I’ve heard a woman’s jewelry says a lot about her. It’s a reflection of her personal taste, style and even her socioeconomic status. Think about it. With one glance at a woman’s jewelry, you can tell if she is engaged, married, or if she has children — if you know what to look for. Sometimes you can also learn a lot about her interests, passions or hobbies.
For the last few months, I’ve worn two charms on two simple, sterling silver necklaces. One is a small black diamond charm in the shape of a paw. The other is a plain sterling silver gavel. Collectively, these simple pieces symbolize two of my greatest passions: animal welfare and justice.
Score One For The Good Guys
My interest in these subjects is both personal and professional. So I have been monitoring the progress of a Connecticut bill that I blogged about soon after it was introduced earlier this year. I am now thrilled to announce that the Connecticut legislators passed HB5344.
With Gov. Dannel Malloy’s signature, Public Act No. 16-30, An Act Concerning Support for Cats and Dogs that are Neglected or Treated Cruelly will take effect in October.
As it stands, the act allows for the appointment of a “separate advocate to represent the interest of justice” by court order or request in certain cases. Specifically, these appointments can be made in animal cruelty cases or any other criminal cases involving “the welfare or custody of a cat or dog.”
The advocate in such cases will be a lawyer or law school student who either specializes in or is interested in animal law. Once appointed, he or she will be responsible for:
Monitoring the case
Consulting with anyone who has pertinent information about the case
Present relevant information or make recommendations to the court based on his or her findings
The Commissioner of Agriculture is tasked with keeping a list of volunteers interested in serving in this capacity. The inclusion of law school students is subject to existing rules regarding the practice of law.
What Does This Mean?
Simply stated, this means that dogs and cats who are mistreated or neglected will have someone with specialized skills and knowledge looking out for them in court. It means that prosecutors and judges will have additional resources to aid in the successful resolution of animal cruelty cases. It means these cases will be less likely to slip through the cracks. Most importantly, it means the offenders are more likely to be convicted.
“This is yet another case in which I have a unique perspective.”
OK. I have a question. What on earth is going on in Tennessee? Seriously.
I just reread an article about the so-called “religious counseling bill” recently inked by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. In fact I’ve read it a few times. It still doesn’t make any sense.
Oh, wait a second. Let me clarify. The story is fine. It’s Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 — or more accurately, the new law, that blows my mind.
Under the new rule: “No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”
Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill
Really? Is this necessary?
Proponents say it is. According to the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) the state mandates that “all licensed professional counselors comply with the code of ethics issued by the American Counseling Association (ACA).” As it now stands, the code bars such counselors from referring a client based on the counselor’s “personally held values.” To make matters worse, FACT says, counselors can be disciplined if they don’t play by the rules.
“This is an important bill to safeguard a counselor or therapist’s religious beliefs and moral convictions,” FACT maintains. “It protects the right of conscience of the counselor but also allows the clients to receive treatment from someone who is better suited to treat them.”
On the other hand, those against the new law says it encourages discrimination against the LGBT community.
Chris O’Rear, the president of the Tennessee Association of Pastoral Therapists, expressed his own concern about it in a story in The Christian Times. “I’m not supportive of the bill as it is, but I don’t understand the need for it either. I don’t know what to degree this is actually a problem or whether certain people just want it to be a problem.”
In a statement issued after he signed the bill, Haslam admitted that he also had some concerns. Two of the most significant are addressed in the bill, he added.
“There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others,” he said. “Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”
Speaking From Personal Experience
This is yet another case in which I have a unique perspective.
Years ago, it was Adam’s therapist, not Adam himself, who told me he self-identified as a woman. At the time, I resented the fact that my husband lacked the intestinal fortitude to tell me himself. I hated the fact that I had to hear the truth from a stranger. To be brutally honest about it, it was horrible.
But it’s not all about me. Looking back, I am happy that Adam had help and support during an incredibly difficult time. I am glad he could turn to a qualified professional. I shudder to think about what might have happened if he never found her. I also hate to think about what could have happened if he received sub-par treatment or bad advice from someone who felt “forced” to take his case.
Luckily our story had a (somewhat) happy ending. Sadly, that’s not always true.
I would have posted this sooner, but I’ve been sort of busy. In fact, I just finished reading Mississippi House Bill 1523 — all 16 pages of it.
