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On Wednesday night the manager of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was arrested for stalking.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Darin Haas was arrested around 6:30 pm Wednesday night when his ex-wife called the authorities after receiving threatening text messages that violated her order of protection against Haas. Later that night Haas turned himself in and was charged with stalking and violating an order of protection. Haas was responsible for Fort Campbell's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention and Equal Opportunity programs and has since been removed from his position. Haas was set to retire from the army and his replacement will take over his role immediately.
According to the Leaf Chronicle, Army officials are waiting to see the result of the civilian case before determining if any further action is needed.
Haas' arrest comes a few days after the Department of Defense announced an investigation of an Army Sergeant 1st class who served as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Result Prevention (SHARP) Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Advisor at Fort Hood in Texas on charges of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates." Last week, an Air Force official responsible for sexual assault prevention and response was arrested for sexual battery. According to the Arlington Police Department, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations.
Two doctors have requested that a federal judge temporarily block enforcement of Arkansas' 12 week abortion ban while the ban is facing legal challenges.
The "Human Heartbeat Protection Act," or Act 301, bans abortion once a human heartbeat is detected using a standard abdominal ultrasound, usually at 12 weeks gestation. The bill was passed into law when the state legislature voted to override the governor's veto. The ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights have filed a lawsuit on behalf of two doctors in the state who are challenging the constitutionality of the pre-viability ban. They have also filed a request to block the enforcement of the ban while their lawsuit is pending. If no injunction is granted, the bill will take affect after August 16, 2013.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General for the state of Arkansas filed a motion to dismiss the case. However, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rejected their motion, stating that the doctors had provided a strong enough case to proceed with the lawsuit. In her ruling on the dismissal, she wrote, "The court finds at this pleading stage, plaintiffs have demonstrated a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of Act 301's operation or enforcement, and they have presented a justiciable controversy that is ripe for review."
If a doctor terminates a pregnancy after 12 weeks that is not a result of rape, incest, or is to save the life of the mother, they could potentially lose their license. Opponents of the ban continued in her ruling, "Accepting these allegations as true, as the court must do at this juncture, the court finds that plaintiffs have alleged facts sufficient to state a claim that the provision of Act 301 that prohibits abortions at 12 weeks gestation when a fetal heartbeat is detected impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to choose to terminate a pregnancy before viability."
A hearing is scheduled for today to determine whether or not to grant the plaintiffs' request to block enforcement. The case is Edwards v. Beck, 13-cv-00224, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas.
5/17/2013 - House and Senate Committees Each Approve Separate Farm Bills Taking Substantial Cuts from Food Stamps Program
The House and Senate Agricultural Committees this week each passed separate versions of HR 1947, a farm program reauthorization bill. Although both vary in the severity of cuts taking place, each will take considerable funds away from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The cuts come as efforts to reform "the farm bill," which structures the country's agricultural economic system.
The Senate bill, passed Tuesday, would cut $4.1 billion from SNAP over the course of ten years. The House version, passed Wednesday, cuts $20.5 billion. The full Senate is set to debate the legislation Monday; the House will debate their version in June.
The farm bill is overdue for reform, and efforts to pass it last year failed in the House. As of now, the farm bill in place is the version from 2008, extended until September 30. If the legislation ultimately makes it out of Congress, it will lay out a spending plan for farming subsidies and nutritional programs for the next five years. House Agricultural Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma, praised the bill's initial passage as proof of "common ground," but the bill's bipartisan coalition of support stems in great part from Representatives Lucas and Colin C. Peterson's (MI-DFL) decision to increase the SNAP program budget cuts from an initial $16 billion in hopes of attracting more Republican support. Those who voted against the proposed bill were mostly Democrats.
Representative Jim Costa (D-CA), voted for the bill. "There is too much good in this bill to let it die," he said. He also warned, however, that "we still have more work to do to ensure the 2013 farm bill works for all Americans, including revisiting cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program."
