LeGrange, Georgia recently agreed to settle a lawsuit over access to basic utility services.
Civil rights groups in Georgia recently announced a settlement with the city of LaGrange. As part of the settlement, the city must “end policies that illegally restricted access to utility services and disproportionately affected Black and Latino residents.” The suit was originally filed back in May 2017 and argued LaGrange, which happens to be the sole provider of basic utilities in the city, “threatened to cut off utilities if residents didn’t pay outstanding municipal court fines.” On top of that, the suit alleged another policy “denied utility services to people who can’t provide a Social Security number and a photo ID issued by the state or federal government.”
The suit was filed on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, other civil rights groups, and individual residents. According to the plaintiffs, the city’s policies “violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” When commenting on the recent agreement, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said:
“This ruling sends a clear message that these kinds of discriminatory and harmful policies will not stand _ not just in LaGrange, but in any city across the country…We can no longer accept the criminalization of poverty. We are grateful for our courageous plaintiffs who have fought long and hard for this victory for themselves and their community. We know that when we join together to fight back, we win.”
The National Immigration Law Center is one of the groups that sued the city. As part of the settlement, the city will repeal the “ordinance that conditioned access to utility services on the payment of a non-utility debt.” Additionally, the city will remove “existing non-utility debt from city utility bills and agreed that it won’t disconnect or threaten to disconnect utilities because of debt not related to utilities,” according to the agreement. The agreement further reads:
“The city has also changed its utility application requirements to allow applicants to use additional forms of identification during the process, including allowing a foreign passport as valid photo identification and a tax identification number instead of a Social Security number for credit checks…The city also agreed to post written notices of the changes, in English and Spanish, on specified city webpages and social media sites and to include the notices in the first three monthly bills after the agreement becomes effective.”
The city will also pay the plaintiffs $450,00 to cover legal fees and other damages. When commenting on the settlement, Ernest Ward, the former president of the Troup County NAACP said:
“It brings much-needed changes to LaGrange’s Black and Brown communities while shining a light on the systemic problems in the city. It reinforces the racial justice work we’ve been doing for years and the work that remains to be done.”