For those of you who haven’t heard about it, the bill is also known as the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant just gave it his stamp of approval, meaning the new law will take effect this summer.
As written, the law both prohibits discrimination against people with deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions and allows them to discriminate against other groups based on those same beliefs and convictions.
As you can imagine, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD have had plenty to say about the issue. You can read their take on it here.
In black and white
Of course, their comments are based solely on their interpretation of the law. For those of you who want to form your own conclusions, I’ve included some relevant text from a copy of the bill reviewed by state legislators below.
In pertinent part, it says:
“Laws and government actions that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage and human sexuality will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse and peaceful society…”
“…it is possible for the government to recognize same-sex marriage without forcing persons with sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions to conform.”
“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth.”
But wait, there’s more…
The law bars the state government from taking action against anyone who, on the basis of their moral convictions or religious beliefs:
Refuses to perform surgery or provide any other treatment commonly administered to aid in a transgender individual’s transition.
Creates policy addressing a number of issues including but not limited to access to bathrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities.
Refuses to provide services associated with the celebration of certain marriages.
It also prohibits the state from punishing religious organizations or members of such organizations who, on the basis of strictly held religious or moral beliefs refuse to:
Preside at or authorize certain marriages.
Allow marriages to be held on their property.
Provide services for certain marriages.
Finally, the law allows state employees who are authorized to issue marriage licenses to request permission to recuse themselves in instances contradictory to their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The same stipulation applies to state employees who are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.
Think about it
Clearly this is a highly controversial and emotionally charged issue. Those of you who know me personally or who have been following this blog for any length of time know that I have strong feelings about it. After all, laws like this directly affect someone who I once loved and will always care for.
But the bottom line is that when it comes to issues like this, there are always two sides to every story. And there are never any easy answers. So I will leave it at that. For now.
The pressure on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory shows no signs of letting up. If anything, it’s growing.
Since HB2, which prevents municipalities in the state from creating their own rules to protect members of LGBT community, became law last week, McCrory has faced considerable corporate and public backlash. The ACLU also jumped into the fray by filing a lawsuit in response to the new law earlier this week.
Now Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has piled on by prohibiting publicly funded travel to the Tar Heel State.
“This law is not just wrong, it poses a public safety risk to Connecticut residents traveling through North Carolina,” Malloy said in a Hartford Courant story published yesterday. Essentially, the law puts everyone who goes there at risk, as well as those who live there, Malloy added.
According to published reports, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also taken steps to prevent “all nonessential, publicly funded travel” to North Carolina.
Yesterday, McCrory indicated that he’s had enough and fought back by calling his critics a bunch of hypocrites. If you haven’t already, you can read exactly what he had to say in Politico by clicking the link in the preceding paragraph.
Sad But True
No one is disputing that it is the government’s job to protect vulnerable citizens. Sadly, no one can deny that we need tough laws to combat hate crimes and other heinous behavior that has no place in a civilized society.
From what I’ve read — and trust me, I’ve read a lot over the last week or so — I don’t think McCrory is denying any of that, either. It seems to me that the issue at the heart of the matter is not whom to protect, but how to protect everyone. What can be done — or more importantly — what should be done to balance LGBT rights with the general public’s rights?
Clearly North Carolina lawmakers came up with an imperfect solution — and McCrory didn’t do himself any favors by signing such a flawed bill into law.
As far as I am concerned, the state has every right to regulate what transpires in its own facilities. So if the state wants to pass laws prohibiting transgender individuals from using restrooms that match their gender identities in state-owned buildings, so be it. If the state wants to pass laws calling for the creation of “gender neutral” restrooms in state-owned buildings, fine.
But allowing the state to prohibit individual municipalities from creating and enforcing their own rules regarding who can use which bathrooms is ridiculous.
If North Carolina communities are even remotely like those that I covered as a government reporter in New York, Connecticut and Virginia, each one has a town council, a city council or a similar governing body. Among other things that governing body, working with the mayor or town manager, and municipal attorney is tasked with creating the rules and regulations (ordinances) for that community. Whenever a new rule is proposed, there is a series of public discussions. During those discussions — usually held at regularly scheduled meetings or special hearings — residents can share their comments, concerns and opinions. Representatives from other groups that could potentially be impacted by the new rules — can also speak during that time.