SNAP has experienced growth over the last decade, due in great part to the economic recession. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that two million people could be eliminated if the program is cut at these rates, with most of the disadvantaged being seniors or children. Poor families, which are often headed by single mothers, would be hit the hardest. American women are more likely to live in poverty than men across the United States.
Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) and other Democrats on the House Committee offered an amendment to restore the proposed cuts to the program. It was defeated along party lines in a vote of 27 to 17 after heated debate about the food stamp program cuts, with multiple legislators using religious beliefs to sustain their respective political viewpoints.
"Christians, Muslims, Jews, whatever - we are failing our brothers and sisters," McGovern said.
The North Carolina state House passed an anti-abortion measure seeking to restrict state insurance coverage for abortion last night amid protests from pro-choice activists.
The bill, HB 730 [PDF], allows any health care provider to refuse to participate in an abortion because of moral objections and allows hospitals to refuse to perform abortion services, even if the mother's life is in danger. It would also prohibit any insurance plan under the state health insurance exchange from including abortion coverage.
One of the most controversial sections of the bill allows for any employer to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage on the basis of moral grounds in direct violation of the Affordable Care Act. HB 730 would rewrite the description [PDF] of a religious employer to "include any employer, including, but not limited to, a corporation, LLC, partnership, or sole proprietorship, whether on a for-profit or nonprofit basis, that has a religious, moral, or ethical objection to arranging for, paying for, facilitating, or providing health benefits plan coverage for contraceptive drugs or methods, including, but not limited to, any and all contraceptive drugs and methods approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration."
Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (PPCNC) staged a costumed protest during the morning committee hearing opposing the birth control provision. Women dressed as if they were in the 1960's filled the committee room and spoke on how the contraceptive provision would set back women's reproductive rights. Paige Johnson, Vice President of Public Affairs for PPCNC, said in a statement, "We're here to say to state legislators who want to turn the clock back to the 1950s: We like watching Mad Men - but we don't want to live in it. Women's preventive care - including birth control - is basic health care. Politicians and bosses have no business denying women access to this basic health care. This shouldn't be a revolutionary idea, but unfortunately it is to some."
State House Republicans are divided on the contraception provision. While the bill currently includes the birth control provision, late Wednesday night Republican leaders met behind-the-scenes to discuss removing the provision to ensure the bill passes the second House vote on Thursday. Even self-described "hard core" abortion opponent Bob Steinburg (R-Edenton) had reservations. He said, "It's almost like we're stepping back in time. To suggest in the 21st century that women would be prevented from having access to birth control - even as far to the right as I am - is going off the cliff. This is going too far."
Today, lawmakers in Congress introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act in the US House of Representatives and Senate. The Military Justice Improvement Act seeks to reform the current system of prosecution in the United States military.
17 members of Congress joined together in a press conference today to reveal the bipartisan legislation to reform the military justice system, including for cases involving allegations of sexual assault. The Military Justice Improvement Act would take any offense punishable by one or more years in confinement out of the chain of command except for charges directly related to the military (Absent Without Leave and disobeying orders). Instead, experienced military prosecutors would determine if the case required special or general court-martial. The bill would also prohibit convening authority from being used to overturn a guilty conviction or change a conviction to a lesser offense and requires written justification for any changes.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill's chief sponsor, said "America is home to the world's best and brightest, brave men and women who join the armed services for all the right reasons - to serve our country, defend all that we hold sacred, and make America's military the best the world has ever known. But too often, these brave men and women find themselves in the fight of their lives not off on some far-away battlefield, but right here on our own soil, within their own ranks and commanding officers, as victims of horrific acts of sexual violence. Our bipartisan bill takes this issue head on by removing decision-making from the chain of command, and giving that discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experience where it belongs. That's how we will achieve accountability, justice and fairness."
Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) reintroduced legislation last month specifically focused on reforming the military sexual assault response program. The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) would take sexual assault cases out of the hands of chains of command and place it under the jurisdiction of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office which will be comprised of civilian and military personnel. The STOP Act would also limit convening authority in cases of sexual assault.
