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ACLU Florida Vows To Focus Efforts On Three Causes

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Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
New Florida ACLU director Micah Kubic, standing, with Jacqueline Azis, left, and Joyce Hamilton Henry

The Florida American Civil Liberties Union is starting a new campaign to focus on three main areas where it believes civil liberties are at stake. The group is vowing to do whatever it takes until they succeed.

The ACLU is pivoting to concentrate its efforts in three areas: voting rights, immigrant rights and criminal justice reform. New state president Micah Kubic says this is in response to what he calls the "poisoned fruit" of the recent legislative session.

"There are a lot of places where more focus and really digging in and being proactive - rather than merely responding to the latest outrage from the governor or the legislature or the president - would create greater systemic long-term change," he said.

Kubic says they intend to concentrate on the effort to implement Amendment Four. Legislators approved a law requiring felons pay all their fees and fines before they can vote. The ACLU also wants to overturn legislation that requires local law enforcement to help federal authorities enforce immigration violations.

Kubic says they're re-orientating themselves from only reacting to crises involving civil liberties to actively trying to change the system.

"There are a lot of places where more focus and really digging in and being proactive - rather than merely responding to the latest outrage from the governor or the legislature or the president - would create greater systemic long-term change," he said.

He says that has already borne fruit by throwing their full weight behind the push to get Amendment 4 passed. Now, they have to get it implemented the way they believe the people voted for.

"If we get blocked in Tallahassee, we'll go to court," he said. "If we get blocked in court, we'll go to the local level. If we get blocked at the local level, we'll go directly to voters. And then we'll make the circle ride around again, for as long as it takes, until we succeed."

They will also focus on sentencing reform and eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Jacqueline Azis is a staff attorney.

"What is the problem here in Florida is we have way too many people sitting in custody, not because they been actually convicted of anything, but because they are too poor to afford their freedom," she said. "And there should not be two criminal justice systems - one for the poor and one for the ones who can afford to get out.

Two of their goals are to end cash bail, where people have to rely on bail bonds to get them out of jail, and overturning the suspension of driver's licenses for non-driving offenses or the lack of ability to pay fines and fees.

"When people don't have their license, they lose their livelihood, they lose their ability to work," Azis said. "If you lose your ability to work, you lose your ability to have your housing, pay child support. It's an endless cycle, all from the lack of driver's licenses."

Joyce Hamilton Henry heads the ACLU's Tampa Bay regional office. She says this campaign will likely take two to four years.

"We intend to, as an organization, and also working with our community partners, to make sure that Florida continues to move in the right direction," she said. "We have been very regressive in our policies... and we will continue to remove the barriers and open up more opportunities for individuals to vote."