Georgia Lawmakers To Girl Scouts: It’s Time You Pay Your Fair Share


Pay Up, Smiling Thin Mint Mascot!

If you missed tonight’s The Ed Show on MSNBC, you missed a feature discussing a pending bill in the State of Georgia, known as House Bill 385.  House Bill 385 is a Republican-backed proposal which seeks to balance the revenue shortfall in that state.

So, how does this Republican-backed measure seek to balance that state’s budget?  Does it ask for contributions from large corporations like Coca-Cola or Lockheed Martin who have benefited greatly from Georgia?  Heck No.  In fact, House Bill 385 gives substantial tax breaks on corporate income taxes.

Instead of asking the most privileged citizens of Georgia to step up to the budget shortfall plate, Republican lawmakers in Georgia, instead, propose a hike in taxes on gas and food, including hikes on sales taxes for Girl Scout cookies.  That’s right, folks.  Couldn’t make this stuff up; it’s too ridiculous!

Of course, in fairness to the Republican lawmakers of Georgia, they are not just balancing the budget on the backs of girl scouts and their dreaded Thin Mints.  The Boy Scouts‘ popcorn drive is also expected to cough it up.

President Signs Reauthorization of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...
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My colleague, Lori Paul, posted an important article on her family law blog, discussing the fact that President Obama has signed the Reauthorization of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

As a survivor of childhood abuse, I believe the safety and welfare of children is of paramount importance.  Sadly, as Ms. Paul’s article mentions, over 770,000 children were victimized by abuse or neglect in 2008.  This is outrageous and, frankly, unfathomable when one considers how much attention has been paid to the problem in the last several years.

Fortunately, President Obama and Congress appear to recognize that the problem warrants continued focus until every child in our country can grow up without fear or harm.

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November Is National Adoption Month; Long-Term Foster Care Remains Serious Problem

There is a must-read article at which has some alarming statistics on the number of children in foster care in the U.S.  According to the article, which was written to commemorate November as National Adoption Month, on any given day:

“…[M]ore than 423,000 children are in the foster care system,
[N]early 115,000 of them are available for adoption, just waiting for the right family to find them.”
The article goes on to quote another interesting statistic from the National Adoption Attitudes Survey, which found that nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults have considered adoption.  That’s 81.5 million people who have considered.  If 1 out of every 500 of those people actually followed through and adopted a child in need, every child in foster care would (at least mathematically) be placed in adoptive families.
If you are thinking about adoption, or are interested in doing more to promote adoptions in this country, you may want to check out the Dave Thomas Foundation, which is dedicated to increasing the numbers of adoptions in the U.S.  Give some serious thought to adoption, particularly in times where we are looking at a world that is likely to have insufficient resources for the people already populating the planet.
If you are interested in legal issues involving foster care and adoption, particularly large scale public policy issues, you should consider contacting the National Center for Youth Law (NYCL), one of the foremost legal advocates in the area of foster care.  I was fortunate to have done an internship with NYCL during law school, and know the enormous contribution they are making to improve foster care conditions for children all over the country.
In particular, NYCL publishes a “Foster Care Reform Litigation Docket” that details their important work in this area, which is just one of their many areas of work on behalf of poor children.
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United Arab Emirates: Man May Beat Wife, Children As Long As No Marks

The highest court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has upheld the right of a man to beat his wife and children for the purpose of “disciplining” them, but only so long as the beating leaves no discernible bruises or marks and is not too “severe.”  In addition, a man must first exhaust admonition and abstaining from sleeping with his wife as forms of correction before resorting to a beating.

According to the court, a man who goes beyond these restrictions abuses his “right” under sharia law and is subject to a fine.  In the case at issues, a husband had “slapped and cicked” his 23 year-old daughter and “slapped his wife.”  The court found that the beating too severe because it left bruises on the wife, and concluded that the daughter was too old for such treatment.

Boy, women and children in the UAE can breathe a sigh of relief after this lamp of liberty was lit, can’t they?  What is, perhaps, most frightening about this decision is that the UAE is often considered by western officials to be one of the more “democratic” of the Mideast countries.  However, the State Department webpage on the UAE lists the following as continued problems for democracy in the UAE:

• no citizens’ right to change the government and no popularly elected representatives of any kind
• flogging as judicially sanctioned punishment
• arbitrary detention
• incommunicado detention permitted by law
• questionable independence of the judiciary
• restrictions on civil liberties–freedom of speech and of the press, and assembly
• restrictions on right of association, particularly for human rights groups
• restrictions on religious freedom
• domestic abuse of women, sometimes enabled by police
• trafficking in women and children
• legal and societal discrimination against women and noncitizens
• corruption and lack of government transparency
• abuse of foreign domestic servants
• restrictions on and abuses of workers’ rights

You can read more about the decision here.

