FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–May 2, 2020

Advocates Object to Legislature’s Timing 

In a letter to Senate President Cortez and House Speaker Schexnayder, more than 20 advocacy organizations object to the timing of the state legislature re-convening.

NEW ORLEANS, LA | May 2, 2020—The COVID pandemic, and its resulting loss of life and livelihood, has hit Louisiana hard. The state legislature knows this all too well, having lost one of their own, Rep. Reggie Bagala–our prayers go out to his loved ones–and having nearly lost another member in Rep. Edward ‘Ted’ James.

Out of concern and respect for their lives, and out of concern and respect for the lives of every Louisianan, more than 20 advocacy organizations have signed onto a letter that we sent to Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder earlier today. In it, we detail several reasons why we object to their timing in reconvening the legislature. The letter is below:

Dear President of the Senate Page Cortez and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder,

As advocacy organizations who focus on issues of equity and justice, we are writing to voice our objection to your decision to reconvene the legislature on May 4. We appreciate the legislature has critically necessary, time-sensitive work ahead–but we believe it is a mistake to reconvene when our state has not met the parameters for easing social distancing restrictions, and while the communities we work in are still being disproportionately ravaged by this virus.

Louisiana’s most vulnerable communities, and especially our Black and Brown communities, are being hit the hardest by this pandemic. Now more than ever, their voices need full representation in the legislature. Yet, when their legislators are falling ill and caring for sick family members–when one legislator has recently passed from this virus and another came close to meeting the same fate–we are further diminishing their voice. Several legislators have already voiced these same concerns. 

Like most people in Louisiana during this pandemic, we advocates are also exceptionally concerned about our health and the health of our loved ones. We all feel a duty to be physically present at the legislature, to fight for the people of this state. And we worry about what might happen to our state’s most vulnerable communities, especially in these perilous times, if those of us who advocate on their behalf feel the need to stay home in order to protect our health. Nevertheless, we will show up.

We also question the necessity and practicality of going back into session with such haste. The legislature just announced committee schedules and pandemic protocols on Friday, for a session that begins on Monday, leaving little time for members of the legislature, advocates, and the media to prepare. Under these conditions, it’s difficult to argue that the public–the most important piece of this equation–will see this legislative session as transparent and meaningful.

Finally, we question your timing because of how the debate appears to be shaping up for the abbreviated session. Legislators are being told to defer any non-essential legislation, but tort “reform” will be at the top of the agenda. Our organizations regularly tour Louisiana, asking people what they care about, and we’ve never heard one person lift up “tort reform.” Meanwhile, people are dying and the economy is crashing.

If the legislature is only supposed to take up essential and/or emergency-related legislation, shouldn’t the body be focusing on issues that are truly relevant to people’s lives and to this public health crisis? Why not ensure that everyone who has lost their job over the past six weeks gets to keep their home, or institute paid sick leave to protect the health of frontline workers and the public, or reduce our incarcerated population in response to the growing health crisis in our jails and prisons?

This whole process can be accomplished in a more compassionate and equitable way. Easy solutions are available: 

  • Delay the start of the session until May 18
  • Lay out a detailed, transparent legislative schedule
  • Take time to identify essential legislation, and only consider legislation that relates to the essential functions of our government, or that is specifically COVID-related (e.g., addressing the financial devastation), or that advances public health (e.g., worker sick leave) 
  • Make publicly available a list of bills and resolutions that will be heard during this session and those that will be deferred to a special session(s) or indefinitely 
  • Plan out when a special session(s) will likely occur

We need a full discourse on the issues facing our state in this time of crisis, and all of the people of Louisiana need to have their say on those issues.

 

Signed,

Power Coalition for Equity and Justice

ACLU of Louisiana

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children

Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA)

Healthy Gulf

HousingLOUISIANA

HousingNOLA

Independent Women’s Organization

Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana

Louisiana Budget Project

Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights

Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center

Louisiana Progress

Louisiana Violence Reduction Coalition

National Birth Equity Collaborative

National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Greater New Orleans Chapter

New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice

Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition

Orleans Public Education Network

Ruston-Grambling NOW

Step Up Louisiana  

 

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice works to build voice and power in traditionally ignored communities, with a focus on communities of color. We are a coalition of groups from across Louisiana whose mission is to organize in impacted communities, educate and turn out voters, and fight for policies that create a more equitable and just system in Louisiana.  

What: Advocacy organizations send a letter of objection to the state legislature, arguing that their decision to re-convene on such a short timeline will inhibit equity, transparency, and debate during the legislative session.

When: May 2, 2020

Contacts:

Ashley Shelton, Executive Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (225) 802-2435, ashelton@powercoalition.org

Peter Robins-Brown, Communications Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (504) 256-8196, prb@powercoalition.org 

Feature image: Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, left, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, react after Cortez broke Schexnayder’s gavel for the opening of the 2020 general legislative session in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH108