Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chalk up another victory against guilty-until-proven-innocent drug testing policies in public schools

We're now 2-0 against PA school districts who want to force students to pee in a cup in order to join the debate team (or scrapbooking club, or the golf team, or in one of client's cases, Junior Students Against Substance Abuse). A Pike County judge just issued an order preventing the Delaware Valley School District from enforcing its unconstitutional policy requiring students to submit to random drug testing to participate in extracurricular activities and to drive to school.

In his opinion, Judge Joseph Kameen said, "This case involves a fundamental right - that of the Plaintiffs' privacy. Plaintiffs in this matter are forced into making an unconstitutional choice between not participating in extracurricular activities, sports, or parking at school and allowing DVSD to violate their privacy." He later added, "DVSD has failed to show a solid reason for [this policy]…. Granting the plaintiff's request certainly does not harm the public interest. Rather, it will protect it."

Kudos to our clients, sisters A.K. and M.K and their parents, Glenn and Kathy Kiederer, for not taking the easy way out and instead choosing to stand up for their rights and the rights of ALL Delaware Valley School District students.

Read more about this case, M.K. v. the Delaware Valley School District, and our other recent student drug testing case, M.T. v. Panther Valley School District.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Movin' to the country, gonna rot a lot of peaches

Sometime this summer the PA House State Government Committee is expected to host a series of hearings on a bunch of immigration issues. That's going to be a blast.

What has the experience of other states taught us about state attempts to enforce immigration? In a word, don't do it. (I know that's not a word. I was being ironical.)

Some state legislatures took a pass on excessive immigration enforcement bills, but Georgia dove into the deep end of the pool with a new law that implemented Arizona-style "papers please" policing and that forces employers to use the federal E-Verify database program, which the federal government itself hasn't mandated.

So what's happening in Georgia? Crops are rotting because farms don't have the workers they need. From Jay Bookman (who, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Ray Romano) at the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry...

The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.

I need not remind you of the importance of farming here in Pennsylvania, including dairy farms, fruit orchards, and mushroom fields. (And I just reminded you by typing that sentence.)

The agricultural industry in Oregon isn't waiting around for something bad to happen before reacting. Business groups there have already created The Coalition for a Working Oregon to advocate for reasonable immigration policies that are good for state economies.

The Center for American Progress, meanwhile, has outlined the costs of state enforcement of immigration by simply saying "your state can't afford it." The center notes the costs of enforcement, litigation, and economic loss. It's been well-documented that Arizona has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business since the passage of SB 1070.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who leads the charge on xenophobic, anti-immigrant legislation at the state General Assembly, calls his package of bills the "national security begins at home" package. He'd be better off calling it the "sabotaging our economy begins at home" package. State level immigration enforcement is an economic suicide pact.

The onus is on the business community in Pennsylvania to step up before it's too late. Are they going to stand up for Pennsylvania's economy? Or will they shrink from the fight?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Netflix rates are on the rise - more proof you should be concerned about Net Neutrality?

If my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, people everywhere are mad about the new rate structure at Netflix. Real mad. Like, agrarian revolt mad. I'm half expecting an angry mob with pitchforks and little red envelopes to start gathering outside City Hall any minute.

The anger at Netflix took me back to November, when a smaller number of tech-nerds raised a small outcry about a move by Comcast against Netflix and partner company Level 3. As Tony Bradley summarized it at PC World:
Comcast--which has its own on-demand streaming content and pay-per-view movies--demanded a recurring fee in exchange for allowing Netflix streaming media content to flow unfettered through its network. The fee--which Netflix backend provider Level 3 Communications agreed to pay to avoid service interruptions for Netflix customers--feels a lot like extortion a' la paying mob "protection money" to avoid "bad things" happening to your business.
The story made very small ripples, mostly among the tech blogs and we civil liberties wonks, but there was no great public outcry. Until now. This is not to say that Comcast's "extortion" is the only cause behind a rate increase at Netflix - there are other factors, including demands for a larger piece of the action from the movie and TV studios who produce content, and of course Netflix's own profit motive - but a 60% sock in the wallet to Netflix customers should serve as a reminder of something the ACLU has long been urging: the dire need for strong net neutrality rules.

