Fighting for Fair Housing: LaFHAC’s Legislative Priorities in Review

After Governor Jeff Landry’s inauguration in January, and with a Republican super majority, the Louisiana State Legislature has been in session for the majority of 2024. The first special session on redistricting ended with a win for Louisiana; legislators have finally approved a new congressional map that created Louisiana’s second majority-Black district. Despite legal challenges in lower courts, the Supreme Court ordered that the redistricting maps with two majority-Black districts be used in this fall’s elections. 

In the second special session on crime, legislators took directives from Governor Landry to pass barbaric, and punitive policies aimed at lengthening sentences, restricting parole eligibility, and lowering the age for juveniles tried as adults. And during the Regular Legislative Session, criminal justice reform was just one area that saw regressive change. Lawmakers took aim at protected classes by writing discrimination into law and passing a package of anti-LGBTQ and reproductive health related bills that had been held a bay for years, all with the looming threat of a two-week Constitutional Convention.

There were some positive outcomes, like the success of Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center and our partners at stopping Airbnb’s efforts to take away local control over short-term rentals. However, the work of the Louisiana Legislature this past spring will make life more difficult and less just for hardworking people across the state. 

From stricter bans on service animals to utility bill transparency, here is a review of LaFHAC’s priorities from this session. 

House Bill 333: Fair Chance in Housing

For the third consecutive year, LaFHAC worked closely with the Fair Chance in Housing Coalition on House Bill 333, by Representative Matthew Willard. Aimed to provide protections for formerly incarcerated people and people with experience in the justice system, this bill would have required housing providers to disclose what kinds of criminal backgrounds result in the denial of a rental application, allow applicants to provide supplementary information, and provide for a refund of the application fee if the housing provider does not provide this basic transparency. This basic transparency is common sense consumer protection, which would do the bare minimum to assist people with records and those returning to their communities after incarceration.

Unfortunately, House Bill 333 did not pass out of the House Commerce Committee during its March 25th hearing despite excellent testimony from our coalition members from Step Up Louisiana, Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, Power Coalition, Louisiana Progress, and VOTE. 

Although the Fair Chance in Housing Act did not progress at the legislature this session, LaFHAC, along with our coalition partners, remain committed to passing this crucial legislation. With nearly half of all adults in Louisiana having a criminal record, we need basic transparency in the rental application process so people with criminal records know what records will disqualify them from housing opportunities before they waste valuable time and money on background checks they will not pass. The challenges of returning home after being incarcerated are grueling, and safe and healthy housing is key to helping people with records secure housing and rebuild their lives. 

House Bill 407: Service Animal Integrity Act

House Bill 407 by Representative Joe Stagni was approved by the full Louisiana legislature and signed into law by Governor Landry at the end of May. This discriminatory legislation requires vulnerable populations to wait weeks and spend untold amounts of money on multiple healthcare visits before having the opportunity to benefit from a service animal in the home. These obstacles are not only unfair, they’re illegal. Representatives from Louisiana Fair Housing and Disability Rights Louisiana testified against the bill in the House and Senate Health and Welfare Committees, identifying how the bill violated both the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. Although legislators were warned not only about the bill’s federal right’s violations, but also of the high rates of discrimination that disabled people face when seeking reasonable accommodations from housing providers, the bill will go into effect on August 4th. Read more about the bill’s misconceptions aqui.

House Bill 913: Utility Bill Transparency

A utility transparency bill by Representative Selders, House Bill 913, now awaits the governor’s signature. In committee, Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis made lawmakers aware that housing providers were not providing transparency in the billing and payment process for utilities. Commissioner Lewis received an influx of complaints to his district office from LSU students after apartment complex management required tenants to transfer their utility bills to a third-party provider or risk daily fines. These third-parties often left out the individual’s name and/or an itemized list of the individual’s utility usage, both basic measures of transparency necessary for tracking monthly expenses. 

As a result of House Bill 913, housing providers are now required to provide tenants a copy of their original utility bill if requested, which will give renters more control over their finances and utility usage. LaFHAC thanks Representative Selders and Commissioner Lewis for this smart and effective legislation. 

House Bill 591 and House Bill 625: Airbnb at the State Capitol

Thanks to supporters like you and over 1,000 residents across Louisiana taking action to oppose Airbnb at the State Capitol, two attempts by Airbnb to undermine or eliminate local control over short-term rentals died in committee this legislative session. LaFHAC is tremendously grateful to each one of you who contacted the House Commerce Committee to speak out against this corporate endeavor to strip local governments of regulatory control over short-term rentals.  