This new legislation follows the case of an Army Sergeant 1st Class Sexual Harassment/Assault Result Prevention (SHARP) Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Advisor at Fort Hood in Texas who is being investigated for sexual assault. US Army Criminal Investigation Command is handling the investigation and the sergeant has been removed from all duties. According to a statement released by the Department of Defense (DoD) the service member in question is being investigated for allegations of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates."
Two weeks earlier, an Air Force chief of sexual assault prevention and response was arrested on charges of sexual battery. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking lot. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations. Later that week, the Department of Defense issued an annual report that showed that sexual assault in the military rose by 35% from 2010 to 2012. The report found that 26,000 members of the military experienced "unwanted sexual contact" in 2012 when answering an anonymous survey - a rate of approximately 70 assaults a day.
A U.S. Army Sergeant tasked with preventing sexual assault in the military is being investigated for charges of "abusive sexual contact."
The Sergeant 1st Class, whose name has not been released, served as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Result Prevention (SHARP) Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Advisor at Fort Hood in Texas. U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command is handling the investigation and the sergeant has been removed from all duties. According to a statement released by the Department of Defense (DoD) the service member in question is being investigated for allegations of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates."
This new investigation follows the case of an Air Force chief of sexual assault prevention and response who was arrested on charges of sexual battery. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking lot. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations. Later that week, the Department of Defense issued an annual report that showed that sexual assault in the military rose by 35% from 2010 to 2012. The report found that 26,000 members of the military experienced "unwanted sexual contact" in 2012 when answering an anonymous survey - a rate of approximately 70 assaults a day.
As a result of these recent cases, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered all military personnel responsible for sexual assault prevention and response, in addition to recruiters, to be retrained, re-credentialed, and re-screened. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee announced that she will be introducing legislation with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that will remove military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. In a statement Gillibrand wrote:
"For the second time in a week we are seeing someone who is supposed to be the tip of the spear preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act. We have to do better by the men and women serving. And assure them that they will be serving and not be attacked by their colleagues, and not be subject to this kind of treatment.We have the best and the brightest serving in our military. We have the greatest military in the world. And we ask everything of them. We ask them to even die for their country. We should not be asking them to be subject to sexual assault and rape.It is time to get serious and get to work reforming the military justice system that clearly isn't working. I believe strongly that to create the kind of real reform that will make a difference we must remove the chain of command from the decision making process for these types of serious offenses."
"Military sexual assault is an outrage," exclaimed Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, following the release of the DoD report. "There is no excuse. We must take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command so those responsible are held accountable for their egregious actions. No more coddling, no more protection, no more promoting of predators."
Yesterday, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate aimed at strengthening workplace protections for pregnant workers.
The bill is aimed at strengthening the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Despite being illegal to fire someone for being pregnant, women are often forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancy or fired for related accommodations that are ordered by a physician, but not honored by their employer. In a statement by Emily Martin of the National Women's Law Center, Martin cites stories of women such as Amber Walker who is "the only female truck driver for a beer distributor in Iowa, who asked for help with heavy lifting or a temporary assignment to a different position during the final months of her pregnancy. Although the company routinely accommodated employees with injuries - and even had a policy allowing drivers who lost their license from drunk driving to apply for new positions in sales - it denied Walker's request and forced her to take unpaid leave. Six days after her baby was born, Walker's leave was already used up. When she failed to return to work one week after giving birth, she was fired."
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is being sponsored in the Senate by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) and in the House of Representatives by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). In their statements, both Senator Shaheen and Representative Jerrold Nadler describe the bill "The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and preventing employers from forcing women out on leave when another reasonable accommodation would allow them to continue working. The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."
