2015 Louisiana Legislative Session

PACE is very interested in several bills before the 2015 Louisiana Legislature that affect the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.  

The negative reaction to recent efforts to adopt a RFRA (“Religious Freedom Restoration Act” bill) targeting the LGBT community in Indiana clearly shows that business and industry in America (Tech industries to NASCAR) will not stand for discrimination targeted at LGBT people.  Contrary to what was widely reported, the Indiana bill was NOT the same as the federal RFRA or the RFRAs in other states, and the bill was specifically targeted at the LGBT community (as evidenced by the anti-gay activists at the bill-signing ceremony and their negative comments about the later “fixes” to the bill).  HB 707 below is a more extreme version of the Indiana RFRA.

Here are the PACE positions on three bills before the 2015 Louisiana Legislature:

HB 707 (Rep. Mike Johnson) – PACE strongly opposes this bill

This bill would forbid the state from taking any action against individuals, non-profit organizations, or for-profit businesses who act according to a religious or moral belief regarding the institution of marriage. Employers would be protected against sanctions by the state for denying benefits to employees in marriages they assert religious objections to, for denying service to such people, or for any other actions taken motivated by such a belief. The state would be forbidden from denying grants or contracts to organizations that discriminate against employees or clients based on a religious or moral belief about marriage.

This is an example of the “religious liberty” bills that have been filed in several dozen states that attempt to cloak discrimination against LGBT people, and specifically same-sex couples and their families, in the guise of the protection of religious practices. The bill would provide individuals, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit businesses with legal protections for almost any action they might take against employees or customers on the basis of a religious or moral conviction about the institution of marriage. Businesses could deny benefits to employees or deny services to same-sex couples without fear of reprisal. Licensed professionals (such as doctors, lawyers, therapists, contractors, etc.) would be able to turn down same-sex couples as clients without being subject to discipline or sanction by state licensing bodies. Nonprofits receiving grants or contracts from the state would be able to discriminate against their clients without fear of losing their contracts. Individuals or businesses would be able to receive damages and injunctions against the state even for threatened (rather than actual) “religious liberty” claims. Conversely, the bill explicitly forbids the “religious liberty” claim from being used to recognize same-sex relationships; it refuses to allow state employees to recognize or provide benefits to same-sex couples even if they have a sincerely held religious or moral belief that these relationships should be considered the same as a heterosexual couple’s marriage. The net effect of the bill is to introduce legal protections for anyone who wishes to discriminate against same-sex couples (or any other class of married people whose marriage does not comport with a particular religious or moral belief), particularly employers of people in same-sex relationships who wish to deny privileges and benefits to these employees. As we have recently seen after similar bills were proposed and passed in Indiana and Arkansas, the national business community firmly rejects such laws – major corporations such as Apple and Wal-Mart urged governors to veto the bills, the NCAA (both as an organization and in the form of individual statements from college athletics staff) and NASCAR rejected the idea that discrimination has any place in sport, and there was an immediate move among companies and government bodies to restrict employee travel to Indiana and a push for major conventions such as GenCon (which brings approximately $50 million in revenue to Indianapolis every year) to consider relocating. The mere proposal of such bills in other states provoked near-universal condemnation from citizens and businesses, and the passage of such a bill has already resulted in measurable harm to Indiana’s economy. Louisiana can ill afford to lose any tourism revenue or investments from private industry, and with the example of Indiana showing the harm that can be done by passing a bill of this kind, we should not go down the same bad road.

HB 612 (Rep. Austin Badon) – PACE strongly FAVORS this bill known as LANA: Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act.

LANA amends state protections and adds safeguards from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to current Louisiana nondiscrimination statutes in the fields of employment, housing, education, finance, public accommodations and criminal justice.  

Louisiana state law currently provides no protections for LGBT people, which allows LGBT people to be fired, even if they are the best employee, simply for being gay, and, in addition be denied housing and access to public accommodations.  The cities of Shreveport, Bossier City, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Monroe offer some form of employment protection for LGBT city or parish employees.  The City of Shreveport has protected its public LGBT employees since 2009, and in December, 2013, expanded its protections to the private sector in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations through passage (6-1) of the “Shreveport Fairness Ordinance” (that was unanimously endorsed by the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce Board).  New Orleans similarly protects its LGBT citizens in the private sector.  PACE believes that qualified, hard-working employees should be judged based on their work performance and not on arbitrary or irrelevant characteristics.  Business and industry agree. The April 1st New York Times reports: “More than three dozen chief executives and other senior Silicon Valley leaders issued a joint statement on Wednesday, asking state legislatures to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to their civil rights laws.” This “statement follows a firestorm over a new Indiana law” that was proposed and later modified. (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/01/tech-leaders-call-for-anti-discrimination-laws-to-protect-gays-in-all-50-states/?_r=0 )

Public policy experts also agree.  They find that any city hoping to succeed in a globally competitive market must be able to attract and retain the creative class of knowledge-based workers who are known for independent thinking, high tech skills, and innovative approaches to problem-solving.  These highly-talented workers abhor intolerance of diversity, and in particular intolerance of gay people, and will not move to a place that is unwelcoming to certain groups.  Louisiana needs to get in sync with corporate attitudes towards LGBT people:  89% of Fortune 500 companies (including all of Louisiana’s Fortune 500 companies) have policies that include sexual orientation, and 66% of Fortune 500 companies have policies that include gender identity.  In addition, the federal EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) ruled unanimously that discrimination based on gender identity is prohibited based on Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is a form of sex discrimination (04/20/2012). 

This comprehensive bill also adds “age”, sex” and/or “disability” to over 40 Louisiana nondiscrimination statute provisions currently excluding those terms from the lists of personal characteristics protecting our most vulnerable citizens from unlawful discriminatory practices.

HB 632 (Rep. Karen St. Germain) – PACE strongly favors this bill

This bill would forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in both public and private employment. Religious employers and companies with fewer than 20 employees in the state would be exempt.

State law currently provides no protections for LGBT people – anyone may be fired from their job, whether it is with the state or with a private company, solely because they are gay or transgender, regardless of any other factor. Some cities have issued human resources policies forbidding some varieties of this sort of discrimination for municipal employees, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Shreveport, Bossier City, Lake Charles, and Monroe. New Orleans has had a municipal ordinance forbidding discrimination against gay people in both public and private employment since 1991 and against transgender people since 1998, and of course Shreveport passed a similar ordinance in December 2013. Across the United States, the business community has come to a consensus that LGBT-inclusive employment policies are the right thing to do both for employees and employers. Among Fortune 500 companies, 89% have adopted corporate policies forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 66% have policies forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Major corporations have found that such nondiscrimination laws and policies are a vital tool for recruiting the best and brightest employees – they send a strong signal that what matters for success is the quality of your work, not who you are or who you love. In the realm of public policy, experts agree that any city or state hoping to attract and grow private industry must establish policies that are proven essential to attract and retain knowledge-based workers, and LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws are a key tool in doing that. As 19 states and hundreds of municipalities have already done so, passing these kinds of laws has simply become normative in the United States in the 21st century. Passing HB 632 would make Louisiana a beacon in the Southeast and maintain our business competitiveness among the growing list of states that have already adopted these protections.