in three tries, recognized that the will of the legislature- and, specifically, Republicans and Democrats in the House- wasn’t there to pass a bill to collect DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime. That’s a BFD.

Read more about Senate Bill 683

Does Your Pharmacy Carry the Morning-After Pill?

By Kaziah White & Saskia Levy-Sheon, Interns, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

Emergency Contraception Map

We visited pharmacies around the region to find out if they had the morning-after pill in stock and if their employees incorrectly said there were age limits or asked for ID. The map shows you where you can easily get the morning-after pill.

During the summer of 2015, the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project was asked to help collect data on the availability of emergency contraception (EC) at local pharmacies, as part of a nationwide survey created by the American Society for Emergency Contraception. Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation or keeping the egg and sperm from meeting if taken within three to five days after unprotected sex.

We surveyed 65 pharmacies in Philadelphia and on the Main Line. These pharmacies range from the well-stocked store with multiple types of EC to the empty room with a few chairs and a well-meaning pharmacist offering us a “good price” on a generic brand of the morning-after pill.

The survey asks about where EC is located within the store, as well as what brands are available and how much they cost. It also involves asking pharmacy staff if you have to be a certain age to purchase EC and if men can buy it.

The Food and Drug Administration regulations for emergency contraception have rapidly changed within the past few years. One-pill EC is now available over the counter to anyone, regardless of age or gender. However, a number of the pharmacies we visited aren’t consistently following these new regulations. Employees have asked us for ID, or told us that EC can only be purchased by people over age 15, 17 or 18. When employees give out misinformation like this to their customers, it prevents young women from accessing the emergency health care that they need in order to prevent pregnancy. Keeping EC behind the pharmacy counter or in a locked display case in the aisle creates another barrier to access, as young people may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable asking a staff member to retrieve it for them.

The Duvall Project’s new resource for young people seeking health care on their own, Your Body, Your Rights, gives information about emergency contraception and teens’ rights to access it, regardless of age or gender. This information is critical because emergency contraception is often the last step one can take to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. However, conducting this survey showed us that practice hasn’t caught up with policy, and teens might have trouble getting EC at their local pharmacies if the staff there aren’t familiar with the new regulations.

In our research we discovered patterns of access to EC across Philadelphia. About a third of the Center City pharmacies that we visited gave us inaccurate information about age limits. We also found that non-chain pharmacies, which are more prevalent in low-income areas of the city, are far more likely to keep EC behind the pharmacy counter or in locked display cases and to provide inaccurate age limits.

The next step in our process was to create a two-pronged approach to help ensure that teens have access to EC. We started by contacting the pharmacies that provided us with misinformation in order to ask them to train their staff on the new federal regulations around EC. Second, we developed an interactive map to help teens learn which pharmacies make EC is most accessible and affordable. The interactive maps helps guide teenagers to pharmacies that will respect their control over their own bodies and give them the resources that they need. Until all pharmacy practices are in line with current regulations, the EC map will provide a valuable tool for youth to protect their reproductive freedom.

Visit ybyr.org to use the interactive map!

Volunteer Spotlight: Renata O’Donnell

Renata O’Donnell

Renata O’Donnell

Hometown:
Wilkes-Barre, PA

School:
Health Policy & Law and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I am a legal intake volunteer.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I have been a volunteer since June of 2015.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I heard about the work of the ACLU when I attended a conference at which Mary Catherine Roper spoke.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
So many people need legal help, but cannot find it. The ACLU cannot help every person who calls our office, but I come back to the ACLU each week with the knowledge that I can provide some solace to callers by listening to their stories and trying to find the best resources for their cases.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I am most passionate about prisoners’ rights after receiving calls from so many family members of the incarcerated during my time at the ACLU. Through these calls I have learned about the shocking treatment of inmates in the United States prison system- a system that is meant to reform, but instead warehouses and demoralizes those that are placed into it.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I love to run and I am training for my third marathon! I also enjoy exploring new restaurants with friends and driving home to see my family.

Renata is constantly smiling and always brings a positive attitude into the office. She is unbelievably helpful to our callers, and she is constantly looking for new ways to challenge herself. Renata plans to attend law school in the future to pursue public interest law, something at which she will surely excel. Thank you, Renata, for all your hard work.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