On Monday, the federal government appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the unregulated sale of emergency contraception, commonly called Plan B, after a federal judge refused to delay the enforcement of his decision to make Plan B available over the counter for women and girls of all ages.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in Brooklyn refused a request by government lawyers to delay the implementation of his decision while the federal government has a pending appeal. He responded harshly, "If a stay is granted, it will allow the bad-faith, politically motivated decision of Secretary Sebelius, who lacks any medical or scientific expertise, to prevail - thus justifiably undermining the public's confidence in the drug approval process." He also argued that the appeal of his decision was an effort to "vindicate the improper conduct of the secretary."
Lawyers for the administration argued that if the pills were made available with no restrictions during the pending appeal it could cause market confusion if the restrictions are upheld as a result of the appeal. Judge Korman responded that such an argument was "largely an insult to the intelligence of women."
Late May 1, the Obama Administration filed an appeal in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals challenging a federal judge's decision that emergency contraception must be made available over the counter with no age restrictions. The announcement came a day after the FDA approved new guidelines for the sale of emergency contraception. Under the approved guidelines, anyone purchasing Plan B must have proof that they are 15 years of age, either a driver's license, passport, or birth certificate. Anyone who cannot prove their age will be denied the medication. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ruled in early April that the morning-after-pill must be made available over the counter for any girl, regardless of her age. He ordered the FDA to lift any age and sales restrictions on Plan B within 30 days.
Yesterday the Minnesota state Senate approved a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the state beginning August 1, 2013. The Minnesota Senate voted in favor of marriage equality 37 to 30, after the state House approved the bill on Thursday in a vote of 75 to 59. Governor Mark Dayton (D) is scheduled to sign the bill into law tomorrow.
Senator Roger Reinert (DFL-District 07) spoke to members of the Senate about his sister's choice to marry and about his own future dreams of marriage: "Fifty years ago, it would be about the color of her skin. One hundred years ago, it would be about her gender. Each time our country reached this decision point it has come out on the right side of history... Expanding rights does nothing to diminish mine. I vote today to give something that is not mine to give. I vote today to recognize for all, the very same desires I have for myself."
Senator Vicki Jensen (DFL-District 24) said, "I could never and I would never deny the kind of recognition and all the other positive things I get out of my marriage with my husband, to anyone else."
Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-District 61), the bill's sponsor, argued before the Senate, "Here in Minnesota, Richard [my husband] and I are legal strangers to each other. How can that be OK?... Vote yes for freedom, vote yes for family, for commitment, for responsibility, for dignity. Vote yes for love."
Once the governor signs the bill into law, Minnesota will join Rhode Island, Delaware and nine other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex couples to marry. Delaware and Rhode Island approved similar measures last week.
Today, Angelina Jolie published an op-ed in the New York Times detailing her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. Jolie explains that her risk of developing breast cancer before the surgery was 87% due to a "faulty" gene BRCA1, and describes the procedure that she went through to remove her breasts. In the op-ed, Jolie writes:
I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer [like I lost my mother].
It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that's it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.
I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.
Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.
5/13/2013 - NJ Governor Vetos Early Voting Bill
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) vetoed a bill on Thursday that would have created 14 days of in-person early voting in New Jersey.
Governor Christie argued that the bill was too expensive and that the current early voting system in New Jersey is satisfactory. Currently residents may request, complete, and return a "vote-by-mail" ballot 45 days before election day by either sending it through the postal service or by completing it in person. Under the legislature-approved bill, up to seven polling locations in each county would be designated where residents could vote in person using traditional ballot machines.
In his veto, Christie wrote [PDF], "Taxpayers should not have to foot a more than $25 million bill to pay for a hasty, counterproductive, and less reliable system, especially when New Jersey's current early voting process is reliable and cost effective." MSNBC points out that in order to pay for this new system, the New Jersey budget of $32.9 billion would only have had to increase by less than one tenth of one percent. In addition, ThinkProgress states that vote-by-mail ballots are less likely to be counted and twice as likely to be rejected by election officials than in-person ballots.
