ACLU-NJ Statement on Judge’s Decision to Dismiss NYPD Surveillance Lawsuit

February 21, 2014
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NEWARK – U.S. district Judge William Martini on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The lawsuit, Hassan v. City of New York, was filed in 2012 by eight Muslim residents who alleged the NYPD’s surveillance programs were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates represented the plaintiffs.

The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Udi Ofer

“The ACLU-NJ is highly disappointed in yesterday’s ruling by Judge Martini dismissing a challenge brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates against the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeting Muslims living in New Jersey. For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeting Muslim community members based on their religious beliefs. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents who engaged in no wrongdoing. The ACLU-NJ disagrees with Judge Martini’s decision and will support the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates as they appeal this decision.”

ACLU-NJ Sends Letter to Giants and Jets About LGBT Discrimination

February 12, 2014
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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent a letter to the Giants, Jets and NFL (4mb PDF) today to remind them that they must comply with the state’s Law Against Discrimination when it comes to drafting players.

The letter was sent in response to University of Missouri player Michael Sam’s revelation that he is gay. Sam, a top NFL prospect, may be the first openly gay player in the NFL. One news outlet, SI.com, quoted general managers anonymously saying they would not draft Sam because he is gay.

The ACLU-NJ letter highlights that employers who provide services in the State of New Jersey – such as the Jets and Giants – cannot judge people on their sexual orientation and doing so would violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

ACLU-NJ Applauds Enactment of Law Tackling Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers

January 23, 2014
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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) applauds the enactment of a bill that would help end discrimination against pregnant workers in New Jersey.

New Jersey joins other states, such as California, Connecticut and Illinois, to address this issue.

The bill was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Jan. 21.

The following is a statement from Ari Rosmarin, public policy director of the ACLU-NJ:

We commend Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, the legislature, and Governor Chris Christie for enacting legislation to help end discrimination against pregnant workers in New Jersey. The bill signed by the Governor, S2995, adds pregnancy status to our state’s Law Against Discrimination, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women’s needs, and prevents employers from penalizing women from requesting or using those accommodations.

We know that even in 2014, pregnant women across the country continue to face discrimination and suffer employment consequences due to their medical needs during pregnancy. This law will help prevent women from being forced to make the agonizing choice between their health and their jobs. Our state has long been a proud leader in ending discrimination and this law will honor our values of fairness and equality under the law. The ACLU-NJ is proud to have supported this bill and we look forward to its implementation in workplaces across New Jersey.

ACLU-NJ and National ACLU File Brief in Support of Woman’s Right to Make Medical Decisions During Pregnancy

January 6, 2014
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State punished pregnant woman's choice of treatment made in consultation with health care provider

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the American Civil Liberties Union - Reproductive Freedom Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court on Jan. 3, supporting the rights of a woman who took prescribed medication during her pregnancy that helped treat her addiction to Percocet.

“The government should not get involved in second-guessing the decision-making of pregnant women and their health care providers, especially when those decisions are made with the intent of reducing the risks of harm both to the woman and to the fetus,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas.

After Y.N. found out she was pregnant, she sought treatment for her Percocet addition. Her health care providers prescribed methadone, as the risk of harm from an immediate withdrawal would likely be greater than the risks of the methadone side effects. The child was born healthy and was successfully treated upon birth for methadone withdrawal symptoms.

Despite finding that Y.N. was not a risk to her child, and sending the baby home with her, a judge nevertheless held that Y.N. was guilty of child abuse and neglect. The appellate court affirmed, holding that any “harm” to a child, even if it results from a legal chosen course of action supervised by a physician, should result in a finding that a pregnant woman has abused or neglected her child.

On Oct. 18, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to review the appellate court's decision.

“New Jersey's constitution and laws prohibit a blanket rule that any injury to a child due to a chosen course of treatment by a pregnant woman in and of itself justifies an abuse finding; rather individual fact finding is required before the State can intrude on a woman's individual and familial rights,” said Ronald Chen of the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic.