The first bill by Representative Lyons, House Bill 591, aimed to prevent local government’s ability to regulate online marketplaces like Airbnb and VRBO, taking away key enforcement measures that help target some of the worst short-term rental operators. Though Representative Lyons and the Airbnb lobby attempted to present the bill as an endeavor to protect all online transactions, the Commerce Committee quickly uncovered that the bill was specific to protecting corporate short-term rental priorities, leading to outspoken opposition from committee members from across the state. Short-term rentals are hyper-local and each city and parish should be able to use whatever tools of enforcement they deem necessary without interference or preemption sponsored by Airbnb.

Representative Lyons also worked with Airbnb on a second piece of legislation, House Bill 625, also called the “Property Owner Bill of Rights.” This overreaching bill would have prevented local governments from creating laws that regulated short-term rentals. In addition, the bill would have allowed property owners to sue local governments for damages as a result of any new or changed zoning, ordinance or law, a great waste of time and city resources.

Thanks to your action, both bills were successfully killed at the legislature this year.

House Bill 518: Good Short-Term Rental Legislation

While Representative Lyon’s two bad short-term rental bills were dying in committee, House Bill 518 by Representative Knox moved late in the legislative session through the House Commerce Committee and House Floor, before running out of time in late May on the Senate side. With the amendments adopted on the House Floor, House Bill 518 would have allowed local governments to regulate online marketplaces like Airbnb, require online marketplaces to remove listings of short-term rentals that are not in compliance with local ordinances, and to fine online marketplaces up to $1,500 per violation. This strategic legislation allows local governments to opt into regulating online marketplaces, if they see fit, instead of prohibiting such options. LaFHAC will work with Representative Knox next year to see that this legislation becomes state law.

House Bill 97: Crimes for Panhandlers and Street Vendors

House Bill 97, by Representative Dixon McMakin, makes it a crime to panhandle, solicit, vend, or donate to someone on a public street, with up to six months incarceration and/or a $200 fine. Representative McMakin claims that because our roads were built for cars and big trucks, the safety of these commercial vehicles should be a priority. However, this bill will not make our streets safer, nor will it help protect Louisiana commerce. Louisiana already bans panhandling around interstates, and this bill would expand that crime to include street vendors, fundraisers, and anyone who exchanges or donates something of value on all public streets in the state. Despite its breadth, the bill will certainly result in the over-policing of vulnerable populations, like those living on sidewalks in the public’s eye. 

House Bill 122: Don’t Say Gay

House Bill 122, by Representative Dodie Horton, is the third attempt by lawmakers to ban any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom and during extracurricular, athletic, and social activities. Louisiana joins a growing list of states passing similar legislation that will force teachers and counselors to make assumptions about a child’s identity, at the risk of causing great harm to LGBTQ youth. 

Part of our work at LaFHAC is educating the public about housing discrimination and segregation. This often includes being invited into classrooms to talk to students about their protections under the Fair Housing Act and how to recognize discrimination. Because LGBTQ kids are especially vulnerable to becoming unhoused, it is important that LGBTQ students understand their unique protections against discrimination and sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act.

House Bill 800: Constitutional Convention

A looming threat throughout the Regular Session was that with the successful passage of House Bill 800 by Representative Beau Beaullieu, a Constitutional Convention would run concurrently with the Regular Session during the last two weeks. House Bill 800 called for delegates to rewrite our state’s Constitutional Convention, without any input from voters. In a recent poll by the Times-Picayune, 99% of Louisianans believe Governor Landry should be focused on other issues besides the Constitutional Convention. The 25 delegates were selected by the Governor to serve alongside legislators. While House Bill 800 did not receive finally passage and a Constitutional Convention was not called, there are currently thoughts that a special session may be called over the summer to call a Constitutional Convention. There are great concerns for what sweeping changes could be made without publicly elected delegates. 

As anticipated, the legislative sessions of 2024 have created more harm than good for the people of Louisiana, especially the most vulnerable. But as always, advocates and legislators were able to hold back bad legislation thanks to the actions of engaged supporters like yourself. Thank you for your continued advocacy and we’ll continue to keep you updated as many pieces of legislation become law this August.

Posted by Malcolm Phillipson 06/05/2024and categorized as Blog, Comunicados de prensa, Uncategorized
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