If Anybody Wants To Pull A Fire Alarm At The EBR Metro Council Meeting Tonight…

…they’ll do so with our blessing.

We don’t see much of value on the agenda today, frankly. The less those people accomplish, the better.

Obviously, the biggest item will be a continuation of the freakshow/revival meeting from three weeks ago as the Fairness Ordinance comes back to the agenda. This time there won’t be hours and hours of testimony; that stage of the proceedings is thankfully over. Instead we’ll have the members of the Metro Council sounding off on the proposed ordinance and then there will be a vote.

It will be voted down in all likelihood. Nothing much has changed since the freakshow/revival meeting from three weeks ago; the ordinance still lacks the votes to pass. And even though supporters drummed up a list of some 65 “business and community leaders” who favor its passage, they’ve failed to actually present a cogent argument for why anybody should think it’s good legislation. Six members of the Metro Council – Buddy Amoroso, Trae Welch, Tara Wicker, Scott Wilson, Joel Boe’ and Ryan Heck – are already on record in opposition to it, and that’s enough to kill it. When the vote comes there will probably be more opposition than that.

This has nothing to do with anti-gay bigotry, which is what the supporters of the ordinance accuse its detractors of. This ordinance creates a cause of action in local law for discrimination based on sexual identity, and that discrimination doesn’t even have to be intentional to be actionable. There are some major questions about whether the Louisiana Constitution allows a local government to create a cause of action, and there are also some pretty serious questions about how workable it is that you’d have one set of employment laws in East Baton Rouge Parish and a different set in all the surrounding parishes – who would set up shop as a small business in EBR ever again?

But most of all, the proponents have absolutely refused to do two things that probity and decency would absolutely require them to do in advance of trying to pass a bill like this. Whatever you might think of the moral suitability of the Fairness Ordinance, it’s pretty clear that this would impose a rather heavy legal and economic burden on a great many people – most notably the small businesses in East Baton Rouge Parish in which the hiring authority is quite often the proprietor, and to whom a lawsuit for unintentional discrimination against a gay or transgendered job-seeker could be a major obstacle to growth if not a seed of financial destruction. And given that sizable burden the Metro Council is being asked to lay on to the business community, name-calling, push-polls and anecdotal sob stories are wholly insufficient as a basis for legislation.

If this was something worth passing, its proponents would have been prepared to show two things. First, that there is a demonstrable economic disparity between straight and gay people in East Baton Rouge Parish that the ordinance stands a reasonable chance of fixing – not a collection of sob stories about how a pre-op transsexual’s career in retail was short-circuited; actual economic data proving that gay people are an economically disadvantaged minority. And second, that other cities which have adopted ordinances like this have reaped economic benefits as a result – or even that other cities which score better on “gay-friendliness” scorecards than Baton Rouge are prospering as a result.

They haven’t made such a showing despite having the resources to do so – after all, this ordinance is supported by both the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber – probably because no such showing can be made. We’ll make the assumption, and based on national data we’re going to stand by it, that gay people are at least as well off as straight people in East Baton Rouge economically and therefore making sexual identity and orientation a protected class in local law would have the effect of increasing “social injustice” rather than decreasing it. And furthermore, Baton Rouge is one of the hotter areas in the country for economic development at present, though some of the failures of our local government officials to address things like crime, traffic and education are driving a great deal of that growth to the suburban parishes. A fairness ordinance is hardly going to have any major effect in turbocharging that growth.

So hopefully the Metro Council will kill that thing and get it off the agenda for another year. But once it does, there’s another fresh round of idiocy to be brought up at the Council. Namely, we’re going to have a fight about payday lending now.

Bear in mind that we’ve already gone through Together Baton Rouge and Together Louisiana’s goofy crusade in attacking the payday lending industry this year. That was at the state legislature, and their plans to kill that industry didn’t get anywhere then. Now they’re going to bring a proposed ordinance by Ronnie Edwards and Donna Collins-Lewis which would sic the zoning laws on payday lenders…

Under the ordinance set to be debated and voted on July 23, new “credit access businesses” would not be able to locate within 1,000 feet of residential zones, existing payday lenders, pawn shops, churches, public libraries, schools, daycare centers, public parks, playgrounds, businesses that have liquor licenses, and casinos. The distance requirements would only apply to facilities opening after Sept. 1. All credit businesses would be limited to only operating between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Edwards said she and Collins-Lewis have the heaviest concentration of payday lending companies in their districts, and there is an “oversaturation” of the businesses in some of Baton Rouge’s poorest neighborhoods.

She said she’s heard from many constituents who have been caught up in a cycle of debt, taking out one payday loan after another, unable to handle the high interest rates and fees.

“From a public policy perspective there’s basically no regulation whatsoever on payday lending in East Baton Rouge Parish,” Edwards said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s public policy that other cities have used that has proven to be very healthy to their communities.”

They didn’t vote on the proposal July 23 because debate on the fairness thing ran so long. But it’s just as stupid now as it was three weeks ago. And Edwards really ought to listen to more than just Together Baton Rouge when she tries to play Goddess Of Local Economics; if she did, she might know that the state’s Office of Financial Institutions is the regulatory body charged with governing payday lenders in Louisiana, and since East Baton Rouge is part of Louisiana OFI handles regulation so that the parish doesn’t have to. To say payday lenders are unregulated in East Baton Rouge is flat-out false, and what’s more if Edwards were to get this thing passed and drive all these terrible businesses out of town it wouldn’t even put a dent in her constituents’ ability to borrow money to pay the light bill.

That’s because there are tons of payday lenders operating online that Edwards and her pals can’t regulate even if they try.

Also, let’s say that payday lenders get pushed away from houses, each other, pawn shops, churches, libraries, schools, daycare places, parks, liquor and grocery stores and casinos. Let’s say that happens.

Who do you think is going to lease those storefronts? We’re talking about poor neighborhoods here, in most cases. Bed, Bath and Beyond or Sephora aren’t going to plop down a location where Cash America used to be. You’re not going to get a Gucci store there. What you’ll get is empty storefronts, and busted commercial landlords – many of whom might well be African-American.

This is an uncommonly dumb idea on lots of levels. Probably, it fails – but that it’s going to be voted on at all is idiotic.

Like we said, if somebody wants to pull a fire alarm and save Baton Rouge the spectacle of spirited fights over stupid ordinances unlikely to pass, they’ll do so with our thanks.

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