A bill to prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles, which almost made it through the entire process last year, was defeated coming out of the gate on Monday.
House Bill 667 is almost a mirror version of last year’s “Louisiana CROWN Act,” which had cleared the Senate and House committee but couldn’t get a vote on the House floor as its chief sponsor, Troy Carter, transitioned from the state Senate to the US Congress in May 2021.
This year’s version, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tammy Phelps, of Shreveport, similarly prohibited discrimination of “traits historically associated with race,” such as hair texture and hairstyles.
The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure vote 6-8, refusing to advance the legislation to the full House, effectively killing the effort for the 2022 session.
The Louisiana Senate unanimously voted to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle, a measure …
Only one Republican committee member, Rep. Richard Nelson, of Mandeville, joined the five Democrats who wanted to send the HB667 to the full House. All eight of the “no” votes were Republicans.
One Republican, Rep. Bob Echols, of Monroe, voted in favor of the legislation last year, but against it on Monday.
Phelps said hairstyle is not unique to African Americans – HB667 would protect hairstyles of White people as well – but job terminations and promotion refusals are more frequent with people wearing, say dreadlocks. Many hairstyles are unique to African Americans. Ten other states have passed the hairstyle ban into law.
Republicans, who banded together to defeat Phelps’ bill, argued that their opposition wasn’t racially motivated but was because it was already covered under existing law and would create a new group of people who could sue their employers for alleged discrimination.
“There is a cause of action under race discrimination, based upon discrimination pursuant to the hairstyle,” said Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, adding that legislation also focuses on natural hairstyles.
“A natural hairstyle occurs in nature. Braids, locks, and twists don’t occur naturally. You actually have to do something to achieve that, right?” he said.
“It’s not about a style,” Phelps replied. “It is a difference in our ethnicities here. We’re just asking if you would be considerate in knowing there’s a distinction.”
As lawsuits can already be filed on a discrimination challenge, based on hairstyles, the proposed legislation would explicitly clarify what factors would be necessary to file a lawsuit, Phelps said. Employers still could require nets and other safety protections under the legislation.
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Shreveport Rep. Sam Jenkins, who chairs the House Democratic caucus, said: “I still don’t understand how a person can be against race discrimination and see some problem with the hair. They’re one in the same. you can’t pick your discriminations.”
After the hearing, Phelps said she entered the hopeful day but knew the composition of the committee meant defeat was likely.
“They always try to change the narrative,” Phelps said of her colleagues’ protests that their opposition wasn’t racially based. “But that’s what we’ve come to expect with this Legislature.”
“It is on its face discriminatory and racist,” Congressman Carter said in an interview Monday after the vote. “Discrimination takes on all sorts of disguises.”
Hairstyles are a way to attack African Americans, he added.
Carter, with help from Phelps, last year was able to advance an identical measure through the Senate and, as his last official act before joining Congress, through a House committee. His legislation languished on the House calendar and never received a vote.
Once in Washington, Carter pushed a similar bill through the US House on March 18. The ban would apply nationally. It’s now pending before the US Senate.
“For far too long, Black and Brown people have been penalized or discriminated against for wearing natural hair styles in school, the workplace, and other settings,” Carter said. “We must affirm every person’s right to show up in the world as their authentic self.”
Voting for a ban on hairstyle (6): Reps Delisha Boyd, D-New Orleans; Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine; Robby Carter, D-Amite; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer; Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport; and Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville.
Voting against HB667 (8): Reps Beryl Amedée, R-Houma; Michael C. Echols, R-Monroe; Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs; Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette; Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs; Danny McCormick, R-Oil City; Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond; and Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport.