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New fine on 'saggy pants' style sparks debate

The sagging pants debate is raging again in Louisiana after a parish has banned the style, imposing a $50 fine on first-time offenders.
Teens Wearing Sagging Pants
A group of teens talk about sagging their pants at the Dorchester Youth Collaborative in Dorchester, Mass., Feb. 4, 2013.

A debate over regulation and the decades-old style of sagging pants has bubbled up in Louisiana amid new local-level bans against the style.

Jefferson Davis Parish, La. became the latest locale to spark debate after passing an ordinance last week that institutes a fine for individuals caught wearing their pants too low.

But civil liberties advocates warn the ban, and others like it, go too far.  

Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman told msnbc that these bans violate Louisiana law, which prohibits regulation of "obscenity" by local authorities. "There are serious limits to the restrictions that can be placed on people's right to express themselves," she said.

Esman explained that Louisiana law already protects against the issue of potential exposure, while explicitly stating "the regulation of obscenity by municipalities, parishes, and consolidated city-parish governments shall not exceed the scope of the regulatory prohibitions” already outlined by state law, which she highlighted when the ACLU encouraged Iberville Parish to avoid a similar saggy pants ban earlier this month. 

"Why are we squandering our resources?" she asked, adding lawmakers and police have "bigger concerns" to address.

Jefferson Davis Parish Police Juror Steve Eastman initially pushed for a ban only at the local courthouse in response to complaints about the revealing style, according to the Associated Press, but a full police jury opted for a parish-wide ban, instituting a $50 fine for first-time offenders and $100 for each additional offense. 

Jefferson Davis Sheriff Ivy Woods told NBC station KPLC he has been asking residents in the town of Jennings, La. -- located about a 90 minutes west of Baton Rouge -- to pull up saggy pants already. 

"If I'm driving around and have time I'll ask them to pull it up, because I see it as a total disregard for the respect of other people around you," Woods said. Officers still have the discretion to issue a warning, he noted. 

Several community members gave the law their support when asked about it by KPLC

Despite concerns from some critics that the bans could be racial in nature, the local NAACP chapter supported a ban passed in the Terrebonne Parish last April, which includes fines similar to those in Jefferson Davis. 

“There is nothing positive about people wearing saggy pants,” Jerome Boykin, president of the Terrebonne NAACP, said, according to WWLTV. “This is not a black issue, this is not a white issue, this is a people issue.”

Esman also argued the Jefferson Davis Parish ban is more "benign" than some others, because the wording notes that stopping someone for saggy pants doesn't give police reason to search the individual, but she is still concerned by consensual searches that may occur.

"This specifically says that's not a justification [to search], but if you ask, very few people, particularly if they're young, are going to tell a cop no," she said.

In 2008, a Florida judge found a law against saggy pants unconstitutional after a teenager accused of violating the ban spent a night in jail. 

President Barack Obama has weighed in on the saggy style in the past, noting that while he doesn't like it, he also thinks it's a waste of time to regulate. 

"Any public official who is worrying about sagging pants probably needs to spend some time focusing on real problems out there," Obama told MTV in 2008.

"Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants," he added.