Referendum could abolish prison slavery in the state if passed
Nevada will join a growing tide of states seeking to rid their constitutions of involuntary servitude as criminal punishment by placing the issue on the ballot in 2024, according to the Associated Press.
The measure passed the state’s assembly and senate in February for the second consecutive year, making it eligible to go to a vote by the people.
“I don’t know that we have fully accepted this very painful past. And what you don’t face, you can’t fix,” said Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman of North Las Vegas, a co-sponsor of the resolution.
The language in the Nevada constitution that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes is almost identical to that included in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, making the practice acceptable, “in the punishment for crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Among other states, Colorado led the movement to ban involuntary servitude from its constitution in 2018. Utah and Nebraska followed suit in 2020. Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont approved measures to prohibit the practice last year.
California will put the matter to voters on its 2024 ballot. More than 40 supporters, lawmakers, and formerly incarcerated people gathered in Sacramento to discuss forced labor in prisons, said the AP.
On the federal level, Congress has yet to scrub the language from the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Three-fourths of the states must ratify any such attempt.
Nevada state Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, commented on ongoing efforts to change the federal language just before voting on the state measure, “While we can remove this from our state constitution, it still remains in our federal constitution and I urge my colleagues in the federal government to make similar steps today,” said Harris.
“In the immortal words of Melissa Jefferson, better known as Lizzo, ‘It’s about damn time,’” she added.