“If, as a society, we are truly interested in supporting healthy moms and babies, we would not be undermining basic constitutional principles in order to penalize the pregnant women and mothers who need health care the most. Our efforts should be focused on ensuring that pregnant women get the treatment and support they need,” noted Alexa Kolbi-Molinas of the ACLU-Reproductive Freedom Project.

The case is captioned New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. Y.N.

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ACLU Report Reveals that Black New Jerseyans are more Likely to be Arrested for Marijuana Possession Despite Equal Usage Rates

June 5, 2013
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New Report Features Data Analysis on Marijuana Arrest Rates by Race and Details High Costs of Enforcement

Newark, NJ – According to a new report (5.64mb PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Blacks in New Jersey were arrested for marijuana possession at 2.84 times the rate of whites in 2010, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationwide by race. The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse.

“The War on Marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” says Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”

In New Jersey, the counties with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests were Hunterdon, Ocean and Monmouth. Statewide, police officers made 21,659 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and marijuana possession rates accounted for 43.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. In the past 10 years, marijuana possession arrest rates have risen 8.9 percent and the racial disparities among such arrests have increased 33.4 percent.

“This report confirms what advocates across the country have known for a long time: that the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ is a failure, and it needs to end,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The ‘War on Marijuana’ in particular has wrought tragic consequences for a generation of young Black men and their loved ones. That’s why advocates throughout our state have been pushing for legislation for years that would decriminalize marijuana and as a result curb the racially disparate punishment of low-level drug offenses.”

The ACLU-NJ supports two bills in the New Jersey legislature, S1977 and A1465, to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, punishable with a $100 civil penalty rather than the potential of prison time. S1977 designates 50 grams as the upper limit, while A1465 designates that limit as 15 grams. New Jersey legalized medicinal marijuana in 2010, but implementation of the law has been stymied since its enactment.

The ACLU-NJ continues to call on local and state police to stop the practices that lead to disparate enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The ACLU-NJ recommends that all police departments throughout the state focus on more serious crimes, end racial profiling and stop unfair use of stop-and-frisk tactics. The federal government should also stop providing incentives to police departments for making arrests, and instead encourage stronger transparency, data collection, and external oversight of departments. These incentives contribute to the disparate enforcement of marijuana possession laws.

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, New Jersey spent an estimated $127 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. Nationally, states spent an estimated $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.

“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” says Edwards. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing and student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, and be deported. In addition, the targeted enforcement of marijuana possession laws against people of color creates a community of mistrust and reduced cooperation with the police, which damages public safety. Furthermore, despite being a priority for many police departments across the states for the past decade, the aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has not even accomplished one of law enforcement’s purported goals: to eradicate or even diminish the use of marijuana.” Key findings from the report include:

Arrests Rates

  • Nationwide, between 2001 and 2010, there were 8.2 million marijuana arrests. Over 7 million, or 88 percent, of these arrests were for possession (versus for sale or distribution). In 2010, there were over 889,000 marijuana arrests – 300,000 more than arrests for all violent crimes combined that year. This means one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds in 2010. Over 780,000 of those arrests were for possession.
  • In New Jersey, there were more than 200,000 arrests for marijuana possession. In 2010 alone, there were more than 25,000 marijuana arrests in New Jersey, more than 21,000 of which were for possession.

Race Disparities

  • Nationwide, a Black person was over 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite comparable usage rates.
  • The racial disparities exist in all regions of the U.S., as well as in both large (for example, Monmouth) and small counties (e.g. Salem), cities (e.g. Mercer) and rural areas (e.g. Warren), and in both high- (e.g., Hunterdon) and low-income (e.g. Ocean) communities. Disparities are also consistently high whether Blacks make up a small (e.g., Hunterdon) or a large percentage of a county’s overall population (e.g. Mercer).
  • In New Jersey, Blacks were 2.84 more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession and in many counties Blacks were four (Mercer, Salem, Warren, Monmouth, and Ocean) or even five times (Hunterdon) more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.

