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Column: Defending New Yorkers’ Liberty in ’08 (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — It’s natural to start the new year with a list of goals and resolutions. Our state’s lawmakers are surely crafting their wish lists for the 2008 legislative session. But with a $4 billion budget deficit, any wish can become wishful thinking. Fortunately, there’s a lot the state can do to protect civil liberties that won’t cost a penny, and some moves that might even save money.

Reform the Rockefeller drug laws

The Rockefeller drug laws set harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of small amounts of illegal drugs. Justified as an attack on drug “kingpins,” the laws instead jail low-level, nonviolent users for decades. They also produce stark racial disparities: Study after study shows that more whites than non-whites use and sell drugs, but more than 90 percent of those imprisoned for drug felonies are black or Latino.

The laws have neither curbed drug use nor enhanced public safety. Instead, they have ruined thousands of lives and annually wasted millions in tax dollars in prison costs. Reforming the laws to allow judges to sentence non-violent low-level offenders to rehab could save taxpayers more than $215 million annually.

Reject the Real ID Act

The White House is trying to bully states into implementing the Real ID Act. It would create a national ID card and a massive database of personal information that will be vulnerable to identity theft. All for hundreds of millions of New Yorkers’ dollars. Our lawmakers must say no.

Expand LGBT rights

Gov. Spitzer distinguished himself as the first U.S. governor to propose a law recognizing same-sex marriages, yet such couples still may not marry here.

Protect students

The Dignity for All Students Act would protect our children against harassment over race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. DASA mandates training for educators and requires the reporting of harassment.

Ensure reproductive freedom

Our state’s once-trailblazing abortion laws do not adequately protect women if the Supreme Court continues to erode the principles of Roe v. Wade. Gov. Spitzer has introduced the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act to ensure that abortion will remain legal in New York if Roe is overturned. The state Senate and Assembly must pass it.

Donna Lieberman is executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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