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History Of Child Labor Laws In The U.S.

The photo above was taken from today’s MSNBC PhotoBlog. As you can see, the photo features a young boy in Kabul, Afghanistan waiting to sell popcorn from a rolling cart as evening settles in. I found the photograph to be poignant, and despite its relative darkness, visually stunning. The photograph also got me to thinking about the topic of child labor, a topic that has not yet been covered here at CRW. So, I have included below a brief outline of the history of U.S. child labor laws.

1832 New England unions condemn child labor
The New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen resolve that “Children should not be allowed to labor in the factories from morning till night, without any time for healthy recreation and mental culture,” for it “endangers their . . . well-being and health”
1836 Early trade unions propose state minimum age laws
Union members at the National Trades’ Union Convention make the first formal, public proposal recommending that states establish minimum ages for factory work
1836 First state child labor law
Massachusetts requires children under 15 working in factories to attend school at least 3 months/year
1842 States begin limiting children’s work days
Massachusetts limits children’s work days to 10 hours; other states soon pass similar laws—but most of these laws are not consistently enforced
1876 Labor movement urges minimum age law
Working Men’s Party proposes banning the employment of children under the age of 14
1881 Newly formed AFL supports state minimum age laws
The first national convention of the American Federation of Labor passes a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment
1883 New York unions win state reform
Led by Samuel Gompers, the New York labor movement successfully sponsors legislation prohibiting cigar making in tenements, where thousands of young children work in the trade
1892 Democrats adopt union recommendations
Democratic Party adopts platform plank based on union recommendations to ban factory employment for children under 15
1904 National Child Labor Committee forms
Aggressive national campaign for federal child labor law reform begins
1916 New federal law sanctions state violators
First federal child labor law prohibits movement of goods across state lines if minimum age laws are violated (law in effect only until 1918, when it’s declared unconstitutional, then revised, passed, and declared unconstitutional again)
1924 First attempt to gain federal regulation fails
Congress passes a constitutional amendment giving the federal government authority to regulate child labor, but too few states ratify it and it never takes effect
1936 Federal purchasing law passes
Walsh-Healey Act states U.S. government will not purchase goods made by underage children
1937 Second attempt to gain federal regulation fails
Second attempt to ratify constitutional amendment giving federal government authority to regulate child labor falls just short of getting necessary votes
1937 New federal law sanctions growers
Sugar Act makes sugar beet growers ineligible for benefit payments if they violate state minimum age and hours of work standards
1938 Federal regulation of child labor achieved in Fair Labor Standards Act
For the first time, minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children are regulated by federal law

The outline above was obtained from The Child Labor Education Project. Below are some additional photos on the subject that readers may find interesting or useful.

Supreme Court Rules Abducted Child Should Have Stayed In Chile

I found a fascinating article today written by Lori Paul in, California Family Law Paralegal which describes a case at the intersection between family law and international law.  The article describes the matter of Abbott v. Abbott, a case involving a mother and father who divorced in Chile.  The parties had one son. The Chilean court granted the mother custody, with visitation rights to the father.  In addition, the Chilean court ordered that neither parent could leave Chile with the child without the other parent’s agreement (“no removal” order or ne exeat order).

Unable to find work in Chile, the mother left the country with the parties’ son and returned to the United States. The father found the mother and child in Texas and moved to enforce the Chilean “no removal” order.

In deciding the case, the U.S. Supreme Court had to grapple with whether the “no removal” order issued by the Chilean court constituted a “right of custody” under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  While it might seem quite obvious that the answer would be yes, most lower courts facing the same or similar issue had decided in the negative.

In a 6-3 decision with an opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, however, that the “no removal” order was a custodial right granted to the father and that the mother wrongfully removed the parties’ son when she left Chile without the father’s agreement.  Justice Stevens, Thomas and Breyer dissented.

Here is a link to California Family Law Paralegal where you can access the full text of the opinion as well as oral argument.  You can also access the briefs filed on both sides of the argument by following this link.

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UPDATE! High School Takes Its Cue From George Orwell’s “1984”

In the Philadelphia suburb, Lower Merion Township, students are issued laptops by the school district.  Unfortunately, as some Lower Merion high school students recently discovered, their laptops came with an unwanted “spycam” feature courtesy of their school district.

According to a class action lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Lower Merion School District issued laptops to its high school students with webcams installed.  Unbeknownst to the students, however, the high school administration retained the ability to remotely activate the webcam at any time to, essentially, spy on the students and anyone else that might be within view of the webcam.  The plaintiffs and their families alleged that they first became aware of the high school’s ability to activate the webcams and spy on them when one student was brought before the school’s vice principal for “engag[ing] in improper behavior in his home, citing a webcam photo as evidence.

As an article in noted:

“Schools are in an absolute panic about kids divulging too much online, worried about pedos and marketers and embarrassing photos that will haunt you when you run for office or apply for a job in 10 years.”

It is unclear what “improper behavior” the student committed.  However, schools in Pennsylvania, in particular, appear highly concerned about student activity in cyberspace.  Recently, I wrote about the controversial practice of “sexting” in “Is Sexting Child Porn Or Protected Speech?”  That article discussed the case of Miller v. Skumanick, which involved another Pennsylvania school’s attempt to combat “sexting.”  The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision soon in that case.  For now, the District Court’s opinion is in the Box for you to download.

The issue of “sexting” is not limited to Pennsylvania.  Recently, a Florida youth was arrested on charges of child pornography for forwarding sexually explicit images a girl had given him to his friends.  You can link to an article discussing the Florida case here.

The Lower Merion case is not the first case attempting to punish a student for “off campus” Internet behavior.  In fact, the 3rd Circuit has created what one lawyer called a “state of chaos” by issuing two seemingly-conflicting opinions, each involving fake profiles set up by students on Myspace.  You can read about these cases in a Findlaw article here.

However, the Lower Merion case may well be the first case where a school covertly spied on its own students by use of a webcam.  As the case develops, I will report more here.  In the meantime, you can download a copy of the complaint filed against the Lower Merion School District, which I saved under “SchoolSpycamCase” in the Box.

Update:  School Admits To Covertly Spying On Its Students Some 42 Times

If you were like me, as you were reading my previous post on the controversy engulfing Lower Merion Township as a result of its high school’s spycam-campaign, you might have found yourself asking, “Yes, but there are always two sides to every story…What’s the school’s response?”  As an article from today’s revealed, the school’s official response is that they admit that they covertly spied on their high school students some 42 times, using the webcams installed on laptops issued by the school.  In their defense, the school noted that they only captured images, not sound…as though that somehow makes it all better??  In civil rights litigation circles, we have a saying for the situation the Lower Merion High School is in…”You’re screwed!”

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Domestic Violence Often Starts With Pet Abuse

As I was writing this morning, I came across an article on that made my blood boil.  The article was reprinted in The Washington Post on January 22, 2010 from an original article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Its title – “Police Say Georgia Mom Forced Son To Kill Hamster.”  You can link to the article here.

According to the article, thirty-eight year old Lynn Middlebrooks Geter, pictured above, determined that the appropriate punishment for her son’s bad grades was to force him to kill his own pet hamster – with a hammer.  Geter faces one charge of animal cruelty, child cruelty, and battery.

This is a blog about civil rights, and animals certainly have rights under federal and state law in the United States.  However, I decided to post an article of my own about the Geter case because of a different civil rights issue – the right to be free from domestic violence.

In the United States today, many experts (though not all) accept some version of what is known as “The Cycle of Violence” theory.  First introduced in the 1970s by researcher Lenore Walker, the “Cycle of Violence” theory attempts to isolate patterns of abusive behavior in relationships by a cycle of predictable stages.  In Walker’s formulation, those stages are referred to as:  the “Honeymoon” phase, the “Tension-building” phase, and the “Acting Out” phase.

Over the years, “The Cycle of Violence” theory has had additional stages added to it, so that a common graphic illustrating “The Cycle of Violence” theory today looks something like this:

What neither Walker’s formulation nor the one above recognizes, however, is that pet abuse is a common form of domestic violence.  If not coexistent with abuse of a person, pet abuse is often a precursor to more serious forms of abuse.  This is what makes the Geter case so troubling, aside from the obvious animal cruelty.