State Senator Nia Gill (D), who sponsored the bill, told reporters "The governor now joins other Republican governors who have sought to stifle the vote and limit access to the polls... Once again he is catering to his national base at the expense of New Jersey residents."
On Friday, hundreds of fast food workers in Detroit walked off the job in a one day strike to raise the minimum wage. The Detroit protest comes after similar protests in St. Louis, Chicago, and New York.
An estimated 400 workers at 60 different restaurants in Detroit walked off their jobs to join protests calling for a livable wage and the right to unionize, making it the largest fast food strike in history. Currently fast food workers in Detroit make the minimum wage of $7.40 an hour. Protesters demanded that the minimum wage be raised to $15.00 an hour. Multiple locations in the city were shut down as a result. Reportedly one McDonald's called in workers to replace the strikers, but the replacements then joined the strike as well.
McDonald's worker Keith Bullard told the Huffington Post, "This morning, I walked off my job at McDonald's. I'm a 29-year-old husband and a father of two. My wife can't work because of health problems-and the $7.50 an hour I make at McDonald's just isn't enough to cover my family's basic needs." In a statement to the Huffington Post Pastor Charles Williams II, a leader in the protest, said "Can anybody really feed children and take care of a family on the current minimum wage of $7.40 an hour? If we truly want to stimulate the economy then we must stimulate the wages of those who collectively have the buying power to strengthen the economy. It's simple. I support the workers today because, raising their wage, raises our economy."
Michigan is the first "right-to-work" state that has seen a strike by fast food workers. Detroit is also under emergency management by Governor Rick Snyder's administration, meaning that emergency managers have the ability to overrule local authorities on any financial matter. This has resulted in civil service employees being laid off, local industries being privatized and union wages being slashed. Protests have spread from New York in early April to Chicago, central Pennsylvania, and St. Louis in addition to Detroit.
5/10/2013 - Minnesota State House Approves Same-Sex Marriage
Yesterday, the Minnesota state House approved a law that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state by a vote of 75 to 59. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate on Monday and could be signed by the governor as early as Tuesday.
Representative Tim Faust (D FL-District 11B) spoke about the vote "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, the people that are opposed to gay marriage, at some point in their discussion, they always say, 'My Bible says.' The question that keeps going through my mind over and over again is, do we as a society have the right to impose our religious beliefs on somebody else?"
"If you support equality today, I think you'll be proud of it for the rest of your life," Representative Joe Mullery (DLF-District 59A) said to his colleagues before voting in favor of the bill.
If the bill is approved by the Senate, Minnesota will be the 12th state in addition to the District of Columbia that allows same-sex marriage. Earlier this week Delaware approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and the week before Rhode Island also approved same-sex marriage.
Last week, more than a dozen farmworkers at the Crisalida Farm's strawberry fields in California were fired when they left the field to take refuge from the smoke and ash from a nearby wildfire.
Workers said on May 2 ashes were falling on them and they were having difficulty breathing from the smoke from a wildfire 11 miles to the north. They were warned by the foreman that if they left because of the conditions, they would no longer have a job. Fifteen workers decided to leave because of the deplorable conditions. When they returned to work the next day, they discovered they had been fired.
The workers were not part of a union, but reached out to the United Farm Workers (UFW) for help. UFW negotiated with the upper management of Crisalida Farms on behalf of the workers, citing the union rule "No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger." As a result of the negotiations, all 15 workers have been offered their positions back. So far only one worker has accepted the offer while the others have found work elsewhere.
A bill that would remove over time pay and replace it with "comp" time passed the House yesterday in a vote along party lines of 223 to 204.
The Working Families Flexibility Act, dubbed the "More Work, Less Pay Act" by Democrats, would replace overtime pay at the hour-and-a-half rate with comp time that workers would use at a later time at the employer's discretion. Supporters of the Act argue that this will allow working women and care-givers the ability to control their schedules and get more time off. However, critics and labor activists contend that it empowers employers to demand their employees work extra hours over the standard 40 hour work week without any consequences for the employer and at the expense of the worker. The bill also gives workers the right to sue if an employer intimidates them into accepting comp time instead of overtime pay, but denies the ability to seek remedies from the Department of Labor. It also does not provide [PDF] the department of Labor with any funds to enforce the act.