Volunteer Spotlight: Todd M. Darby

Todd M. Darby

Todd M. Darby

Hometown:
Philadelphia, PA

School:
Recent Graduate of Claflin University; Aspiring Lawyer

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I am a development volunteer; I assist the development staff with a wide variety of tasks, such as stuffing envelopes, scanning documents, working on spreadsheets, and played a part in preparing sections of the annual report.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
It is closing in on three months soon.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I had previously coordinated with the ACLU of South Carolina on events at my alma mater, Claflin University. While at Claflin, I kept up to date what ACLU-PA was doing in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. I admired the work that the ACLU-PA was doing, especially over the last two years. Since graduating in May, I’m back home in Philadelphia and I wanted to play a part in moving your work forward, so I applied to be the Development Volunteer.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
It’s important because I know that I’m playing a part in helping the ACLU of Pennsylvania be successful. I help out with the daily functions of development, which in turn moves the organization forward. The ACLU of Pennsylvania works on issues that are most prevalent to myself and my community, and I am making an impact, both directly and indirectly. Pennsylvania is my home state, Philadelphia is my home town, and I love giving back to my community.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
Criminal law reform, disabilities rights, and freedom of speech are the top three. They are important to me because my family, friends, and I have all had these rights infringed upon during my lifetime.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I am currently in a LSAT Prep Class – I take the test in October. I volunteer with my church and am an Eagle Scout. I also volunteer with kids and the elderly. I enjoy live music, visiting museums or art galleries, travel, and last but not least, spending quality time with friends and family.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

Questions about the Pope’s Philadelphia visit? We have (some) answers

Pope Francis in St Peter's square - Vatican (credit: Alfredo Borba)

Pope Francis in St Peter’s square – Vatican (credit: Alfredo Borba)

Many people have contacted us with questions about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Philadelphia September 26-28. The ACLU-PA and other groups are monitoring plans for the Pope’s visit. Here’s the latest information we have.

  • So far, there are NO plans to check IDs for people walking around or entering and leaving Center City. If we hear of such a thing, we will sue.
  • There WILL be a secure fence with check point entrances, but it looks like that will be just around the Parkway and some office buildings beside the Parkway. You should be able to walk everywhere else.
  • There WILL be a ban on cars and very restricted public transit in Center City.
  • The ACLU-PA is calling on the city and the Secret Service to give the public more information about the security plans.
  • The city has promised that Philadelphia will not foot the bill for this event.
  • If you want to PROTEST during the Pope’s visit, you should apply for a permit NOW. If you have any trouble or questions about protesting, call the ACLU-PA at 215-592-1513.

Volunteer Spotlight: Kaziah White

Kaziah White

Kaziah White

Hometown:
Boulder, Colorado

School:
Student at Haverford College, majoring in Anthropology with a concentration in Peace, Justice and Human Rights.

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’m an intern at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, and in that role I’ve had a number of different tasks—drafting messaging toolkits on policies that affect reproductive freedom, reaching out to other organizations in the field of reproductive health to tell them about our new campaign, Your Body, Your Rights, and visiting pharmacies in Philadelphia in order to map emergency birth control access.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I began at the end of May, and I’ve interned here throughout the summer!

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’ve heard about the ACLU for years and the instrumental role that the organization plays in protecting civil liberties within the United States. When I heard about the Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project within the ACLU, I was amazed by all the work that Duvall has done to protect reproductive rights and wanted to get more involved.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
Volunteering at the ACLU of Pennsylvania has given me a chance to learn about the many issues that Pennsylvania faces today, while also helping to make a difference in reproductive rights. That’s been a pretty amazing experience!

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I’m most passionate about reproductive freedom, and about overcoming the various barriers that stand between people and access to the health care that they need.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
When I’m not volunteering at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, I’m a full-time student at Haverford College!

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

Rethinking School Discipline

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On Wednesday, July 22, the White House hosted Rethink School Discipline, a national convening and conversation on improving school discipline policies and practices. At the meeting, participants discussed new tools and resources to be released by the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, an interagency initiative launched by the Administration in 2011, along with data and research that underscores the need for further action. School leaders across the country came together to share best practices used to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by fostering safe, supportive, and productive learning environments that keep kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

Harold Jordan, ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Senior Policy Advocate, participated in the summit representing the Dignity in Schools Campaign. He also severed on the planning committee for the event.

Also participating were community stakeholders, including parents, advocates, national professional associations and teachers’ unions, and advocates of discipline reform. In all, about 200 educators were in attendance, including 3-person teams from 43 school districts across the country.

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s school discipline work!

Volunteer Spotlight: Bill Fedullo

Bill Fedullo

Bill Fedullo

Hometown:
Philadelphia, PA

School:
Philosophy/English double major at Swarthmore College, class of 2016.

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’m an intake worker, which means I call people who feel that their civil rights have been violated. Based on what those people tell me, I write up reports that are sent to our attorneys. Our attorneys then decide what action, if any, we can take.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I worked here in the summer of 2014, and returned this summer.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’m family friends with one of the attorneys who was working with the ACLU on the Whitewood v. Wolf case. When I told him I was looking for a volunteering opportunity at a legal non-profit, he put me in touch with the ACLU.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
So many rights that today we take more or less for granted – the right to be in an interracial relationship, to read the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, to express inflammatory political opinions – were won and maintained with the support of the ACLU. It’s really exciting to be a part, however small, of that tradition of legal activism.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I care a lot about freedom of expression; after all, it’s what keeps liberal democracies, well, liberal and democratic. I also am really interested in efforts to make the United States a place that sends fewer people to prison for silly reasons. Additionally, I’m really proud of the ACLU’s past and continued efforts to make my LGBT friends and neighbors full and equal citizens under the law.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I write, read, do some theater, and spend an unhealthy amount of time arguing politics.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

17th annual picnic

July 13 – July 17

With the 4th of July in our rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the next big event of the Summer – The 17th annual ACLU picnic in Pittsburgh! This year’s event promises to be the best yet as we take time to reflect on what an amazing year it has already been for civil liberties in Pennsylvania. Find more details about the picnic and check out some ACLU-involved stories from around the country below.

