Yesterday, we rose early. We got into buses, vans and cars across the state--in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Shreveport--and drove straight to the State Capitol. Hundreds of us gathered for Louisianans for Prison Alternatives (LPA)’s Third Annual Lobby Day. We learned about LPA’s legislative session priorities, met our representatives, filled out support and opposition cards for bills with upcoming hearings, and listened to the stories of others who have built resilience and a passion for change in the face of systemic oppression. As a sea of blue shirts, we made a point to name the building for what it is--our house.
“We have buku blue shirts in here, which means I’ve got a team behind me,” said VOTE member Rena Vereen, who, despite being nervous, testified at the Capitol for the first time last week. “What do I have to be scared of? We can change the law. We’ve got to do our part.” Vereen’s brother is currently incarcerated. She attended Lobby Day with her father, and the two of them, like so many of us, are committed to fighting until he’s free.
After Rena, our Voters Organized to Educate Director Checo Yancy, and others got us fired up and ready to go, we ascended to the steps of the Capitol. There, we listened to speakers from LPA, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and, of course, VOTE. Our Executive Director Norris Henderson reminded the crowd of our many victories in 2018--especially turning out 1.5 million voters to end non-unanimous juries in Louisiana last November. “Don’t tell us about what we can’t do, or what we’re not capable of,” Norris said. “You either ride with us or you collide with us, and I don’t think anybody wants to collide with the 1.5 million voters we're waking up.”
Next, we went inside the Capitol and got to work. We met our legislators and submitted comment cards to urging them to support important criminal justice reform bills and oppose others that are trying to roll back our progress. We sat in on a House hearing and, later, a Senate hearing. Our day ended with being recognized by members of the House and Senate for showing up--not just on Lobby Day, but steadily throughout the legislative session--to fight for our rights.
Some of the bills we fought for yesterday came up for a vote in House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice today, including:
HB 158 will reduce the number of juveniles going to jail. It passed and is moving to the House Floor!
HB 518 will exclude non-violent offenses from the Habitual Offender Law, and drastically lower the law’s harmful impact. It passed and is moving to the House Floor!
HB 275 allows incarcerated people to fight for their cases by requesting DNA testing post-conviction. It passed and is moving to the House Floor!
HB 226 permits judges to bring expert testimony (as opposed to less-effective eyewitness testimony) to a trial. It passed and is moving to the House Floor
The votes on these four bills are an example of what goes on at the Capitol everyday. If you missed us yesterday, there will be plenty of opportunities to get involved throughout the legislative session, including testifying in front of elected officials like Rena did.
Last Saturday, VOTE’s Housing Justice Organizer Kiana Calloway voted for the first time. This was a direct result of the major voting rights victory we won during last year’s legislative session. In other words, our voices matter.
“We need our legislators to continue embracing the values of building us up, and not tearing us down,” Kiana shared in front of an eager crowd on Monday. “Today, we stand as residents in every parish. We stand as voters in every district...When we fight, we win. This is only the beginning.”