December 17, 2020 10:00 AM
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NEW ORLEANS - During its last regular meeting of 2020, the City Council passed the CROWN Act to prohibit discrimination based upon hairstyles, honored the late Norma Jane Sabiston, approved the final name change of Jefferson Davis Parkway to Norman C Davis effective January 1, advanced significant criminal justice reform initiatives, voted to deny two of Folgers' six ITEP applications and made formal requests of the City to hold a public COVID-19 memorial and prioritize eliminating furloughs for public safety employees.
Additionally, the Council transitioned its at-large roles, appointing Councilmember Helena Moreno as president for the remainder of Councilmember Jason Williams' term.
Councilmembers Moreno, Banks, Giarrusso & Brossett thanking Councilmember Williams for his years of service and friendship at the conclusion of his last meeting on the City Council
CROWN Act to Prohibit Discrimination Based on Hairstyles
The Council unanimously approved Ordinance 33,184, amending the City Code to prohibit discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based upon the hairstyles associated with a particular race. The legislation was developed by Councilmember Moreno in partnership with local advocates, including Executive Director of Citizen SHE United Nia Weeks and “Free The Hair” movement founder Professor Wendy Greene.
According to recent national studies, Black women are 50% more likely to be discriminated against or lose their jobs due simply to the way they choose to style their hair. There is current federal legislation called the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act that aims to correct racial injustices by making hair discrimination illegal at the federal level. The U.S. House of Representatives voted and passed the CROWN Act; however, the U.S. Senate still needs to hear and pass the bill.
In the interim, cities and states around the country have taken significant steps to implement similar protections in their local communities, such as California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. The Council believes it is far past time for New Orleans to join in on this national movement, representing its ongoing efforts to address racial discrimination and injustice citywide.
"We know an overwhelming number of Black women report that they change their natural hairstyle to avoid prejudice in the corporate work environment. It's unfair and speaks of pervasive discrimination in the workplace. We won't let it happen here," said Councilmember Moreno. "New Orleans must do better and dismantle long-standing barriers to success for black women, and this is just another step in creating an equal playing field where all can succeed. I want to thank advocates like Nia Weeks from Citizen SHE for helping bring this issue forward."
While the ordinance approved today only applies within the boundaries of the City of New Orleans, Councilmembers, community partners, and allies are seeking the introduction of similar legislation before the Louisiana Legislature to ensure these protections are applicable statewide across the private and public sectors.
For more information on the CROWN Act, view last week’s Community Development Committee presentation here.
Councilmembers Celebrate Life and Legacy of Norma Jane Sabiston
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-429, recognizing the lifetime accomplishments of Norma Jane Sabiston following her tragic and sudden passing earlier this month. An alumnus of Marion Abramson High School and the University of New Orleans, Sabiston spent 28 years on Capitol Hill, where she served several prominent state leaders, including Mary Landrieu, Billy Tauzin, John Breaux, and more.
She was a fearless advocate who spent her career fighting to restore Louisiana’s coastline and mentoring young female leaders to help them grow and develop as influential politicians. Councilmembers shared personal remarks and stories reflecting on Sabiston’s incredible impact, both here in New Orleans and across the country, as a trusted advisor, trailblazer, and friend. Her unwavering commitment to public service and her surrounding community will never be forgotten.
“It was really amazing to get to work with Norma Jane on her last campaign and see first-hand how much of an inspiration she was for all those she touched -- she was such a rare spirit, especially in the world of politics,” said Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer. “Regardless of what issues or disagreements she may have had with someone, her door was literally always open to them. She knew all too well the obstacles young women in politics had to overcome and spent her life guiding and helping us to do just that. I’ve yet to meet anyone else like her in this line of work, and I doubt I ever will. Her gentle guidance will be deeply missed.”
Criminal Justice Reform Initiatives Move Forward
The Council took significant steps toward a more just and equitable criminal justice system with its approval of several initiatives spearheaded by Councilmember Williams. The body heard from members of the public and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Chief Shaun Ferguson prior to voting on two ordinances relative to a summons in place of arrest and citation, and new regulations for the use of surveillance technology.
