August 05, 2021 10:00 AM
City Council Chamber
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NEW ORLEANS - During today’s regular meeting, the City Council approved a series of significant ordinances to decriminalize marijuana possession, established a new special committee to discuss issues related to reapportionment, called on the City Attorney to work with the Court to explore alternative options in the OPSO Consent Decree Litigation, and encouraged swift action to facilitate quiet zones along the Mississippi River.
Additionally, the Council passed an ordinance to bring the maximum compensation for employees of certain licensed charitable games of chance into conformity with state law, authorized updated requirements and procedures for the City’s tow allocation program, and adopted a resolution supporting a State application to create the "South Broad Street Cultural District."
Council Pardons Thousands of Simple Marijuana Possession Charges with Approval of Historic Decriminalization Package
The Council passed several major agenda items to end penalties for small amounts of cannabis possession and allow the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers to focus their efforts on reducing recent spikes in violent crime.
Ordinance 33,328 amends the City Code by clarifying the pardon power of the Mayor and City Council and allowing them to apply that authority to authorize pardons of marijuana possession. As outlined in the legislation, Black communities continue to bear the brunt of enforcement related to these crimes. A recent study shows that Black individuals were 3.4x more likely than their non-Black counterparts to be arrested for marijuana possession in Louisiana, despite comparable national usage rates. Additionally, these types of arrests have been on the steady rise across the state, increasing by over 18% between 2010 and 2018. This decriminalization ordinance will remove the negative consequences of possessing marijuana for personal use and reduce the collateral damage associated with a criminal record.
Ordinance 33,330 authorizes another amendment to the City Code to exclude marijuana testing from certain drug testing programs and marijuana accessories from the definition of drug paraphernalia. It also clarifies that officers have discretion not to issue a summons for marijuana possession in circumstances where a conviction is unlikely.
“These new policies will help NOPD build community trust and use saved manpower hours to address major issues like shootings, murders, and the overall prevention of violence in our city,” said Council President Helena Moreno. “We must begin to rethink the historical practices that have over-incarcerated, over-fine, and stigmatized our communities for decades. The time to end the criminalization of cannabis possession is now.”
Louisiana continues to fall further behind the rest of the nation with its ongoing pursuit of a harmful and counterproductive war on drugs that disproportionately targets minority communities, entangling hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system each year as a result. The package of legislation approved by the Council today represents a huge step forward, effectively pardoning thousands of summonses issued by NOPD and creating an innovative “automatic pardon” for any future summonses to remove penalties for small possession of cannabis in New Orleans.
"For far too long, the scales of who is punished and who is allowed to benefit from the production, sale, and use of cannabis have been off-balance and favored certain races and classes of people over others. A reexamination of the policies implemented during the war on drugs makes it painfully clear that the strategy was over-aggressive and misguided. Today's vote is a great first step to stem the impacts of that negative legacy and begin the work of repairing those who have lost their lives and livelihood,” said Council Vice President Donna M. Glapion.
“Utilizing our limited public safety resources in the most efficient way makes sense. Our focus should be on violent criminals and those who would hurt others. Pardoning these offenses and freeing up resources in our overburdened criminal justice system are important steps towards making our city much safer for all of us,” said District "B" Councilmember Jay H. Banks.
"I was proud to vote in favor of this critical legislation. We have been criminalizing our residents, and disproportionately criminalizing Black men and women, for using a drug that most of us believe should be legal for too long. Today was an important step in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues as we fight to make the city we love more equitable," said District "D" Councilmember Jared Brossett.
“Today's passage of the cannabis ordinances was a big win towards the decriminalization of marijuana as well as the exoneration of nearly 10,000 people, that's huge. Now NOPD officers can spend more time fighting crime rather than spending hours processing simple possession of marijuana cases,” said District "E" Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen.
In addition, the Council passed Ordinance 33,329, which expressly authorizes NOPD to enforce the Smoke-Free Air Act only via summons and continues to prohibit marijuana usage in public places to ensure the maintenance of public health protections for all who live, work or visit the city of New Orleans.
