INDIANAPOLIS: Demand full funding for schools

“Our kids need every dime they can get,” shouted an angry Jo Ann Williams, a school secretary. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”

Williams joined over 800 Gary residents marching on the Statehouse, March 30, demanding full funding for their public schools. Republicans control the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion and are proposing to cut Gary’s school budget by $26.6 million over the next two years.

“Reductions will compromise our ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers,” said Gary Schools Superintendent Mary Steele. “Yet we are required to do more with less.” Steele said that if Republicans succeed in slashing the budget, the district will have to eliminate 330 teachers and 65 administrators, and close nine buildings.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.: Gov. orders pharmacists to provide birth control

With the stroke of a pen, April 1, Gov. Rod Blagojevich outlawed the practice of pharmacists refusing, on religious or moral grounds, to fill prescriptions for birth control.

“No delays, no hassles, no lectures,” Blagojevich said. “Our regulation says that if a women goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy or the pharmacist is not allowed to discriminate or to choose who he sells it to or who he doesn’t sell it to.”

The governor said that a pattern had emerged in Illinois, of some drug stores have been rejecting prescriptions for birth control.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said women in rural communities are particularly hard hit because there may only be one drug store in town. “Pharmacies have an ethical and legal obligation,” she said.

BASILE, La.: Women inmates petition for reform

Women prison inmates launched a petition campaign, March 30, to change parole board policies and force LCS Corrections Services, the private company running the South Louisiana Correctional Center here, to offer classes, rehabilitation groups and other opportunities to change their lives. Many of the women are hundreds of miles from their Alabama hometowns.

The Alabama Legislature decided to “solve” the state’s prison overcrowding crisis by sending inmates to private, for-profit jails in other states. Alabama spends $2.3 million a year to house 270 women at LCS in Louisiana, or $22.85 per day per woman. It currently spends $12 million on such prisoner export programs, and plans to expand them in 2006.

The women’s “Platform for Fair Reform” calls for objective parole criteria, work release opportunities, an end to the parole board’s backlog, elimination of the “heinous crime” category which prevents inmates from working outside the prison, and a chance to face their victims, not advocacy groups, at parole board hearings.

“Down here [in Louisiana], the time is not constructive,” said Phyllis Richy, 44, who has been at LCS since October and is one of the writers of the petition. “We have nothing to do. We’re basically housed. That’s it. There are no classes, programs or any other way we can show the parole board that we have changed, bettered ourselves.”

BURLINGTON, Vt.: Health care for every resident

On March 1, Vermonters gathered in their annual town meetings, a unique form of participatory democracy, and voted to establish a publicly funded health care system for all 619,000 residents.

The Statehouse got the message. By March 25, the House Health Committee released a draft plan to get a discussion underway to create such a health care system by October 2007. The House draft has two main elements: uniform benefits and universal access for all Vermonters.

MADISON, Wis.: Voting rights under attack

If Republicans have their way, Wisconsin may soon be vying with South Carolina for having the most restrictive voting rights laws in the nation. A measure requiring voters to show photo IDs to cast their ballots has already passed the State Assembly and is on the floor of the State Senate.

State officials estimate the bill, if passed, would take away voting rights for 123,000 people. Republicans are targeting people who have neither a driver’s license nor a state-issued photo ID. The handicapped, elderly, students and low-income city residents are high on the hit list.

The voter advocacy group Americans Coming Together is campaigning to defeat the bill, including raising money to air commercials.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Jennifer Barnett and Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s clips.