“Many politicians treat marijuana as a punch line, even as the most vulnerable among us sit in prison cells, losing years of their lives for offenses that the powers-that-be all too often consider a joke,” Ofer said. “The criminal justice system in the U.S. and New Jersey must answer the call from the majority of the people to end anti-drug policies that for the most part target drug use among people of color.”

In the report, the organization urges lawmakers and law enforcement to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches, and also to reform state and federal funding streams that incentivize police to make low-level drug arrests.

Review New Jersey-specific data, view multimedia, and read the ACLU’s report: The War on Marijuana in Black and White.

Cape May County Student Denied Access to Co-Educational Classes

March 27, 2013
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Special Services School District refused to offer any co-ed options in violation of the state’s Law Against Discrimination

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a petition with the state Department of Education against the Cape May County Special Services School District, a public school district, for segregating students with multiple disabilities based on sex. The petition was filed on behalf of Susan Coll-Guedes, an Atlantic County parent who wanted her son to be placed in a co-educational class because she believes he excels academically and socially in an integrated environment.

For the past several years, the district has provided co-educational classes in all grades for students with multiple disabilities, except for grades six through eight.

“Like any parent, I want my child to be in a nurturing learning environment that is conducive to his education,” said Coll-Guedes. “I believe my son should be in an environment that reflects society and prepares him to be comfortable and confident when interacting with others, including girls.”

Coll-Guedes’s 12-year-old son has attended Ocean Academy in the Cape May County Special Services School District since pre-kindergarten. When he reached sixth grade, she requested that he have classes with girls. The district refused and even rejected compromises, such as having time to interact in the hall with girls.

Coll-Guedes turned to the ACLU-NJ for help. The organization filed a public records request, seeking the district’s policies on single sex classes. The district claimed it did not have any polices segregating students based on sex and instead placed students based on “age, disability and level of functioning.” The complaint alleges that it is not plausible that the school district has made an individualized assessment of all sixth through eighth graders with multiple disabilities that has resulted in sex-segregated classes at Ocean Academy year after year.

“The law requires that all children should have equal access to educational programs, regardless of their sex,” said Frank Corrado, an attorney with Barry, Corrado & Grassi, who, along with ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, represents Coll-Guedes. “Segregating students is a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and it limits opportunities for boys and girls alike.”

Coll-Guedes decided to keep her son back in the fifth grade coeducational class for the current school year. The petition has been filed with the Department of Education, which is expected to transmit it to the Office of Administrative Law for a disposition.

On May 15, the ACLU-NJ withdrew the complaint and submitted a letter to the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, asking officials to investigate the segregation of students at Ocean Academy based on sex.

Rite Aid Apologizes to ACLU-NJ Client Who Was Denied Plan B at Store

June 1, 2012
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The ACLU-NJ today received a letter from the headquarters of Rite Aid, apologizing to Andrew Andrade, an ACLU-NJ client and Jersey City man who tried to buy the emergency contraceptive, Plan B, from the pharmacy in April. Staffers at the Jersey City store refused to sell the medicine to Andrade and erroneously told him they were not allowed to sell Plan B to men.

Rite Aid said in its letter it is investigating the matter and interviewing the store’s associates and managers. It also stated it is reviewing Rite Aid’s policy and procedure for dispensing Plan B, which follows FDA guidelines, with the pharmacy associates in the store.

“We are pleased that Rite Aid has responded swiftly and taken appropriate action,” said Jeanne LoCicero, deputy legal director for the ACLU-NJ. “It is absolutely critical that pharmacists not discriminate and understand FDA guidelines when it comes to dispensing medicines, especially when it is emergency contraception where time is of the essence.”

Andrade, 25, said he hopes this incident does not repeat itself.

“I’m grateful for Rite Aid’s response,” Andrade said. “I also hope that men out there now know the law and their rights when it comes to accessing emergency contraception.”