Ellie Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, said, "The Republican Working Families Flexibility Act is a fraud and anything but working family friendly. The act simply works to kill overtime pay and allow flex time only to meet the employer's needs."
The White House issued a statement saying, "This legislation undermines the existing right to hard-earned overtime pay, on which many working families rely to make ends meet, while misrepresenting itself as a workplace flexibility measure that gives power to employees over their own schedules."
In a joint op-ed in the Huffington Post, Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) and President of the AFL-CIO Arlene Holt Baker said, "For many working families, taking home less pay at the end of the day means less money to cover rent, education costs, medical bills and other living expenses. The 'choice' to take unpaid time off is not a choice at all... At a time when workers are already working harder for less, those who rely on overtime to make ends meet could face even more financial challenges. The kind of support that working families are looking for would be available by strengthening their ability to collectively bargain on the job for higher wages, safer workplaces, better health care and paid time off options. Working families deserve better than H.R. 1406."
The North Carolina Senate Health Committee passed a bill yesterday that would require that students are told that having an abortion is a significant risk factor for later pre-term births. The measure now heads to the floor of the state Senate.
Senate Bill 132 [PDF] requires that seventh grade students be taught that abortion is one of the significant risk factors that could cause a woman to have pre-mature deliveries later in life as part of the state's sex ed program. Much of the debate surrounding the bill centers around the validity of scientific studies that suggest a connection. UNC School of Medicine Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Dr. David Grimes questioned the committee, "The World Health Organization, the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Public Health Association all have uniformly concluded that abortion does not cause prematurity. How did they all get it wrong?"
Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) proposed an amendment that would remove the provision about abortion. "The information is out there," she said. "We can use whatever we want to justify why we want to do these things, but I think that we need to make sure the teachers teach what they are able to teach and educated to teach, and not go into other areas that they are not professionally educated to do." The chairman Senator Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine) declared that the amendment failed after a voice vote. In a final voice vote on the bill, Senator Hise declared that the measure passed and did not call for a hand vote requested by Democrats, citing time constraints.
This comes the day after the North Carolina House of Representatives rejected a bill that would require minors to get parental consent for STI treatment, including HIV/AIDS care, and pregnancy care, including abortion, prenatal care, or even in clinic pregnancy testing. This bill was referred back to committee for revisions.
On Tuesday, the state of Arkansas asked a federal judge to dismiss a court case that challenges the state's abortion ban after 12 weeks.
Attorneys for the state of Arkansas filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of two abortion providers in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the motion, Arkansas argues that the measure "regulates certain pre-viability abortions without placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking a pre-viability abortion." The attorneys go on to state that the law furthers "the state's legitimate interests in protecting the life and health of the pregnant woman, protecting the life of the fetus that may become a child and protecting the ethics and integrity of the medical profession."
The lawsuit, Edwards v. Beck, was filed on April 16 and argues that doctors who violate the 12 week ban will lose their medical license and as a result are forced to turn away women in need of abortion care. The lawsuit also goes on to argue that the measure denies "patients their constitutionally-guaranteed right to decide to end a pre-viability pregnancy."
In March, the Arkansas state legislature voted to override Governor Beebe's veto of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which bans abortion after a heartbeat can be detected with a standard ultrasound (usually 12 weeks). While the bill does include exemptions for rape, incest, severe fetal abnormality, and to save the life of the mother, the bill is still one of the strictest abortion bans in the United States.
Yesterday the Department of Defense issued an annual report that showed that sexual assault in the military rose by 35% from 2010 to 2012.