Per Ordinance 33,020, officers must issue a summons in lieu of arrest for misdemeanor violations, except under certain outlined circumstances. This change is intended to permit New Orleans Police Officers more opportunities to issue summons for low-level and non-violent offenses and thereby avoid unneeded physical contact between the public and justice system agencies. The measure also falls in line with system-wide reform aimed at reducing the jail population.
“It is critical that we lower instances of law enforcement officers coming into unnecessary contact with the public. Epidemiologists have highlighted our traditional criminal legal system practices as especially problematic when it comes to covid spread. We have to remember that there are several different points of contact for a person following an arrest, and we have to be sure we help officers by expanding those circumstances in which a summons is appropriate," said Councilmember Williams.
The Council also passed Ordinance 33,021, along with a series of corresponding amendments, to create regulations pertaining to the City’s use of surveillance technology. As stated in the ordinance, the Council has found that unchecked surveillance and data collection can lead to serious infringements on important constitutional freedoms by depriving individuals of their right to privacy or worse.
“We want our law enforcement to be able to use the tools at their disposal to solve crime and protect public safety,” he continued. “We cannot have flawed technology that has been proven defective by local and national experts be used to take someone’s life or liberty. Law enforcement has already employed this technology without the proper guardrails, and we think it imprudent to allow that to continue unchecked.”
In light of its work to reduce the jail population and protect all the citizens of New Orleans, and especially those historically marginalized groups, the Council has significant concerns about the role of facial recognition technologies and surveillance databases in exacerbating racial and other bias. If these tools are to be used in New Orleans, the Council stresses the need for continued oversight and periodic evaluation to ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place and adhered to. It will also be critical to ensure the technology’s benefits outweigh its financial and societal costs.
Council Calls for Public Memorial to Honor Those Lost During Pandemic
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-436 formally requesting the City to hold a public memorial in remembrance of all those that have been lost from COVID-19 at a time when it is deemed safe and feasible to do so. Since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in New Orleans on March 9, the virus has claimed hundreds of lives, causing widespread devastation to local families, businesses, and communities citywide.
As a result of ongoing safety and health regulations limiting gatherings to prevent further spread, residents have been largely deprived of memorializing their loved ones in true New Orleans fashion. While the safety of the public has always been and remains the Council’s utmost priority during this time of crisis, it also stressed the importance of commemorating those we have lost to promote collective healing, unity, and resilience in the months ahead.
Jefferson Davis Parkway to Become Norman C Francis on New Year's Day
After several months of hard work by the Council, alongside its many community partners and allies, Jefferson Davis Parkway will finally become Norman C Francis Parkway, effective January 1, 2021. Ordinance 33,193 legally changes all references of Jefferson Davis Parkway or Jeff Davis Parkway to Norman C Francis Parkway or Moss Street.
Residents and businesses along the impacted roadway will need to update their addresses according to several guidelines and provisions outlined by the City. Anyone with questions or in need of additional information can call 3-1-1 or (504) 658-2299.
Council Denies Two ITEP Applications from Folgers and Adopts Separate Resolution to Prevent Public Safety Furloughs
The Council voted to deny two of the six total ITEP applications submitted by The Folger Coffee Company, deferring the remaining four instruments (agenda items 3b, 3c, 3d, 3e) to its next regular meeting on January 14.
As noted in the resolutions voted on by the Council today (R-20-427 & R-20-428), its decision to deny is based upon unprecedented and unforeseen financial exigencies, irrespective of any non-compliance with the criteria articulated by the City. As New Orleans continues to face an unprecedented financial crisis and economic downturn due to COVID-19, the Council feels the benefits outlined by Folgers are insufficient to outweigh the City's dire need for tax revenue.
The Council adopted another resolution (R-20-430) asking the Administration to prioritize eliminating furloughs for public safety employees, including those in the Fire Department, Police Department, Emergency Medical Services, by utilizing new ad valorem revenue realized from properties that are subsequently denied during the ITE review process.
Chief of Staff
New Orleans City Council