Following contentious debate on the floor of the Louisiana Senate last week, a bill that aims to protect victims of domestic violence from eviction and housing discrimination narrowly passed by a vote of 21-16.
Senate Bill 174 comes from state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who attempted a similar bill last year. That measure failed to pass the Louisiana House of Representatives, which could be the next stop for this year's legislation.
This year's measure allows victims to arrange with their landlord an early termination of a lease, gives victims the right to bifurcate a lease (lawfully excluding an abuser who also is on the lease), allows tenants to call the police without fear of triggering an eviction, and requires victims to show proof of their victim status. (For more on domestic violence evictions, read last week's Gambit cover story, "Abused and Evicted.")
Last month, SB 174 faced a round of opposition from landlords and property owners in the Apartment Association of Louisiana (AAL). Broome had discussed AAL's concerns before this year's legislative session and agreed to several key amendments to her bill to address the landlords' concerns.
At last week's vote, the bill faced criticism from state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, who feared that as written the bill would allow someone to use a false police report (rather than relying on a full investigation and a conviction) to falsify their victim status in order to break a lease. Broome then removed "police report" as a valid form of victim identification from the bill. The bill requires victims to have a certification of abuse as well as a third-party reference, such as from a mental health professional or physician.
In a statement following the vote, Beth Meeks, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCADV), said, "Opposition has come from one single group and been based on hypothetical and unrealistic situations, while survivors from across the state have shared their real, lived experiences as victims of domestic abuse. Our hope is that legislators stand with constituents and victims, not well-heeled lobbyists."
According to LCADV, nearly one in three women in shelters in Louisiana lost their housing following a domestic violence incident. Those numbers are higher in parts of the state with more renters. Nearly 50 percent of women in shelters in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, and 67 percent in St. Bernard Parish shelters, are homeless victims of domestic violence.