Chance Ryan / The Houma Courier
TERREBONNE PARISH, La. — It will soon be illegal to wear saggy pants in Terrebonne Parish.
The Parish Council passed an ordinance Wednesday night that will impose fines for anyone who wears pants below the waist in public that expose underwear or what police and the courts determine to be too much skin.
Council members voted 8-1 to send the ban to Parish President Michel Claudet, who is expected to sign it into law.
Under the law, violators would face these fines:
- $50 for the first offense.
- $100 for the second offense.
- $100 and 16 hours of community service for a third offense and subsequent offenses.
- “Appearing in public view while exposing one’s skin or undergarments below the waist is contrary to safety, health, peace and good order of the parish and the general welfare,” the ordinance says.
Violating the law does not give police the authority to arrest violators or do a “full search,” the ordinance says.
In a public hearing before the vote, the council heard arguments from residents for and against.
Jerome Boykin, president of the Terrebonne NAACP, expressed his support for the law.
“There is nothing positive about people wearing saggy pants,” Boykin said. “This is not a black issue, this is not a white issue, this is a people issue.”
Wearing saggy pants comes from a prison mentality, Boykin said.
“Young men who were in prison who wanted to have sex with other men would send a signal to another man with his pants below his waist,” he said.
Diana Collins, NAACP youth director, brought her youth group to the council meeting. She said a message must be sent to the public that wearing saggy clothes is inappropriate and will not be tolerated.
“We (are) here tonight to try and put a stop to this thing and let these boys and girls look decent,” she told the council while about a dozen youths were standing behind her.
Montegut resident Ida Moore said baggy pants look “foolish, unattractive and unbecoming” but shouldn’t be illegal. A style trend among young is dressing in layers, Moore said, and it’s common for boxer shorts to be worn over underwear as a fashion statement. For the most part, she said, flesh is not visible by dressing this way, so it can’t be categorized as indecent exposure.
“It’s certainly not the first time elders complained about the social mores and dress habits of young people,” Moore said. “But to make laws of governing social differences is a slippery slope to the level of government that we do not allow.”
Houma resident Lucretia McBride said it’s not the government’s place to legislate morality.
“Legislating an ordinance is not necessary,” she said. “It’s overreaching and it’s simply not going to work.”
Chairwoman Beryl Amedee was the only member who voted against the ordinance, claiming it violates Americans’ constitutional right to free expression.
Some council members argued during committee meetings last month that the law is constitutional because it mimics a 6-year-old ordinance in place in Shreveport, where it remains unchallenged.
Just because other cities have these laws doesn’t make them constitutional, Amedee countered.
Council Vice Chairman Russell Hornsby said the law sends a message that deviant behavior will not be tolerated. Hornsby also noted that Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis and Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter agree with the ordinance.
Hornsby proposed that the council follow up on the ordinance in a year to see if it has made an impact; however, no motion was made to do so.
“If it’s not doing any good then we’ll get rid of it,” he said.
Councilman John Navy said the law addresses concerns expressed by a majority of residents.
“We have to represent the needs of the people and the majority of people don’t want it,” he said.The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sent a letter to the council explaining that the ordinance is unconstitutional and urging them not to pass it.
“To ban a particular clothing style would violate a liberty interest guaranteed under the 14th Amendment,” the letter says. “The government does not belong in the business of telling people what to wear. Nor does it have the right to use clothing as a pretext to engage in otherwise unlawful stops of innocent people.”
The Lafourche Parish Council passed such a ban in 2007.