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PERSPECTIVE: Local laws should reflect local values; Baton Rouge needs civil rights commission

PERSPECTIVE:  Local laws should reflect local values; Baton Rouge needs civil rights commission

As the capital and second largest city in Louisiana, Baton Rouge has great cultural, historical and economic significance. But is it a city of true opportunity? A lack of protections from discrimination would  indicate that Baton Rouge is not. This is because our municipal code does not currently declare civil rights for any of its citizens. More than 230 U.S. cities have some form of non-discrimination laws.

Many of these cities established commissions before the passage of the Civil Rights Act to protect their citizens that were not granted protections at the state and federal level. Many of these cities (such as Shreveport, Birmingham, and Jackson) have created  Civil Rights Commission which is a governing body that accepts complaints based upon discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations for protected classes.  

The structure and activities of a Civil Rights Commission in each city varies based on the language of the city’s municipal code and the needs of citizens, but generally they have acted as mediators between its citizenry and businesses. As time went on, these cities later amended their laws to include more groups of people to protect.  But it’s important to note that state and federal protections are lacking coverage for certain classes.

The citizens of Baton Rouge have always longed for corporations to see our city as a viable option for setting up offices.  Amazon was previously scouting cities to place its new HQ2 corporate offices.  Without something in place such as an ordinance and commission, Baton Rouge was quickly removed from any list of prospects. Charlotte, North Carolina, lost major attractions like the NCAA’s Final Four games to Louisiana’s own New Orleans because of lack of inclusive laws. Large corporations want to make sure that the customers and clients they bring to a city are welcomed wherever they go. In addition, each year, The Human Rights Campaign evaluates 509 cities including Baton Rouge.  The Human Rights Campaign is a well recognized, credible non-profit organization that advocates for civil rights across the nation. As of 2017, The Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index scored Baton Rouge 36 out of 100 points, which puts the city after New Orleans, Shreveport and Alexandria. If Baton Rouge were to adopt a civil rights ordinance and establish a commission it’s estimated the HRC score would almost double.

In 2017, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome issued an executive order to expand efforts to increase the enterprise participation of small businesses in city-parish contracts, including those owned by minorities, women and veterans. This effort was part of her goal to make Baton Rouge “a progressive, inclusive and just community.” A civil rights ordinance and having a civil rights commission is would be a step forward for Baton Rouge.  Since there is a lack of protections within the city-parish, cases of discrimination are currently deferred to state and federal policies that are not suited to the people of Baton Rouge.  Our local laws should reflect our local values and send the message to potential employers and employees that we are a welcoming city with a infamous Louisiana spirit.  

By Christine Assaf
Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge

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