In other words, it is an incredibly comprehensive process where everyone has an opportunity to have their say before the governing body votes on the matter. And that’s exactly as it should be.
A Losing Battle?
Figuring out how to balance the rights of the LGBT community with those of the general public is a dilemma that local and state lawmakers across the country have already grappled with, and it is one that more will face as the push for LGBT rights continues.
Figuring out how to put an end to the ignorance and hate that plagues so much of this country is another matter altogether. The only way to start is to encourage an open, honest and objective dialogue. That means taking emotion out of the equation. And therein lies the problem. Human beings are inherently emotional animals. Hate is an incredibly powerful emotion. So is fear.
So our options are limited. But I firmly believe the following:
We can and should continue to put laws on the books to discourage hateful people from acting on their feelings.
We can and should continue to ensure that harsh penalties are in place for those who do.
We can and should create and fund programs that promote understanding, compassion and tolerance.
We can and should instill those values in our children.
Instead of focusing on our similarities, we can and should learn to respect each others’ differences — even if we don’t understand them.
We can and should lead by example.
Regretfully I also believe that at the end of the day, we can’t morally or legally force anyone to exercise tolerance, compassion or understanding if they lack the basic desire or ability to do so.
And as far as I’m concerned, to think otherwise is sheer folly.
I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband in years. But at times like this — when controversy erupts over LGBT rights — I can’t help but think of him. Or should I say, her?
Long Before There Was Chaz or Caitlyn…
For those of you who don’t know, my ex-husband, Adam, is transgender. So he’s Audrey now. Or more accurately, she’s Audrey now.
I learned the truth about the person I once considered my best friend and soul mate shortly after our second wedding anniversary. By that time we had been together for the better part of 10 years. And no. Until that point I never had a clue.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that the person I planned to have children and grow old with would have such a devastating, heartbreaking secret. As Adam and I exchanged vows during our nationally televised, fairy-tale wedding at the Hampton Classic Horse Show, I had no reason whatsoever to think we would be divorced less than three years later.
That’s exactly what happened, though.
After we agreed to go our separate ways, Adam moved to another part of the country where he continued his transition. Eventually he went overseas to have surgery to complete the process. When he returned, he was no longer the man I married.
Eventually I rebuilt my own life. I moved to Virginia, where I spent more than eight years working at what had once been one of the best suburban newspapers in the state. It was during that time that I also decided to share my story in my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey.
I want to be crystal clear about that. I wrote my book in order to tell my story. Not Audrey’s story. Mine.
That being stated, I also had a lot of unanswered questions. I told Audrey as much while I was writing the book. I asked if I could interview her — if she wanted to share her perspective. She refused.
So Much for That
That was years ago and I haven’t spoken to her since. Quite frankly, there’s nothing left to say.
To be honest, I am not all that sure what I think about the issue, either.
On the surface it seems simple. No one should be fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms matching their gender identity, individual communities should be allowed to pass laws that allow them to do so, and the state should not be able to enact legislation that bars municipalities from doing so.
Not too long ago, it seemed sports fans in the Tri-State Area couldn’t watch a game or tune in to their favorite radio talk shows without being barraged by ads urging them to participate in daily fantasy sports contests.
But, as so often happens when any activity attracts an immense following, government officials began to take notice. Much debate ensued about the legitimacy of the contests — and whether winning them requires luck or skill. A whole bunch of proverbial poop really hit the fan back in November, when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said participation in the contests is tantamount to illegal gambling in the state.
While Schneiderman’s stance — aimed at preventing the companies that run the contests from doing business with state residents — set the stage for a legal showdown, lawmakers in a neighboring state are considering a different approach. Specifically, a bill currently making its way through Connecticut’s legislative process would “protect consumers who play daily fantasy sports contests from unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”
Not a chance
Among other things, the bill includes definitions of a “daily fantasy sports contest,” and a “contest of chance.” It also charges the Commissioner of Consumer Protection with adopting rules that:
Stipulate that daily fantasy sports contests are not “contests of chance”
Set the minimum age for participants at 21
Include measures to protect consumer deposits
Ensure “truthful advertising” regarding the activity
Guarantee “the integrity of all daily fantasy sports contests offered in this state”
Include safeguards for “problem gamblers”
At a public hearing of the General Law Committee held earlier this month, several speakers voiced concerns and suggested changes to the initial language.