As the Internet has become a critical part of our daily lives, we users have taken for granted that we are all experiencing the same Internet - but we are trusting private corporations, in most cases, to bring us that content. Like prison guards sorting our mail, those corporations have absolute power over what data reaches us, how fast, and at what cost. Until recently, the motive to filter user data was not strong enough to justify the cost - but with online delivery of music, movies, and television developing into a multi-billion dollar industry, the motive is there. The question is, do they have the right?

Net neutrality laws and policies are murky at best, full of loopholes and largely written by lobbyists from the same companies they are meant to regulate. Major telecom corporations, including Comcast as well as AT&T, Time Warner, and others, have invested heavily into opposing strong net neutrality rules. The ACLU is a strong proponent of net neutrality, as are groups including the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Free Press, and others.

Our concern is less with the price of streaming movies and television shows, and more with the other ways in which companies might restrict or filter Internet traffic. If Comcast can selectively filter Netflix, what's to say they wouldn't filter out individual expression? It's not unprecedented - in 2007, AT&T censored a live-streamed Pearl Jam performance, silencing Eddie Vedder's political statement against then-President George W. Bush. In 2005, Canadian telecom Telus blocked all of its users from accessing the web site of a union that was on strike against Telus. 

Net neutrality has always proven an issue difficult to communicate. I've tried to explain it to people, and it usually takes a few seconds before their eyes glaze over. It's not a threat that seems real to most of us. We, the first generation of Internet users, have grown up in the electronic version of the wild west, and we've taken it for granted. Even Daily Show resident expert John Hodgman has a difficult time articulating the issue:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Net Neutrality Act
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The folks on my Facebook and Twitter feeds are mostly angry at Netflix, and rumors are flying of a mass customer exodus. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but if it does it plays right into Comcast's wishes - those customers aren't going to ditch their ISP. Maybe instead they'll upgrade their cable package, and get their streaming content from the same company who brings the Internet into their home.
Maybe, though, some of them will see the $6 a month for what it is: one of the early bricks in the wall that's being constructed between customers and the free and open Internet.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

As goes Kansas, so goes Pennsylvania?

Pro-big-government activists are implementing their strategy to rollback women's access to reproductive healthcare all over the country, not just in Pennsylvania. The strategy goes a little something like this: Alter the legal requirements for abortion clinics, under the guise of "patient safety" (because we're all supposed to believe they want women to have safe access to abortion), and then watch the clinics scramble to meet the requirements. Poof! No more access to safe abortion!

Note that I didn't say no more abortions. There will still be abortions. With less clinics able to offer care, though, women seeking abortions will potentially seek care via less safe methods, including self-induced abortions and from illegal providers like Kermit Gosnell.

Pennsylvania is facing that threat with Senate Bill 732 and House Bill 574, both of which have passed one chamber of the state legislature. WPSU-FM laid out the arguments in a story yesterday.

The pro-big-government activists have pursued a similar strategy in Kansas. The requirements were different, and the KS Department of Health only gave the clinics two weeks to react. But the strategy is the same.

Here in PA, we've predicted that the enactment of SB 732 or HB 574 could lead to clinics closing or no longer offering abortion services. It would also likely lead to costly litigation.

And that's exactly what has happened in Kansas. Two of the state's three clinics were unable to comply, and they filed suit. A federal judge ruled in their favor and imposed a temporary restraining order on the new legal requirements.

Some states have implemented ambulatory surgical facility regs on abortion clinics that offer abortion beyond a certain period of weeks gestation, but we are aware of no state that has implemented ASF regs for all abortion clinics like SB 732 and HB 574. If enacted, this law would make Pennsylvania the most extreme of the extreme. And like Kansas, Pennsylvania can expect a costly constitutional lawsuit on its hands.

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Greetings from Harrisburg! Summer break edition

The legislature has left Harrisburg for the summer. Civil liberties are safe! Find out what went down in the mad legislative rush this week as the General Assembly finished the state budget.

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of PA's privacy statement, click here.

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