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ACLU-NJ Demands Pharmacies End Discrimination in Sales of Emergency Contraception

May 30, 2012
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Jersey City pharmacy unlawfully denied the sale of emergency contraception to a male customer

NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced today that it has called upon Rite Aid to ensure that its Jersey City store cease its discriminatory policy of refusing to sell emergency contraception to men. The ACLU-NJ sent a letter written on behalf of Jersey City resident Andrew Andrade asking for the Pennsylvania-based national chain to apologize for refusing to sell him emergency contraception based on his gender and seeking corrective action for its employees’ violations of FDA guidelines and New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws.

“This pharmacy’s refusal to sell emergency contraception to men flouts the FDA’s clear guidelines that anyone who is at least 17 years old and has valid ID can make these purchases and it amounts to discrimination,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Director Jeanne LoCicero, who sent the letter on behalf of Andrade. “Couples who share responsibility for healthcare decisions should not face unnecessary obstacles. Pharmacists and other staff do not have the personal discretion to interfere with the fundamental rights surrounding some of the most intimate decisions a person can make.”

When Andrade tried to buy Plan B, an FDA-approved brand of emergency contraception, at his local Jersey City Rite Aid on April 23, the staff member behind the pharmacy counter refused to sell it to him. Another staff member claimed incorrectly that the law prohibited men from buying emergency contraception, and the pharmacy manager repeated this mistake and confirmed the store’s policy of not selling it to men. Immediately after the experience at Rite Aid, he was able to purchase it at a nearby pharmacy without incident. The ACLU-NJ’s letter requested Rite Aid’s corporate policy on emergency contraception, the steps Rite Aid plans to put in place to avoid similar situations in the future, and an apology to Andrade.

“I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent anyone else from going through a similar experience,” said Andrade. “I was aware of the law, but how many other people aren’t? In a stressful situation where time is of the essence, the last thing anyone needs is to feel demoralized by having their rights violated.” Andrade, a graduate student, decided to make the trip to the pharmacy that day because he has a more flexible daytime schedule than his girlfriend, who works full-time.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence. The ACLU has fought gender discrimination from pharmacies in other states that refused to sell emergency contraception to men, although this letter marks the first communication with Rite Aid. In January, the ACLU of Texas contacted CVS on behalf of a Mesquite-area man turned away when he tried to buy emergency contraception for his wife. The ACLU has also contacted Walgreens on several occasions, the most recent in March 2012, after stores in Georgia and Alabama refused to sell emergency contraception to men. As a result of pressure from advocates, Wal-Mart introduced a storewide policy requiring its pharmacies to fill valid requests for birth control, including emergency contraception after it had failed to fulfill them.

“Pharmacies must train their personnel to respect the rights of consumers. Blocking access to emergency contraception shows a disregard for the law and people’s rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “Boyfriends and husbands who care enough about the women in their lives to help them at the pharmacy counter shouldn’t face these kinds of hurdles.”

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Judge Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Couple in Discrimination Case

January 13, 2012
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Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association broke state’s discrimination law when it denied use of its pavilion for couple’s civil union ceremony

Bernstein_Paster
Harriet Bernstein & Luisa Paster

NEWARK – A state administrative law judge has ruled (50k PDF) that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination when it denied Ocean Grove residents Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster the use of its boardwalk pavilion for their 2007 civil union ceremony. The association had allowed members of the public to rent the pavilion and had never before declined a permit other than for scheduling conflicts until it received Paster and Bernstein’s reservation request. The association rejected the couple’s application to use the space, stating that civil unions violated its Methodist doctrine.

“The Camp Meeting Association could have used the pavilion exclusively for its own purposes,” said Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons, P.C., who represents the couple as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “The judge found, however, that the association opened the pavilion up to the public and thus was obligated to follow anti-discrimination laws.”

“We are pleased with the judge’s findings,” said Harriet Bernstein. “When we first started planning our civil union, we had no idea that it would come to this. We weren’t asking the association to change their beliefs. We just wanted them to give us the same opportunity to use a beautiful space that we had seen open for public use.”

