Three important bills that will promote racial and gender equity were signed into law this month. Here’s some background on the bills–what they are, why we support their passing, and what communities will be empowered.
Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (also known as the Crown Act)
This law makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual based on a hairstyle associated with race. We fully support the Crown Act because it will protect people of color from discrimination, harassment, and embarrassment for wearing natural hairstyles. Just last year, a high school wrestler was forced to cut his dreadlocks or be unable to compete in his match.Similarly, a number of young children of color have been discriminated against in classrooms for natural hairstyles such as box braids. These stories have unfortunately become more frequent and outrageous, with some instances of children being sent home due to their natural hairstyles. Hair discrimination is also rampant across professions–from law, education, to retail, viral stories of being deemed “unprofessional” or facing racist commentary from peers are all too common. We support the Crown Act because people of color should never have to confirm to eurocentric grooming and beauty standards or risk being excluded from classrooms, the workplace, and other public spaces. New Jersey is the third state to ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles, and other states should swiftly adopt similar legislation.
Law A4743 (Licenses for All)
This law expands access to driver’s licenses. Regardless of immigration status, all New Jerseyans will be able to be trained, tested, and insured drivers. This will make the roads much safer; thirteen other states have similar legislation and have seen positive results. We support driver’s license expansion because it will empower all New Jerseyans to travel to their jobs, schools, doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, and anywhere in between. The alternative is walking, biking, or relying on public transportation, which can be costly, impractical, and dangerous.
“There are advocates in New Jersey that have been fighting for access to driver’s licenses for more than 20 years,” said Adriana Abizadeh, Executive Director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). “As the 15th state to pass this legislation, we are shouting from the rooftops that immigrants are welcome in New Jersey. As an organization focused on the inclusion of immigrants in this state, I am heartened by the progress we have made. It doesn’t stop here. We will continue to tackle inequities through policy for some of the most vulnerable among us. ¡Si se pudo!” (this quote originally appeared in a press release issued by Governor Phil Murphy’s office)
Law A5823 (Restoration of Voting Rights for Individuals on Parole or Probation)
This law will allow formerly incarcerated New Jerseyans on parole or probation to vote in local, state, and national elections. When an individual is convicted of a crime (regardless of severity) their voting rights are stripped until the end of their sentence, which includes parole and probation. As of now, formerly incarcerated people will have their voting rights restored upon leaving prison. We support this law because it is designed to help reduce recidivism—formerly incarcerated people hold jobs and pay taxes–disenfranchising them from the community and withholding their right to vote in support or against legislation that will affect them is counterproductive, if the goal of incarceration is rehabilitation.
“Final passage of this bill will bring us 83,000 times closer to the day when New Jersey joins states like Maine and Vermont and becomes a robust and inclusive democracy that does not silence people with criminal convictions,” said Henal Patel, NJISJ associate counsel.