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News you missed: Immigrants win back right to call free hotline if they're detained

Progressives notched victories on voting rights in both Virginia and North Dakota, and the House of Representatives took steps forward on the Equal Rights Amendment.

By Dan Desai Martin - February 14, 2020
ICE Detention Center

This week, Native Americans in North Dakota scored a major voting rights victory, the South Dakota Legislature defeated an anti-transgender bill, and a new proposal in Michigan would guarantee access to family planning services for 30,000 more women.

Read on to see what else flew under the radar this week.

Court orders free hotline for detained immigrants be reinstated

A federal judge ordered the government to restore a free hotline for detained immigrants, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. The service, run by the nonprofit group Freedom for Immigrants, was shut down after it was featured in a 2019 episode of HBO’s “Orange is the New Black,” a television show about women in prison. The hotline was originally set up in 2015 to help immigrants in detention obtain legal services and report on bad conditions and rights violations.

“For too long, ICE has censored our speech and invented imaginary rules to terminate our programs,” Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, said in a statement about the ruling. “Today, the court saw through this farce and restored our national hotline.”

Before the government shut it down, the hotline received up to 14,500 calls per month, according to the organization. AP said it was not immediately clear when the federal government would restore access to the hotline.

Native Americans score major voting rights victory in North Dakota

After a four-year legal battle, North Dakota has been ordered to accept tribals IDs as a valid form of identification for voters. Advocates celebrated the victory on Thursday.

“It has always been our goal to ensure that every native person in North Dakota has an equal opportunity to vote, and we have achieved that today,” Matthew Campbell, attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said in a press release. “We thank the Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the individual native voters that stood up for the right to vote.

A Republican-backed law mandated that only IDs with a street address were acceptable, even though homes on many Native American reservations in the state do not have street addresses. Now, the North Dakota secretary of state has agreed to allow tribal IDs, and it will distribute free nondriver IDs on every reservation within 30 days of a statewide election, according to the Campaign Legal Center.

House moves to add Equal Rights Amendment to U.S. Constitution

Weeks after Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the House of Representatives on Thursday voted to remove the artificial deadline Congress previously imposed on the constitutional amendment.

The House voted 232-183 to remove the previous 1982 deadline for states to ratify the ERA.

“Since women gained the right to vote 100 years ago, we have made incredible progress, rolling back laws like those that kept us from serving on juries, owning land, or even getting our own credit card,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said in a statement after the vote. “Arbitrary deadlines are no reason to silence our voices. I am proud of today’s vote to ensure women have the same rights as men.”

The resolution will need to be taken up by the Senate to pass. Several states filed a lawsuit to ensure the amendment is added to the Constitution, but the Trump administration opposes adding it.

A 2016 poll showed an overwhelming 94% of Americans supported adding the ERA to the Constitution.

Michigan governor aims to provide family planning access to 30,000 women

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer added funding in her budget proposal to ensure an additional 30,000 Michigan women have access to family planning services, MLive reported on Wednesday.

The $37.5 million in funding would go toward a new initiative called “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies,” the state’s Health and Human Services Department told MLive, expanding Medicaid coverage to women of childbearing age who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty line.

The initiative would also extend post-partum coverage to a full year, up from 60 days.

Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, a top official with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told MLive the initiative is focused on “thinking about maternal and infant health as a continuum.”

Anti-transgender bill defeated in South Dakota Legislature

On Monday, a South Dakota Senate committee voted 5-2 to reject an anti-transgender bill, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported. The legislation sought to ban doctors from administering hormones or providing gender confirmation surgeries to transgender youth.

The South Dakota ACLU celebrated the defeat of the bill.

“It’s time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender youth across our state,” Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, told the Leader. “Let this be a signal to the South Dakota Legislature that discrimination against a marginalized group is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all.”

Virginia closer to scrapping photo ID law for voting

On Tuesday, the Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation to get rid of the photo ID requirement for voting, WHSV reported.

The bill, if it becomes law, would allow for nonphoto forms of identification, such as a bank statement, to be used by Virginia voters in future elections.

The legislation is one of several measures the chamber, led by Democrats, passed this year to increase access to voting. Others include automatic voter registration when a Virginia resident receives or renews their driver’s license, no-excuse absentee voting, same-day voter registration, and making Election Day a holiday.

“We’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do, and we’re making progress moving Virginia forward, and for that, we’re really excited,” Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat, said on Tuesday about a range of accomplishments. “I think you can see from Virginians that this is what they wanted and they spoke loud and clear on Election Day.”

In 2019, Democrats regained control of both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly.

Check back next week for more news you missed.

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