BY: JC CANICOSA
Legislation to protect Louisiana students and workers from discrimination based on their natural or protective hairstyles failed to make it through the Louisiana Legislature for the second year in a row.
House Bill 667, authored by Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, failed Monday in the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee by a 6-8 vote.
Phelps’ legislation is modeled after the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), a national legislative effort that began in 2019 as a collaboration between the soapmaker Dove and three nonprofits: the National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty.
The campaign maintains that people ought to be allowed to wear their hair the texture it naturally grows out of their heads. More specifically, it argues that Black women should not be forced by their employers to use chemicals to straighten their hair.
So far, 15 states and more than 40 municipalities have enacted their versions of the CROWN Act.
Last month, the Democratic-led U.S. House passed a federal version of the CROWN Act in a 235-189 vote, with 14 Republicans joining with Democrats to approve the bill.
“As an elected official, I am able to perform my duties with my hair as it is or if it was in braids or twist,” Phelps, who is Black, said. “It’s what it is in my head that matters.”
Critics of the bill argued the legislation was duplicative of race-based discrimination that is already in law.
“(Natural hairstyles) are already immutable characteristics associated with race, and we already have a cause of action to sue based on race. Then why do we need (this legislation)?” said Rep. Ray Garofolo, R-Chalmette.
Last year, multiple bills to prohibit discrimination based on natural or protective hairstyles failed in the Louisiana Legislature. Senate Bill 61, sponsored by then-state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, passed unanimously in the Louisiana Senate and advanced from the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. But after Carter left for Congress, his bill wasn’t brought up for a vote on the House floor.