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ACLU uses lobby day to advocate for constitutional rights

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Around 200 members of the American Civil Liberties Union, best known as the ACLU, came to the Capitol Tuesday for their annual lobby day.

The non-partisan nonprofit, which advocates nationally defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties, came to Jefferson City to speak on three specific pieces of legislation. One bill from Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and Rep. Joe Don McGaugh that would prevent the shackling of pregnant inmates (Rep. Tracy McCreery has a similar bill as well), another on “police accountability” which would require police officers to put additional information in their vehicle staff reports (also from Nasheed), and a bill from Sen. Caleb Rowden preventing employers, landlords or educators from forcing employees, tenants and students from giving up their passwords.

Linnea Williams, a family physician from Kansas City, said she especially wanted to talk about the anti-shackling legislation with lawmakers given the stress it can put on a pregnant woman. She added the entire experience was worthwhile.

“I’ve really enjoyed meeting with the representatives, and talking with them about issues important not just to the ACLU, but all Missouri,” she said.

Sara Baker, the new legislative director for the ACLU in Missouri, said the group managed to speak with nearly every elected official in the building, something she cannot do on her own.

“It’s critical to what we do,” Baker said. “We’re a member-driven organization. We’re trying to raise the voices of all of our members in Jeff City. I can’t make it to every single office, so I think it’s really powerful that in one day, we hit the majority of the offices in the House and every single Senate office.”

Baker has also notably testified in opposition to a “bathroom bill” that would require students to use the restroom based on the sex listed on their birth certificate, which has troubled transgender rights activists.

The ACLU has had a new resurgence of popularity after they spearheaded the effort to defeat President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries cited as nests for terrorism. A federal judge in Seattle stopped the ban, saying it failed to meet a standard to justify such a wide restraining order while causing “irreparable injury” to those affected by it.

A newly-written travel ban from the Trump administration is expected in the coming days, but the ACLU has vowed to fight against what it sees as blatant unconstitutionality. John Chasnoff, a citizen lobbying for the ACLU from St. Louis, said those kinds of issues put a spotlight on the ACLU given its near 100-year history and show the purpose of the organization he chooses to represent.

“People are looking for outlets for their voice to be amplified,” he said. “These issues are all so important, especially in the times we’re in now…People have strong opinions about them, they want their voices to be heard and this is a great opportunity.”