One of them, Chris Grimm, testified on behalf of two well-known fantasy sports companies and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. He began by pointing out that more than 50 million Americans have played fantasy sports for more than three decades, making the activity “our new national past time [sic].”
Whether they play in the traditional season-long format or the newer daily or weekly format, participants put their skills to the test, Grimm stressed.
“It is not enough to know the most popular teams and their most recognizable stars,” Grimm said. “Fantasy players need to understand scoring systems, the particular strengths of different players, the type of offensive schemes that they play in and the quality of their matchups [sic].”
Sarah Koch, the assistant director of government affairs at Draft Kings, also spoke in favor of the bill, but suggested some changes including:
Writing certain protections into the law itself
Insertion of language that “ensures fantasy sports competitions are based solely on statistics and not on outcome or finishing position” to avoid inadvertently “opening the door to sports betting”
Removing the word “daily” from the definition of fantasy sports in the bill to “provide legal clarity for all fantasy sports encompassed by the definition”
Clarification of the legal status of fantasy contests by inserting language indicating it does not “constitute gambling under the applicable penal code”
Dropping the age restriction from 21 to 18
Tamara Petro, the executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, also addressed the committee.
“This bill largely represents preparedness for a substantial expansion if CT [sic] legalizes daily fantasy sports, which is a very lucrative, multi-billion dollar business,” she said. “We propose that the new era of gambling in CT [sic] necessitates a sustainable framework for Responsible Gambling [sic] and consumer protections, and that the State [sic] has a responsibility to provide this while looking to expanded gambling for revenue.”
A new rule currently pending review by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Judiciary Committee calls for additional advocacy for neglected and abused animals.
Speaking up for those who can’t
As proposed, Connecticut House Bill 5344 would allow “a separate advocate” to be appointed “to represent the interests of the animal” or “the interests of justice” in certain cases.
The person selected from a list of qualified volunteers kept by the Commissioner of Agriculture would:
Monitor the case
Obtain information that would assist the judge or fact finder through consultations with relevant individuals
Review relevant records
Issue relevant recommendations
Passion and professionalism
The selection of an advocate selected in a case specified under the new rule could be made by the court itself or at the behest of a lawyer or party involved in the case. The advocates would either be attorneys “with knowledge of animal issues and the legal system” or law students from schools that “have students or anticipate having students with an interest in animal issues and the legal system.”
Participating students would be bound by specific guidelines pertaining to legal interns set forth in the Connecticut Practice Book. The “book” includes the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules for the Superior Court and Code of Judicial Conduct for Connecticut lawyers.
Well, here’s another “no-brainer.”
As evidenced by numerous articles on the subject, animal law is a growing discipline requiring a specific skill set. Allowing a separate advocate with the necessary knowledge and/or passion for and interest in the work to do the “heavy lifting” in cases involving “the welfare or custody of an animal” benefits everyone involved. For one thing, it takes the burden off lawyers who aren’t as well-versed in this particular area. More importantly, it ensures that the person making the final decision has all of the information he or she needs in order to do so.
But most importantly of all, it ensures that there is a “voice” for those who can’t speak for themselves.
With temperatures soaring into the 70s in the New York metropolitan area this week, it’s beginning to feel a lot like springtime around here. And you know what that means.
We’re going to lose an hour of sleep but gain an hour of daylight (allegedly). The flowers will bloom, the grass will grow and some of us will get wicked allergies. As if all of that isn’t annoying enough, we’ll be forced to share the roads with bicyclists, joggers, people on roller blades and maybe even people on hover boards. Oh, joy!
But let’s focus on the bicyclists for now. Yes, those weekend warriors who ride in packs and hog the roads, effectively turning them into treacherous slalom courses for motorists. Honestly, is there anything more aggravating than getting stuck behind a bunch of bicyclists on a Saturday afternoon?
That’s a rhetorical question — but that’s not to say there isn’t another side to the story.
Going to bat for the bicyclists
According to a recent Hartford Courant report, Connecticut groups that support cyclists want stiffer fines for drivers who don’t play by the rules. Specifically, they have asked state lawmakers to approve a new measure that would level harsher penalties against drivers who don’t “yield to pedestrians or bicycles that are legally using the road.”
Advocates say the measure would improve overall safety. But critics say the wording in the proposed bill is too vague. Critics also claim that the proposal fails to address careless behavior by pedestrians and bicyclists.
