Yesterday, Equality Louisiana rolled out our full 2016 legislative agenda – not just bills we’ve asked to be introduced, but bills that affect public policy in areas as diverse as criminal justice reform, educational access, pay equity, the minimum wage, and health care. I get a lot of questions about the decision to track so many bills, which is really fair, since 85 pieces of legislation (likely with more on the way) are a lot to keep on top of.
It would certainly be easier to look only to what we ourselves wrote and asked to be introduced, but I believe that does a disservice to LGBT people in our state. Of course we are concerned about explicit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and we fight hard for legislation to stop it. But we don’t live single-issue lives, and we can’t be blind to the effects of the long-term institutional discrimination against LGBT people that Louisiana has allowed to fester.
We do our best to bring these hidden consequences to light every time we come to the legislature. We know that employment discrimination makes LGBT folks vastly more likely than average to live in poverty, to have low-wage jobs, and to rely on social support programs such as SNAP and Medicaid to survive. Poverty and discriminatory policing make it more likely that LGBT people, particularly transgender people of color and LGBT youth, will be criminalized simply because of who they are. We don’t have to look far afield to see that this is happening – we know very well these effects are felt right here in Louisiana.
So when we look to promote legislation that would be good for the LGBT community and oppose bills that would do us harm, we have to make sure we account for the broader impact of these bills and the context in which our people live. That means supporting bills that improve access to basic services like SNAP and health care, pushing for a higher minimum wage, promoting positive alternatives to “zero-tolerance” school discipline that only pushes students out of school and into the juvenile justice system, working to reform juvenile justice itself, and much more. When you look at it in those terms, a legislative agenda with 85 bills almost seems like not enough.
With that in mind, I want to highlight a few bills from that exhaustive agenda, starting with our first victory of 2016:
- After intense community pressure, Rep. Valarie Hodges withdrew HB 542, which would have virtually required state agencies and private businesses to reject the dignity and basic rights of transgender people. This was one of the most blatant attacks on transgender people we’ve seen anywhere in the country, and its withdrawal is a testament to the strength of our grassroots power.
We have almost an embarrassment of good bills to support, and picking just a few was tough. Here’s a sampling of the ones I hope people are looking out for:
- This year, we’re proud to have filed an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) authored by Rep. Joe Bouie (bill number awaiting assignment). No one in Louisiana should be in danger of losing their job because of who they are or who they love — it’s just that simple.
- Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act (LANA). SB 332— Sen. J.P. Morrell, HB 501 — Rep. Pat Smith: The Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act adds sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to all of the state’s current nondiscrimination laws.
- Raise the Age Louisiana Act. SB 324 — Sen. J.P. Morrell: This bill increases the age for automatically trying someone as an adult from 17 to 18, an evidence-based change that lowers both risk and recidivism for Louisiana youth. EQLA is a member of the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition which supports common-sense juvenile justice reform.
- School discipline. HB 372 — Rep. Joe Bouie: Rep. Bouie’s school discipline bill promotes smart, proportionate approaches to discipline that keep kids in school and learning.
And as always, we’re speaking out against bills that would further marginalize our community or jeopardize the health and economic security of Louisiana families, including these:
- HB 597 — Rep. Mike Johnson: Rep Johnson’s latest anti-LGBT bill again threatens the rights of same-sex couples and harms Louisiana’s reputation on the national stage.
- SB 264 — Sen. Fred Mills: One of the worst of a slew of bills targeting women’s health care, this bill cuts off all public funding for any health care providers that also perform abortions.
Again, you can see our full legislative agenda on our blog, including all the bills that EQLA supports and opposes. We’ll keep this updated as the session goes on, since new bills can still be filed and legislation can be amended in interesting ways throughout the legislative process. I hope folks will join us in advocating for smart, progressive solutions that will move our state forward, improve our quality of life, and leave no Louisianian behind.
Matthew Patterson is a Baton Rouge native and LSU Ph.D. graduate. As managing director of Equality Louisiana, he advocates for policy and legislative change to achieve full lived and legal equality for all LGBT people and to create a more fair and just Louisiana.
Admin note: Due to my failure to share DK’s policy on originality in a timely way, this post also appears on Equality Louisiana’s website. I’m making an exception to the rule this time and hope to feature original content from Matthew in the future.
Thanks – Matt