According to the group (which stands for – An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection), of 50 women’s shelters surveyed, 85% reported that women in their shelter talked about pet abuse, 63% of children talked about pet abuse, and 83% said that they had observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse.  Further research indicated that 70% to 75% of women reporting domestic violence also reported that their partner had threatened and/or actually hurt or killed one or more of their pets.  The link to above also contains links to the original research, so it is well worth checking out if you are interested in this issue.

The lesson to be learned from this research is clear.  Even if you have not been targeted by an act of violence by a spouse, partner, or someone with whom you have a close or intimate relationship, you should take a threat of violence or act of violence against your pet as very serious.

Cases such as the Geter case – a parent forcing a child to kill their own pet as a punishment – are atypical and, unfortunately, I am aware of no concrete research into statistics of such cases.  What I am certain of, however, is that Geter committed a heinous act of domestic violence upon her child, who is 12 years old, and I would not be surprised if evidence uncovers additional acts of domestic violence in the Geter household.

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Is “Sexting” Child Porn Or Protected Free Speech?

That’s the question the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will soon answer in a case of first impression, calling into question the controversial practice of “sexting.”  For those of you unfamiliar with the lingo, “sexting” is the practice of using cell phones to send sexually provocative photos of oneself to another.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center‘s Internet & American Life Project, only 4 percent of teens reported sending sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves.  However, the same report indicated that 15 percent of teens with cell phones ages 12-17 had received nude or nearly nude photos by phone.  You can link to the Pew report here.

This case began after a number of sexually explicit photos were discovered by school officials Tunkhannock School District, northwest of Scranton, PA.  School officials contacted the local district attorney.  Ultimately, the district attorney’s office threatened to charge 16 teens with child pornography if they did not attend a recommended after-school education course and write an essay about why “sexting” is wrong.

All but 3 of the teens agreed to the punishment.  However, 3 girls and their parents went to the federal District Court, where Judge James Munley issued an injunction preventing the district attorney’s office from either forcing them to take the class or charging them with child pornography. A PDF copy of the District Court judge’s ruling is in the Box under Miller v. Skumanick.

The matter was argued to the 3rd Circuit on January 15, 2010.  As soon as a decision is reported, an update will be posted on CRW.  In the meantime, what do you think?  As you consider the issue, bear in mind that the district attorney’s office seeks to charge the teens with child pornography, not any adults.  Regardless of how you may feel about “sexting,” do you think the district attorney is properly using child pornography laws in this case?

Additional articles discussing this case can be linked to here and here.

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Gestational Surrogates Win Custody In New Jersey And Michigan

Gestational surrogates in two states, New Jersey and Michigan, have successfully won custody of the children to whom they gave birth.  Unlike standard surrogacy arrangements, gestational surrogacy is an arrangement where the birth mother agrees to carry the pregnancy to delivery after having been implanted with an embryo to which she typically has no genetic relationship.  For an excellent discussion of surrogacy laws and arrangements, both in the U.S. and internationally, you can link to a Wikipedia article here.

In the New Jersey case, Angelia G. Robinson agreed in 2006 to carry a fertilized embryo for her brother and his same-sex partner, which they had fertilized with the partner’s sperm.  Subsequently, raising allegations that she was coerced into the arrangement, Angelia sought custody of the child.  Superior Court Judge Francis Schultz sided with Angelia, relying primarily on an earlier New Jersey Supreme Court case, In re Baby M. (1988) 109 N.J. 396, 536 A.2d 1227.  A PDF copy of the Baby M. case is in the Box for those interested.

In a similar development, Michigan couple Amy Kehoe and her husband Scott arranged for the use of a gestational surrogate, Laschell Baker, after acquiring an egg and sperm from third parties.  Baker successfully sought custody of the twins borne of the pregnancy, claiming that she took action upon learning that one of the parents had been treated for mental illness.

An excellent discussion and comments on these cases can be found at Jonathan Turley‘s blog here.  Another excellent article can be found at The Huffington Post, written by Jacob M. Appel, here.

What are your thoughts on these kinds of cases?  Should Angelia have won any custody rights when she was not biologically related to the child?  Are these cases examples of CIVIL RIGHTS or CIVIL WRONGS?

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