Ryan Nelsen | LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — A bill banning employers from discriminating against natural hairstyles advanced through a House committee Thursday, even though four Republicans objected to it.
The bill, written by state Sen. Troy Carter, a Democrat from New Orleans who was recently elected to the U.S. Congress, adds natural hair to the traits Louisiana companies cannot discriminate against when hiring. The House Labor Committee approved the bill in a 7-4 vote.
“The issue of natural hair and descendants who are of African American descent particularly, who opt to wear their hair natural, non-permed and without chemicals should be able to do that,” said Carter.
The bill had passed 8-0 in a Senate committee and continued its success in the full Senate, passing 31-0.
Carter said the bill does not interfere with employers having requirements for hair length or facial hair, citing that firefighters need shorter hair and that some jobs prohibit facial hair on men.
“If there are rules that are in place that govern all hair, it just can’t distinguish or discriminate against someone because of the texture,” said Carter.
Another worry from critics on the panel was that business owners would be confused on what is a natural hairstyle. The committee used examples of audience and panel members to demonstrate what the bill was describing.
The four Republicans who voted against the bill were Reps. Beryl Amedée of Houma, Valarie Hodges of Denham Springs, Raymond Crews of Bossier City and Larry Frieman of Abita Springs.
Every Democrat in the committee voted favorably as well as three Republican representatives–Michael Echols of Monroe, Dodie Horton of Haughton and Charles Owen of Rosepine.
Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, presented the bill alongside Carter and will continue as co-author as Carter transitions to the U.S. House. Phelps aided Carter in explaining that the bill was to protect hairstyles including natural, braids, locks and twists.
“This bill has been passed all over the country,” said Carter. “It has been vetted by every legal apparatus you could imagine. And there’s been no lawsuits to date. There has been no confusion to date. It’s basic liberty.”
Carter also amended the bill to coincide with a federal bill, the Crown Act, that would do the same thing. CROWN is an acronym for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. If enacted, Louisiana would join eight other states that have passed laws prohibiting discrimination on hair texture.
The bill would expand a Louisiana law that companies cannot discriminate when hiring an employee based on their race, color, religion, sex or natural origin.
When questioned by Rep. Frieman if the bill would bring litigation costs, Carter said, “the cost of freedom, the cost of expression is one that we as legislators raise our right hand to uphold, and that’s why I’ve written this bill.”
The bill now heads to the House floor to be further debated.