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Advocacy Groups File Restraining Order Against the Louisiana Legislature

— February 23, 2024

Complaint brought by advocacy groups PJI and VOTE demand a halt to legislation until a constitutional “public hearing” can be held that allows full citizen participation.

The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) and Voice of The Experienced (VOTE) asked a state district court to halt further consideration of HB4, HB6, HB9, and HB10 in the Louisiana House of Representatives until a public hearing is held that complies with the Louisiana Constitution. Louisiana House Speaker Phillip DeVillier and Representative Debbie Villio, Chair of the House Committee for the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJ), were named in the court filings.

Update: The TRO was denied and a hearing will be set for consideration of the preliminary injunction sometime next week.

“Yesterday and today, your Committee departed from normal procedures by arbitrarily limiting the public testimony of the opponents of the bill,” said Bruce Reilly, VOTE’s Deputy Director. “Many Louisiana citizens, including VOTE members and staff of multiple advocacy organizations, were denied the right to participate in the public hearing on these important bills. The Committee cannot prevent members of the public from participating in a public hearing.”

In hearings held Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the special session on crime, the ACJ committee imposed limits of three minutes per speaker and one hour total for proponents and opponents, respectively. These arbitrary limits resulted in citizens being cut off while providing their remarks and others being denied an opportunity to speak at all. The Louisiana Constitution states that “[n]o bill shall be considered for final passage unless a committee has held a public hearing and reported on the bill.” (La. Const. Article III §15(D), emphasis added). Limitations on public comment arbitrarily imposed by a legislative committee which result in the denial of citizen participation are unconstitutional as they make the hearing less than fully public.

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“It seems the Governor and Chair Villio are trying to rush very significant legislation through the committee process by limiting the public participation of opponents,” said Samantha Kennedy, PJI Executive Director. “The state constitution demands a process that allows for full and meaningful participation by the public, regardless of whether the views expressed are in support or opposed or neutral. Arbitrary limits on public participation in the legislative process do not advance the goals of transparency, open government, and civic engagement by people who take the time to go to the Capitol to make their voices heard.”

The court motions were filed on behalf of three individual petitioners: Norris Henderson and Ronald Marshall of VOTE and Erica Navalance of PJI. The bills at issue are slated for House floor consideration this evening, so a court decision is anticipated soon.

Link to the Motion for Entry of Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Mandatory Injunction

Link to Petition for Declaratory and Permanent Injunctive Relief

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