Is a Vote No for LA House Bill 196 a Vote Yes for Slavery?

Louisiana State Penitentiary_Louisiana_Entrance” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the most critical Criminal Justice Reforms is happening around the country. That is, state legislatures are amending their state Constitution which speaks of Slavery and Involuntary Servitude. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Representative Edmond Jordan spoke before the Committee on Civil Law and Procedure on May 11, 2021. Rep. Jordan talked about why it was vital to vote yes on House Bill 196 to make involuntary servitude illegal with no exceptions. 

Everyone was not in agreement with this bill; you had Rep. Seabaugh state that, “This might be one of the dangerous bills we’ve seen this session, simply because I’m afraid this might open the door to a legal challenge of every felony conviction in the state of Louisiana, and that’s just not a can of worms I’m willing to open right now.” It seems as if Rep. Seabaugh is more worried about the litigation that might pursue rather than doing what’s right. However, not everyone was against this House Bill. Rep. Landy thought it was a brilliant idea quoting, “if people incarcerated were able to build up a little fund, they could help support the family that very well need them…I feel like this would be a great investment to help recidivism….I think it progressive and very open-minded and what we should be thinking about in criminal justice reform in the state.”

There were several individuals from many organizations and private citizens who testify about the importance of this bill. During which time some of the representatives played semantics with the wording “Slavery and Involuntary Servitude,” but that was until Amanda Smith from Decarcerate Louisiana gave the definitions of both words and quoted, “We really don’t need to argue the difference between slavery and involuntary servitude they both are immoral and unethical.” And I agree. Instead of tackling the central problem, the representatives choose the wording to argue over for several minutes.

I couldn’t agree with Rep. Johnson any more when he stated, “…if you were to disagree and vote against this bill it might appear to some that a vote no would be a vote yes for slavery” there is no doubt in my mind that that is precisely what would happen. I couldn’t think of one reason why someone would vote no on this bill unless they’re all for inmates working for free, with very little pay or against their will. 

I was starting to believe that the introduction of this House Bill by Rep Jordan was agitating some of the representatives because Rep. Larry Frieman said, “I don’t see a obvious purpose of to what you’re doing and the fact that our constitution is consistent to the federal constitution I think there is no need to address this.” To make that bold statement shows the unawareness of Rep. Frieman; just because the United States Constitution states it, it does not mean it’s correct and, it can’t be amended. 

The nine representatives Beryl Amedee, Michael Echols, Julie Emerson, Larry Frieman, Mike Johnson, Nicholas Muscarello Jr., Richard Nelson, Thomas Pressly, and Alan Seabaugh, all voted against this bill, and I believe they’re missing the bigger picture. However, the five representatives Wilford Carter, Sr.; Patrick Jefferson; Sam Jenkins, Jr.; Mandie Landry, and Ed Larvadain, who voted for it, were looking long term had the bill been passed. It’s more than just taking out the word Slavery and Involuntary Servitude; it’s a gateway to lowering Recidivism rates, adequate pay for the inmates, less criminal activity happening in the prisons, there’s employment after incarceration, rehabilitation in the prisons, less strict laws that target the black and brown population, less over crowded jails, and the list goes on. There is no reason why a representative should have voted no on this bill.

The passing of Juneteenth last month brought some hope with the Slavery Clause being taking out of the 13th Amendment on a federal level. You have a couple of members of congress tackling this issue right now with hope of it passing in the future. 

By: Leon Lockett

Juris Doctorate Candidate Southern University Law Center

Law & Racism Professor Angela Bell

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