A proposal aimed at ending discrimination against Black people who choose to wear their hair naturally breezed through the Senate with unanimous backing, but ran into a thornier hearing Thursday with Republican House lawmakers.
The House labor committee voted 7-4 to advance the bill to the full House for debate, but supporters may see further resistance from Republicans in the majority-GOP chamber who said they see the proposal as a burdensome regulation that could lead to lawsuits against businesses.
Sen. Troy Carter, the New Orleans Democrat who sponsored the measure, said he’ll keep working with Republican lawmakers in hopes of easing their objections and getting the anti-discrimination proposal to the governor’s desk.
“It’s a deeper issue than many may realize,” Carter told his colleagues. “I commit to work with you.”
The bill, which would be called The Crown Act, would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against people because of their hair texture or protective hairstyles such as braids and twists. It would spell out that Louisiana’s existing anti-discrimination law, which bars employers from discriminatory practices based on a worker’s race, religion, sex or national origin, would include hair texture and hairstyles in the prohibited discrimination based on race.
Several states have passed similar laws, and the measure sailed through the Senate on Monday with a 36-0 vote and little discussion.
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But Republicans on the House committee split on whether to support the bill, with several saying they worried businesses could be fighting lawsuit related to rules that employers enact banning facial hair or restricting hair lengths on men.
Rep. Dodie Horton, a Haughton Republican, said her husband is a firefighter who has to follow policies that keep him from having a beard and require his hair to stop above the shirt collar.
“This infringes on the employer’s ability to have a policy,” she said.
Carter, who will be leaving the state Senate next week after his recent election to Congress, said lawmakers were misunderstanding the purpose of the bill. He said employer restrictions on facial hair and hair length would not be affected as long as they apply equally to everyone, because the measure deals with natural hairstyles and discrimination based on race.
“This is about a basic liberty that all of you enjoy,” Carter said.
Horton said she did not see a problem that needed fixing.
“With all due respect, I could probably fill this room and outside with people who feel differently,” Carter replied.
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Horton ended up voting to send the bill to the full House for debate.
At one point during Thursday’s hearing, Rep. Tammy Phelps, a Shreveport Democrat co-sponsoring the bill, explained to white female committee members the different reactions that chemicals used in hair styling produce for Black women as compared to white women.
“Our hair texture is totally different,” Phelps, who is Black, told the women.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Republican from Denham Springs, said the language of the proposal would be confusing to a business owner.
“I think we’re putting more and more regulations on businesses,” Hodges said. “They pay the taxes that our economy operates on.”
She questioned whether people had ever been fired by an employer because they chose to wear a natural hairstyle.
“Has that really happened?” Hodges said.
Carter replied: “It’s egregious, but it’s real.”
He could not persuade Hodges, who was one of the four Republicans who voted against the bill.
Democrats on the committee backed the measure, along with three Republicans: Horton, Mike Echols of Monroe and Bob Owen of Slidell. In addition to Hodges, Republican Reps. Beryl Amedee of Houma, Raymond Crews of Shreveport and Larry Frieman of Abita Springs voted against the bill.
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