2020 Legislative Session and Corona Virus Impact
CORONA VIRUS IMPACT ON THE 2020 LEGISLATIVE SESSION:
The Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana is eager to continue our advocacy efforts in criminal justice reform. But we also recognize that while we are advocates, we are also community members and citizens of our great community. Currently the Corona virus poses a substantial threat to Louisianans and cases will continue to grow throughout the state. Currently Governor Edwards and Mayor Cantrell have initiated measures and policies to limit people to people contact in an effort to slow down the spread of this potentially fatal and incurable disease.
As the Louisiana government continues to battle the Corona virus, including potential restrictions to public buildings and discouraging large public gatherings, our state's democracy will be at risk. How can state representatives pass criminal justice reform without listening to the voices of those impacted? How can citizens ensure they are heard if there are public health concerns about public transportation? Yes, JAC wants to see criminal justice reform across the state but state laws, policies, and reforms cannot be by the People if the People's voices cannot be heard or are limited because of concerns for their health. In short, Louisianans should not have to pick between their health and their democracy.
This is why JAC and our community partners are calling on the Louisiana legislature and state representatives to make a bold but important decision in these uncertain times. We are calling for the suspension of the 2020 legislative session to ensure that all of our community voices are heard and that our democracy can truly be a participatory one for all those impacted regardless of their health or socioeconomic status. Please read our open letter to the legislature below and contact your state representative here to tell them YOUR VOICE MATTERS and that you should not have to pick between your health or being heard at the state capitol.
To: Every Louisiana Legislator
March 15, 2020
RE: Louisiana Advocacy Community Requests Immediate Postponement of the 2020 Legislative Session
Dear Louisiana Legislature:
We write as members of the advocacy community, heartbroken by the outbreak of the coronavirus, but with ambitious legislative agendas that many of us have been building for years.
The time to stop the community spread of COVID-19 is now. We respect the efforts of the legislature to screen entrants to the capitol building, but feel that is an insufficient response to this public health crisis. However, we strongly disagree with any approach that would suspend Louisiana’s open meetings laws as a solution.
Whether the legislature decides to further limit public participation in the legislature or not, the very nature of this virus has already created a de facto impact on democracy. Many of the people we represent work hourly jobs with no sick pay and they are already unable to afford the travel expenses associated with coming to testify and participate in the session. We represent elderly, immunocompromised, and other populations who are afraid to leave their homes to enter the building, where hundreds of people pass in and out every day. Our members and constituents are single parents or people who cannot afford child care every day, and with school closures they must stay home to care for their families. By continuing the session as planned, you are already limiting the voices of impacted people that are critical to the furtherance of our democracy.
We serve the most vulnerable people in our communities. With the session continuing as planned, we are forced to make choices between spending 100% of our time working with our communities to survive this crisis or diverting resources to participate in a legislative session to defeat legislation that we believe would make the lives of our communities more difficult in the long run. We also believe that government agencies with custody of people we represent - state prisons and local jails, for example - should be spending their resources on planning and prevention, not attending legislative hearings.
We are members of the business community, and many of us are small businesses. We have staff who are sick and are already operating at half capacity and in addition to trying to prepare our businesses for what lays ahead. Expending our limited resources to participate in a legislative session and effectively represent the voices of those who are not able to attend themselves is harming our businesses. We are faced with the decision of whether to send our staff to the legislature, when the legislature is only screening for symptomatic individuals and we are learning that the spread of this virus is possible when people are asymptomatic.
We ask that all legislative committees and both chambers of the legislature immediately stand in recess and suspend the 2020 session until at least April 15, 2020 and that you communicate this plan to the public prior to Monday morning.
Finally, you are our colleagues and community members, the sponsors of our legislation and stakeholders in our work. We want you to be well and while we understand the weight on your shoulders, encourage you to care for yourselves and your families.
Please feel free to contact any of the individuals Cced on this email with questions or concerns.
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Inc.
ACLU of Louisiana
Citizen SHE United
Crescent City Media Group/Center for Civic Action
Daughters Beyond Incarceration
East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition
Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children
Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance
Innocence Project New Orleans
Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Louisiana Budget Project
Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights
Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center
Louisiana Moms Demand Action Volunteers
New Orleans Social Medicine Consortium
Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition
Power Coalition for Equity and Justice
P.R.E.A.C.H. Baton Rouge
Promise of Justice Initiative
Reentry Alliance of Louisiana
ReEntry Mediation Institute of Louisiana
Roots of Renewal
The First 72+
Voice of The Experienced (VOTE)