Senate sends ban on race-based hair discrimination to Walz's desk, passes Juneteenth holiday

The CROWN Act adds natural hairstyles and textures to the definition of race in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Also: A bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday now awaits a vote in the House.

Natural hairstyles
Signs showing hairstyles are displayed during a Duluth event hosted by Project Naptural, an initiative aimed at educating, connecting and empowering Black women about their natural hair. The proposed CROWN Act would add hairstyle protections to Minnesota's existing human rights statute.
Clint Austin / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL — A bill that would create specific protections against discrimination based on ethnic hairstyles passed in the Minnesota Senate Thursday, Jan. 26, and is headed to the desk of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

The CROWN Act, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, would add hairstyle protections to the state’s existing human rights statute. Natural hairstyles and textures would be specifically included in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, offering protections for “braids, locs and twists.”

Ahead of the Thursday vote, bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Joe Champion said Black women are more likely to be sent home from the workplace for their hairstyle, and that the bill would ensure long-overdue protections against discrimination.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion.
Alex Derosier / File / Forum News Service

"We want all individuals to go to work and feel included and welcome in the marketplace," said Champion, who earlier this year became the first Black president of the Minnesota Senate. "So we are asking that you join me in passing the CROWN Act as an important step toward eradicating racial prejudice and stigma regarding natural hair in Minnesota."

After debate, the Senate voted 45-19 to pass the bill. A House bill sponsored by Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, passed by a vote of 111-19 on Jan. 11. Gov. Tim Walz plans to sign the bill, according to multiple reports.


During the same floor session, senators also approved a bill to make Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, an official state holiday in Minnesota. A companion Juneteenth bill awaits a vote in the House.

While Minnesota has symbolically recognized Juneteenth in the past, a bill authored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, would cement it as an official paid holiday for state employees.

During floor discussion Thursday, Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls, attempted to introduce an amendment to the bill to include beards. It failed 30-35.

Minnesota’s ethnic hairstyle protection legislation is part of a national movement to put such protections in state and federal law. So far, nearly 20 other states have passed their own versions of the CROWN Act, the name of which is an acronym for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.” California was the first state to pass such a law in 2019, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a CROWN Act bill.

The House passed Agbaje’s CROWN Act bill during last year’s legislative session, but the Republican-controlled Senate never took up the bill. DFLers won a one-seat majority in the Senate in the last election.

At a House Judiciary and Civil Law Committee Hearing on the bill, some Republican members asked about the bill’s implications for workplace health and safety, such as long hair getting caught in machinery.

Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said workers already must prove that a hair policy is being applied for discriminatory reasons rather than safety or health reasons.

Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, questioned the need for added protections for hairstyles in state law, as the current human rights statute already bars hair discrimination when related to race.

Lucero, an appointee of DFL Gov. Tim Walz, said the CROWN Act would provide “necessary clarity” on an issue that has a gap in existing state law and sends a “powerful message” that hair discrimination can qualify as race discrimination.


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Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email .

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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