Department of Justice urged to look into SC shooting

ACLU, NAACP urge DOJ to investigate Walter Scott’s shooting death

The ACLU of South Carolina joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and over two dozen South Carolina leaders in urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation of the North Charleston Police Department to uncover any pattern or practice of racially discriminatory policing. The letter also requests that the DOJ open a criminal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of Walter Scott on April 4, 2015. read more…

KY County Clerk denies same sex-couple a marriage license

Federal judge hears arguments in ACLU same-sex marriage case

A federal judge on Monday heard arguments about a county clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Davis on behalf of two gay couples and two straight couples who were denied marriage licenses. The couples named in the suit are April Miller and Karen Roberts, Shantel Burke and Stephen Napier, Jody Fernandez and Kevin Holloway, and L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry W. Spartman. read more…

PA inmate denied the right to marry

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Inmate Denied Ability to Marry

The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project filed a lawsuit today on behalf of an inmate whose attempts to get married have been thwarted by both the Fayette County Register of Wills and the State Correctional Institute (SCI) in Fayette. read more…

Blocking NSA’s dragnet program

ACLU sues to block extension of NSA dragnet program

The temporary extension of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection authority by the secretive court that oversees US government spying should be revoked, since a federal court ruled the program unconstitutional, according to the ACLU.read more…

ACLU-PA Greater Pittsburgh Chapter 17th Annual Picnic – THURSDAY, July 23th (Rain or Shine!)

PICNIC TIME!

Join us to celebrate a great summer and great people. We’ll provide beverages and grilling items (hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, etc.) We ask you to bring a side dish, snack, drink or dessert or, if cooking isn’t your thing, a $10 donation to help cover costs of food. (Kids five and under eat free.) Click here to RSVP and let us know that you’ll be coming and what you can bring.

Pennsylvania’s Anti-Discrimination Laws are in Need of a Makeover

By P. Griffin Sneath, Secretary, South Central Chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania

P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

As a young American, I strive to get an education so that one day, I can work hard to earn a living and provide for my family. I value the opportunity to push myself forward with quality work performance, determination, and the right qualifications. But, because of the lack of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians in the current anti-discrimination laws, people like me face being fired for their gender identity or expression, or for who they love.

As the law currently stands, I could be denied a mortgage someday because of my sexual orientation. I could be denied a job I was best qualified for just because of who I love. It is possible that someday I could be denied care at a hospital because I married someone of the same sex. And, my transgender friends have to fear being evicted from their apartments someday–not for not paying their rent, but for their gender identity or expression.

As I prepare to apply for college this fall, I should be able to look upon my future without having to fear the setbacks that I could potentially face when I join the workforce. I should not worry about whether or not I will receive care when I am sick.

In a few years, I will make choices about where to live and to work. Pennsylvania is my home, and I believe I have plenty to give back to the commonwealth after I finish my higher education. But will I really want to live in this state knowing that everything I’ve worked for could be denied because the law doesn’t protect me from discrimination?

There are currently statewide anti-discrimination laws that protect many Pennsylvanians, but none explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity or expression under their protections. Some municipalities do have LGBT protections, but these only cover 30% of Pennsylvania’s population. This oversight in statewide legislation makes it perfectly legal outside select municipalities to fire, refuse to hire, deny a mortgage or a lease, and deny other public accommodations and services for people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I am confident that most business owners and employers will hire employees based on their characteristics that truly matter in the workplace–dedication, hard work, and quality performance–and not on an employee’s sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. But, some will continue to only employ and serve Pennsylvanians who are protected by current anti-discrimination laws–that is, unless we modernize the laws to include LGBT people. It is time we find the middle ground by giving LGBT employees a chance to be held to the same standards as their straight counterparts under the law.

I believe that I should always treat others as they wish to be treated. I would like to see individuals judged for their work, and not for who they love or how they identify and express themselves. I believe it is time for the Pennsylvania legislature to update current anti-discrimination laws that protect Pennsylvanians to include those who are LGBT. I ask Pennsylvania to make sure that people like me have a chance at achieving the American Dream through hard work and dedication–just like everyone else.

In addition to his duties as Secretary for the South Central Chapter, Griffin has a high school internship with the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg office. He is also the son of Cyndi Sneath, ACLU-PA board member and one of the clients in the ACLU’s landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover case.