The report found that 26,000 members of the military experienced "unwanted sexual contact" in 2012 when answering an anonymous survey - a rate of approximately 70 assaults a day. That number is almost 7,000 instances higher than in 2010. In addition the report found only 3,374 reports of sexual assault were filed, according to the Pentagon. Of those cases filed, fewer than one in 10 ended with a court-martial conviction of sexual assault. In the majority of cases, the alleged attacker faced small administrative punishments or the case was dismissed.
The report has garnered outrage from many political leaders. President Obama told reporters, "The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this... If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged - period." Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement "If we needed any more evidence that the military justice system needs to change to hold sexual predators accountable and protect survivors of assault, this report has provided it. These crimes are a dark stain on our armed forces that poison morale and readiness, and that must be confronted." Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) told the Huffington Post "When our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding that they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people... However, it's unconscionable to think that entertaining unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks is now part of that equation."
The Department of Defense report comes one day after news broke that the chief of the Air Force's branch on sexual assault prevention and response was arrested on charges of sexual battery over the weekend. According to the Arlington Police Department, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking lot early Sunday morning. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations.
5/8/2013 - Delaware Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage
Yesterday, the Delaware state legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage and the bill was signed into law by the governor moments afterwards.
The bill passed in the state House two weeks ago on a vote of 23 to 18. It was approved by the Senate yesterday on a vote of 12 to 9. Governor Jack Markell (D) signed the bill into law on the stairs of the main lobby of Legislative Hall minutes after it was approved by the Senate. Markell told activists and reporters, "It's a great day in Delaware... I am signing this bill now because I do not intend to make any of you wait one moment longer." Same-sex couples will be able to officially get married starting July 1st.
The vote comes less than a week after Rhode Island became the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage. In a vote of 56 to 15, the Rhode Island state House approved changes in a bill approved by the state Senate. That evening Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the bill into law.
The chief of the Air Force's branch on sexual assault prevention and response was arrested over the weekend on charges of sexual battery.
According to the Arlington Police Department, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking lot early Sunday morning. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. The police department confirmed that he is being held under $5,000 bail. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations.
Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), who recently reintroduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) to address sexual assault in the military, told the Stars and Stripes that the news made her physically ill. She questioned, "How many more reasons do we need to take cases of rape and sexual assault out of the chain of command?"
The Air Force has come under particular scrutiny after a Lieutenant General overturned a sexual assault conviction by jury of an Air Force service member. The Air Force fighter pilot was convicted in November for aggravated sexual assault by a jury of four colonels and a lieutenant colonel. He was dismissed from the Air Force and sentenced to one year in prison. Lieutenant General Craig Franklin overturned the jury conviction using "convening authority" - an absolute power of a single military supervisor to dismiss a jury decision as granted by Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Last week, a Minnesota judge dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to end state insurance coverage for abortion. The lawsuit, brought against the state by a conservative anti-abortion legal group on behalf of "taxpayers", alleged that the Department of Human Services was using tax-payer money to fund abortions for women on state assistance when the procedures were not medically necessary and without the authority to do so.
Second District Court Judge Kathleen R. Gearin dismissed the case with prejudice on Thursday. In her opinion, Gearin cited a 1995 case Doe v. Gomez, which determined that if Minnesota funded pregnancy-related care, it would be unconstitutional to not fund therapeutic abortions (when there is a medical reason to terminate the pregnancy, or if it is the result of rape or incest). She also restated the guarantee to right to privacy as stated in Doe v. Gomez: "the difficult decision to obtain a therapeutic abortion will not be made by the government, but will be left to the woman and her doctor." Since the case was dismissed with prejudice, it cannot be filed again.
On Thursday, Rhode Island became the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage. In a vote of 56 to 15, the Rhode Island state House approved changes in a bill approved by the state Senate. That evening Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the bill into law.
