In 2020, our nation and the world faced a crisis that impacted families and individuals across a multitude of issues. From voting rights to economic justice, COVID-19 exacerbated and highlighted the deep inequities present in our country.
Then, came Election Day. The ACLU worked to protect our right to vote and fight back against baseless attacks that threatened to undermine our democracy. In the end, states like ours saw historic voter turnout and we’ve already begun to push the President- and Vice President-elect on key priorities for their first 100 days and beyond.
Now, the state of our democracy has the eyes of the world following the violence that occured at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Many of us watched in horror as agitators stormed the building in an act meant to overthrow the legitimate outcome of a democratic election. Let’s be clear: what occurred on Wednesday was not protest. Their actions were meant to subvert the peaceful transfer of power and we condemn this armed assault on our democracy.
As we head into Arizona’s 55th Legislature, we’re aware that attacks on our democracy may continue. Last year, we fought back against a number of bills that threatened to purge the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) and made access to the ballot box more difficult. With misinformation rampant, and elected officials peddling falsehoods to their constituents, we expect the fight to protect the right to vote to be even tougher this year.
Though our staff will be taking certain precautions in light of COVID-19, be assured that the ACLU of Arizona will be fighting for your rights this session. Voting rights is not the only issue we’ll be keeping an eye on. Last year, we saw lawmakers introduce an anti-trans bill that would’ve forced young girls to submit to intrusive medical testing to participate in school sports. Ultimately, the bill did not pass—but we expect similar bills this year. Arizona wasn’t alone in introducing legislation aimed at banning trans youth from accessing health care and fully participating in school.
On the criminal justice reform front, we hope to see additional bipartisan support for bills that decrease Arizona’s bloated prison population and allow people in prison to earn their way to an earlier release date. There have been 44 deaths in Arizona prisons due to COVID-19—the need to reduce our prison population has never been more urgent and we hope legislators take immediate action.
We’ll also be fighting for reforms in Arizona public schools. As part of the Demand to Learn campaign, we advocate for keeping students in schools and having counselors, not cops, in classrooms. We will push for schools to adopt limits on who gets suspended or expelled, and for how long, as well as making sure that education funding goes towards the hiring of additional behavioral health school staff. School closures have undoubtedly had a profound impact on students' mental health—once there is a universal return to the classroom, we want schools well-equipped to help students who might still be struggling to adapt.
Our ambitious agenda also includes protecting First Amendment, abortion and immigrants’ rights. We look forward to this legislative session and with your help, we can push to enact meaningful and lasting change to our state. We’ll be sure to keep you informed on any updates or actions, but don’t forget to sign up for the Arizona Legislature’s Request to Speak System (RTS). Once you have signed up, members of the public have the opportunity to express support or opposition to a bill or sign up to testify. If you do decide to testify in person, please be sure to read the legislature’s new guidelines.
This new year might’ve had a tumultuous start but we’re confident that with your support, we’ll be able to protect our democracy.
Now, let’s get to work.