June 29, 2012

CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office (786) 363 2727; media@aclufl.org

MIAMI – Among the bills passed during the 2012 Florida Legislative Session that go into effect on July 1 are three bills that have significant civil liberties implications. Those three bills are SB 98, the “school prayer” bill, HB 1205, the bill allowing for suspicionless drug testing of state employees, and SB 524, the “Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act,” banning the practice of shackling women during childbirth. The following are statements from ACLU of Florida officials on those three bills:

Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida Executive Director on school prayer bill (SB 98):

“The new law was a victory for symbolic ideological politics over good public policy.

“The sponsors of the bill disingenuously attempted to disguise it as being about “inspirational messages,” but what it does is attempt to legalize the unconstitutional and unconscionable – making all schoolchildren a captive audience to specific religious messages. If school districts enact these policies, many students will be made to feel alienated because of their religion, or even compelled by peer pressure to perform religious activities that go against their families’ beliefs.

“Fortunately, Florida educators are likely to be smarter than legislators. I expect few if any school districts to be enticed by the Legislature’s invitation to adopt an unconstitutional policy and end up in inevitable litigation – and spend scarce tax dollars on lawyers in the courtroom rather than children in the classroom.”

Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director on drug testing bill (HB 1205):

“Last October, a federal court in Orlando enjoined the legislature’s unconstitutional law requiring all applicants for Temporary Cash Assistance to pass and pay for a urinalysis drug screening after the ACLU challenged the law. This April, a federal court in Miami held unconstitutional Governor Scott’s Executive Order requiring random urinalysis of Executive Branch employees when it was challenged by AFSCME, who was represented by the ACLU. The Governor, whose office has taken the lead in defending both laws, has appealed these decisions.

“With this track record, it would be pure folly for any state employer to implement such testing once the new law goes into effect. But maybe two losses aren’t enough for them to learn that when government treats entire groups of Floridians like suspected criminals with invasive searches, we will sue to uphold the Constitution. In the meantime, the State continues its enormous waste of taxpayer dollars by defending bad policy and bad laws.”

Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director on Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act

“It seems barbaric, but until today, it was the norm in Florida for incarcerated women to be shackled during childbirth. In 2009, I received a letter from a woman jailed on the west coast of Florida. During labor, and after she gave birth, she was manacled to her hospital bed. ‘When my contractions started to set in the nurse asked the Corrections Officer to remove my handcuffs completely,’ she wrote. ‘Instead they cuffed both my hands to the bed rail. When the doctor told me to pull up on my legs to push the baby out and I said I couldn’t and held my hands out as far as I could. The officers did nothing.’”

“Thanks to the Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act, the barbaric practice that she and countless other women endured is officially prohibited in all correctional facilities in Florida. It’s been a long time coming.”