Ordinances 33,328, 33,329 & 33,330 will take effect on September 15, 2021.
Councilmember Moreno with local advocacy groups, including commonsenseNOLA, The First 72+, Vera Institute of Justice, and more at today's meeting
Local & Federal Governments Urged to Establish Neighborhood Quiet Zones
With its adoption of Resolution R-21-309, the Council requested the Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which governs the safety of the nation’s railroad system, to establish a process for quiet zones in an effort to provide relief from the routine sounding of horns to nearby local communities.
The resolution also urged the City of New Orleans to initiate efforts to create quiet zones in neighborhoods along the Mississippi River from Audubon in District A to the Bywater in District C. Residents, businesses, and institutions located in neighborhoods along the Public Belt have long sought relief from the ongoing noise disruption caused by passing trains and horn soundings. They deserve support from the City in finding a solution. Therefore, the Council is asking the City of New Orleans to either initiate or continue with current efforts to create the requested quiet zones in these neighborhoods and find and/or dedicate the necessary public and private resources.
“As a major port city, with access to six major railroads, we have to find the right balance for residents who deal with daily delays from train crossings and noise throughout the day and night. The FRA is already doing the groundwork to mitigate some of these issues with studies across the city," said District "C" Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer. "That’s why I’ve drafted this resolution asking for an update that we can share with our residents, who are affected across the City but particularly along the river in Council Districts A, B, and C."
"We have been working with residents, the Administration, and the Federal Railroad Administration on this issue," said District "A" Councilmember Joe Giarrusso. "With so many people working from home now, quality of life issues are even more noticeable. We look forward to helping solve this noise problem for residents in District A."
Per the resolution, the City must provide the Council with a progress report on this issue by September 1, 2021.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Public Belt Railroad
Revised Requirements and Procedures for Tow Allocation Program
Approved Ordinance 33,387 provides a revised procedure for the City’s tow allocation program, establishing updated fees, penalties, and other requirements within the City Code. This legislation modernizes Chapter 162 to be in line with the LA Administrative Code while eliminating duplication and repealing the remainder of Article 12, which deals with towing zones no longer used by the City. The authority for the City to establish tow zones if they become needed at any point in the future will be retained in Article 11.
The ordinance will streamline Article 11 and 12 of Chapter 162 into a single, more easily understood article.
Photo courtesy of NOLA Towing Service
Councilmembers Continue to Push for Alternative Options for Mentally Ill Inmates
As part of continued efforts to find a better and more equitable solution to addressing the needs of the mentally ill inmate population, Councilmembers adopted Resolution R-21-307 calling on the City Attorney to request a settlement/status conference with the Court to explore alternative options in the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) Consent Decree Litigation - an ongoing civil rights litigation matter involving conditions of confident at the Orleans Justice Center (OJC).
As stated at its July 15 regular meeting, the Council strongly prefers the retrofit option of the existing jail building over the construction of the new, 89-bed Phase III facility and urges all involved parties (including the Sheriff, Department of Justice, and the plaintiffs) to negotiate in good faith toward that goal. This debate has largely overlooked other potential possibilities, including: a yet-to-be-explored viable option that would allay the Court’s concerns over constitutional housing conditions for those with mental illness, better account for the population declines at the OJC, avoid an unproductive dispute with the Sheriff over ownership of FEMA funds, and reduce the overall financial burden on taxpayers.
The Council hopes that a good-faith and speedy discussion about an alternative will finally provide the City and involved parties an opportunity to reach a long-elusive compromise in this matter. It remains deeply sensitive to the concerns over jail expansion and mass incarceration and therefore encourages that any attempt to entertain an alternative option be coupled with a reduction in the OJC’s population cap from its current limit of 1,250 people.
New Special Committee on Reapportionment
The Council approved Motion M-21-306, establishing a new special committee to discuss issues related to reapportionment. The Election and Reapportionment Committee will be composed of the whole City Council, including each of the seven members.
The Committee will serve to enhance opportunities and create a vehicle for members of the public to engage and provide valuable input in the redistricting process.
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New Orleans City Council