Effort to remove slavery, involuntary servitude from Louisiana constitution fails

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BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD)- A bill that aimed to remove slavery and involuntary servitude from the state constitution failed in a house committee. While slavery has been abolished in Louisiana, there is an exception that would allow involuntary servitude or slavery for punishment of a crime.

Representative Edmond Jordan wanted to have that language removed saying that words matter in a document like the state constitution.

The bill is aimed to only remove the language and not change any of the policy regarding punishment. If passed it would have been put to a vote of the people. Some argued the change in language would cause legal issues and open up the opportunity for more litigation.

“I think this might be one of the most dangerous bills we’ve seen this session,” said Representative Alan Seabaugh, a Shreveport Republican. “Simply because the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is a misdemeanor is without hard labor, a felony conviction is with hard labor. I’m afraid this might open the door to a legal challenge of every felony conviction is the state of Louisiana.”

Supporters of the bill argued involuntary servitude is essentially the same as slavery. They also shared their concerns on the treatment of prisoners who are made to do hard labor for low pay.

“All you’re trying to do is to prohibit slavery and indentured servitude… you’re not trying to get every felon released from prison,” said Representative Ed Larvadain III, a Alexandria Democrat.

Rep. Jordan said his reasoning for the bill is with Louisiana’s history and the context in which the exception was put into the state constitution, it does not suit current society.

“From a contextual standpoint and a historical standpoint and something that is righting a wrong and correcting history I do think this is important,” Rep. Jordan said.

The 13th amendment of the federal constitution also has similar language, with the exception for slavery or involuntary servitude and some representatives stated that would supersede the state constitution anyway. Multiple committee members emphasized that voting against the bill did not mean they are in favor of slavery, but rather staying align with the U.S. constitution.

Even though multiple states have passed similar legislation, the bill did not get enough support to make it out of committee. 

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