Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 4:54 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Louisiana public assistance agencies have violated a law requiring them to provide voter registration forms to anyone who requests them, whether online, in person or by mail or phone.
U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo issued a permanent injuction Wednesday against the Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Health and Hospitals and Secretary of State Tom Schedler's office. The injunction gives them until March 15 to implement policies and procedures that bring them into full compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Milazzo says the agencies have taken steps to comply with the law, but need to do more.
"Ultimately, this Court finds that because (the agencies) are only in substantial compliance, and not in full compliance, there is some potential danger that future violations may occur," she wrote.
The judge sided with the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, which had filed a lawsuit against the agencies' heads in 2011. She ruled the plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys' fees and costs and gave them 21 days to request an amount.
Milazzo ruled in May that the agencies must provide all applicants for public assistance benefits, including Medicaid and food stamps, with voter registration forms. The agencies have argued that the law applies solely to in-person applications for services.
Milazzo presided over a trial in October on whether the agencies violated the 1993 law.
Dale Ho, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund in New York, said the ruling will require Louisiana to help "our most vulnerable fellow citizens" register to vote.
"Our democracy is stronger when more Americans are provided with an opportunity to participate," he said in a statement.
Ho has said roughly 88 percent of the more than 300,000 people who apply for Medicaid in Louisiana annually do so remotely rather than in person. About 70 percent apply by mail, while roughly 18 percent apply over the Internet, he added.