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Voters in Orleans Parish will have the opportunity on November 16 (or, if they’re early voting from Nov 2-9) to add an amendment to the New Orleans City Charter to create a Human Rights Commission.

Ballot language for HRC Amendment – Art. V, Secs. 5-1101 through 5-1103 – CC:

Shall Article V of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans be amended to add Sections 5-1101 through 5-1103 thereto to create a local Human Rights Commission to safeguard all individuals in the City of New Orleans from discrimination and to exercise all powers, duties, and functions provided by applicable state and municipal law?

Currently, New Orleans has a Human Relations Commission, established by ordinance in 1991. We should be rightly proud of a forward thinking City Council that created this advisory body to prohibit discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing. Unfortunately, though, because of a court injunction, the existing ordinance has no process for enforcement. It means that if a resident has experienced discrimination, their options are to file an expensive lawsuit on their own or navigate a complex patchwork of federal and state enforcement bodies.

Louisiana state law (LA Rev Stat § 51:2236-2241 (2017)) allows cities to create a local human rights commission. Such a commission would provide a single place for New Orleanians to file discrimination complaints. State law outlines the administrative process, so complaints can be investigated and, many times, resolved through mediation and education instead of through expensive litigation. Should the arbitration not resolve the issue, a charter-recognized commission would be empowered to draft a finding of the violation of law and send it to Civil District Court for enforcement.

I support creating a Human Rights Commission in the City Charter because I believe doing so will better protect residents from discrimination and strengthen the New Orleans’ human rights laws.

For those who scoff at the need for such a commission in this day and age, I believe even a single discrimination complaint is a stain on New Orleans reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to visit or to stay. In fact, the 2018 Annual Report of the Human Relations Commission reports 25 discrimination complaints, clearly showing why we need to create a commission that can investigate, mediate and resolve discrimination complaints.

To those who fear additional litigation arising from this amendment, human rights commissions can often resolve discrimination complaints before they get to court, providing businesses and employers with an option to address issues and receive training.

I urge you to vote yes for the Human Rights Commission Amendment on November 16 to protect your rights and those of your neighbors.

Toward that end, I’m working with the Greater New Orleans Human Rights Coalition (www.gnohrc.org) for passage of this important ballot measure. Individuals, activists, business groups, LGBTQ organizations and civil rights groups all have stake in this initiative. Together, we can help safeguard everyone who calls New Orleans home.

Further information on this and other ballot measures is available from ActionNewOrleans.