Reaching a compromise
Personally I think there are better solutions, some of which have already been implemented elsewhere. Designated bike lanes are fine — as long as the roads are wide enough to accommodate them. I also know of a few places where officials close the roads to regular traffic and let bicyclists take over for a set amount of time on certain days, weather permitting.
I’m not sure if there are already laws on the books prohibiting bicyclists from riding in groups or at least preventing them from riding two abreast. If not, I think there should be.
But of course, that’s just my humble opinion. What do you think?
Just when New York City and the rest of the Tri-State Area finally got rid of Michael “Don’t You Dare Drink A Soda” Bloomberg, the “nanny state” came along and poured some proverbial salt in the wound. Or something like that.
Here’s what happened. Someone — or more likely some group — came up with the brilliant idea that chain restaurants in New York City should put a salt shaker icon next to any menu items that contain or exceed the recommended daily allowance of sodium. Then someone else — likely backed by a bunch of “do-gooders” — decided that this should be mandatory.
Of course someone else decided it wasn’t such a great idea, so of course lawyers got involved and the courts stepped in. Go figure.
Anyhow, from what I’ve read, the New York City “food police” were supposed to start fining restaurants that failed to comply with this last week. A last-minute court ruling put a temporary stop to that, however. You can read the details here.
I suppose you could argue that all of this is no big deal. You could even argue that whole salt shaker icon idea makes sense. After all, it is just simple way to help people make an informed decision, right? I suppose you could also argue that there are lots of people with health issues who shouldn’t have too much salt. So it’s just for their own good.
It’s easy to believe what someone in authority says. So I’m sure if you listen to health gurus and nutritionists and doctors and the government you could list even more reasons to support the idea. Or you can actually think for yourselves and reach your own conclusions. Now there’s a new and revolutionary plan.
Personally I don’t need a label on a menu to tell me if something’s too salty. I mean, I’m not a dietitian or a nutritionist but I am pretty sure I could figure it out. So could you. Just put the food in your mouth and taste it. It’s really not that difficult.
If you think about it, it’s not that hard to employ a bit of common sense, either. And common sense dictates that it’s not a good idea to indulge in too much of anything. Of course excessive eating, drinking, smoking and so on will take a toll on your health. Of course your body will rebel if you have too much processed food, caffeine, salt, alcohol, nicotine, sugar… Of course if you combine all of this with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise you’ll probably end up getting really sick. Do you really need anyone to tell you so?
Personally, I don’t. I am an adult. I have a brain. I know how to use it. I know that all actions have consequences. I know that some consequences can be unpleasant. I also know that if I make risky or irresponsible choices about my own health, there’s no one to blame but myself.
Ultimately if I am not drinking and driving or doing drugs, I am not putting anyone but myself at risk. But could I become a burden on my family — or even my fellow taxpayers — if I became chronically ill as a result of poor choices about my health? Sure. Is that sad? Yes. Is it right? No.
Does that mean that the government should be allowed to dictate everything I eat or drink? I should think not.
A Connecticut lawmaker’s efforts to strengthen existing animal cruelty laws raises an interesting question — and one that may not be unique to his state. Should there be tougher penalties for offenses committed under the current laws, or should the state’s animal cruelty statute be completely rewritten?
In a recent New Britain Herald article, State Rep. Gary Bryan explained why he’s backing legislation that failed to gain enough support to make it to the governor’s desk last year. If it is enacted, anyone convicted of deliberately “maiming, torturing or mutilating animals” will face harsher punishments than they do now.
But one skeptic quoted in the story says more can — and should be done. In fact, the man in charge of New Britain’s animal control claims that the current rules are outdated and confusing. That makes successful prosecution of animal cruelty cases more difficult, Sgt. Paul Keller tells the New Britain Herald.
The solution? Keller suggests scrapping everything and rewriting the state’s animal cruelty statute with an emphasis on clarity and simplicity.
The thought of doing that might make some legislators run screaming from the room. I mean, why make things easier? Why make things better?
But all joking aside, I think they should do whatever it takes to ensure that anyone who intentionally injures an animal in any way is successfully prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
If that means working their butts off to make sure the bill Byron’s backing makes it to the governor’s desk this year, so be it. If that means making partial revisions to the existing statute, then so be it. And if that means rewriting the entire statute, well, so be it.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.