Governor Chafee, who has been pushing for marriage equality since he was elected Governor position in 2010, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times explaining why he supported the bill. He said:
"A historic realignment is happening all around us, as Americans from all walks of life realize that this is the right thing to do. It is occurring both inside and outside of politics, through conversations at the office and over kitchen tables, and at different speeds in different parts of the country. But once the people have spoken, politics should do its part to make the change efficient and constructive... I have been heartened in recent months to see members of my old party coming around on marriage equality... That reflects sound political judgment, and some values that are at least as Republican as they are Democratic, including a belief in marriage as an institution and a desire to keep government out of our personal lives."
Rhode Island's decision on marriage equality has triggered outrage from some of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archibishop Salvatore Cordileone from San Francisco wrote a statement calling marriage equality a "serious injustice." He said, "Therefore, regardless of what law is enacted, marriage remains the union of one man and one woman - by the very design of nature, it cannot be otherwise."
Nine other states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. The Delaware state Senate is scheduled to consider a bill that would legalize same sex marriage in the state on Tuesday.
The Florida state legislature adjourned on Friday without a vote on Medicaid expansion that would extend healthcare to 1 million Floridians.
The Florida state Senate and House were unable to resolve their differences on two proposals that would extend Medicaid coverage. One version, passed by the state House, would use $237 million in state funds to expand Medicaid to approximately 115,000 Floridians and would reject funding from the federal government. The second would accept $50 billion of federal funding to provide Medicaid to 1.1 million Floridians, and has support from both the Obama administration and Republican Governor Rick Scott. However, without a decision reached on either bill before the end of the session, Florida will not see any Medicaid expansion in 2014.
Democrats in the state are calling for a special session in order to come to a decision on the plans. It is unsure if the Republicans, which hold a majority in the legislature, will allow that to happen. Governor Scott could also force lawmakers to have a special session.
Florida has one of the highest rates on uninsured residents, with an average of one in five people without insurance.
Yesterday, the Colorado state legislature approved a bill that will expand voter rights in the state. The bill would provide every voter a mail-in ballot, allow same-day voter registration, create a statewide voter database, and replace assigned precincts with general "voter centers."
The bill which passed in the state Senate with a vote of 20 to 15 and in the state House with a vote 36 to 26, received no votes from Republican lawmakers in either chamber. The bill, called the "Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act," was drafted with help from the bi-partisan Colorado County Clerk Association, which supports it. The Conservatives argued that the bill would allow voter fraud, and a ploy to get more Democratic votes. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) called the bill a "partisan power play."
State Senator Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) argued in the Senate, "It's a technical bill that was written by the county clerks...They're the ones who know, and they're the ones who are going to be held accountable every day when people come in to register and vote in county elections. I trust that."
Now, the bill will go back to the House to approve minor changes made by the Senate. If the changes are approved, the bill will be sent to Governor John Hickenlooper.
A 16 year old student in Bartow, Florida was arrested under felony charges earlier this week after a science experiment caused smoke and a loud noise on school property.
Kiera Wilmot* mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in an 8oz plastic bottle for a science experiment after hearing it would produce non-toxic smoke from a friend. The reaction caused the top to pop off and smoke to come out of the bottle. No one was injured and no property was damaged. When questioned by the principal and teacher, Wilmot responded that it was a science experiment, but after it was determined that the teacher had not known of her experiment, the police were called. Wilmot was charged with felony possession/discharge of a firearm and discharging a destructive device. She will be charged as an adult. Wilmot was also expelled from school and will have to complete her high school degree through an expulsion program.
Principal Ron Pritchard told reporters that he believed she was simply doing an experiment. "She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don't think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too... She is a good kid. She has never been in trouble before. Ever... She told us everything and was very honest," he continued. "She didn't run or try to hide the truth. We had a long conversation with her." A statement released by the Polk County School district said "Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules."
Kathleen Nolan, Princeton lecturer and author of Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School told reporters "This young woman faces expulsion, felony charges and a criminal record because of what appears to be misguided curiosity. These zero-tolerance laws have put into place a mindlessness where individuals no longer think through these kind of situations and use their discretion."
*Though the student in question is only 16, her name was used since she will be tried as an adult.