Paster and Bernstein celebrated their civil union at a fishing pier in Ocean Grove, a quarter mile from the pavilion on June 30, 2007. By then, the community rallied around the couple, showing support by raising flags around town that symbolized LGBT equality.

“Fortunately, out of this painful incident, Ocean Grove residents have a renewed sense of community and have come together to support equality,” said Luisa Paster.

In his written decision, Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office of Administrative Law found that in March 2007, when Paster and Bernstein filled out a reservation form, the pavilion was a public accommodation. The judge determined that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association breached its agreement to make the pavilion available to the public on an equal basis. The association was also required to make the pavilion public in exchange for a state tax exemption it received that requires equal access on a non-discriminatory basis. Metzger also noted that while the association is free to practice its mission without government oversight, it had never attached any religious ministry to the wedding venue until it received Paster and Bernstein’s application.

“(The association) was not, however, free to promise equal access to rent wedding space to heterosexual couples irrespective of their tradition and then except (Bernstein and Paster),” Judge Metzger stated.

The administrative law judge’s decision is sent to the Director of the Division on Civil Rights who has 45 days to adopt, modify or reject it as part of the Director’s final decision; otherwise, it becomes a final decision. Once a final decision is issued, a party may appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

Bernstein, 70, a grandmother and retired school administrator and Paster, 64, a retired academic librarian, met at a retreat in the Poconos in 2000. The couple decided to celebrate their commitment with a civil union in 2007, shortly after New Jersey passed a law allowing for civil unions. The couple, who live in the Ocean Grove section of Neptune, wanted their ceremony to take place at the Ocean Grove Boardwalk Pavilion, an open-air wood-framed seating area facing the Atlantic Ocean.

The pavilion was used for community and charitable events and the owners of the property, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, received a tax exemption from the state Green Acres program, which provides exemptions to non-profit organizations who use their property for recreational or conservation purposes. An important condition of the exemption is that the property be “open for public use on an equal basis.”

In March 2007, the couple went to the office of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and filled out an application to reserve the pavilion for their civil union. Days later, association officials denied their application and returned their $250 deposit. When Paster and Bernstein sought an explanation, they were told civil unions violated the group’s Methodist principles.

Paster and Bernstein filed a complaint with the state Division on Civil Rights.

In December 2008, the state Division on Civil Rights found probable cause that the association violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. The case proceeded to the state Administrative Law Judge for disposition.

“This decision affirms New Jersey’s strong protections against discrimination,” said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director. “When you open your doors to the public, you can’t treat same-sex couples differently.”

The case is captioned Bernstein et al v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, OAL DKT. NO. CRT 6145-09.

ACLU-NJ Probes FBI Mapping Based on Ethnicity

July 27, 2010
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NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with New Jersey's FBI field offices asking for records regarding the agency's collection of racial and ethnic data in local communities. Joining 31 other ACLU affiliates nationally, the ACLU-NJ seeks more details concerning the FBI's authority as described in the 2008 FBI operations guide to map businesses, behaviors, lifestyles and traditions considered "ethnic-oriented."

"The potential abuse that could stem from the FBI's mapping of America by race demonstrates exactly why transparency is so crucial to a democracy," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "The public has a right to know what kinds of information the government gathers about ordinary Americans, and the public has a right to know how that information will be used."

The FBI's 2008 Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG) refers to agents' power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data to assist its "domain awareness" and "intelligence analysis" activities. The DIOG, first released with heavy redaction in September 2009, was released with fewer redactions this January in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Still, the public has little access to information about the FBI's implementation of this authority.

"The FBI's mapping of local communities based on race and ethnicity, as well the ability to target investigations based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors, raises serious civil liberties concerns," said Michael German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent. "Creating a profile of a neighborhood based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there for law enforcement or domestic intelligence is unfair, un-American and unable to stop crime."

In addition to New Jersey, FOIA requests for the same kinds of information were also filed in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

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