The recently concluded legislative session will likely be remembered for Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature on Senate Bill 469, which delighted Big Oil but could harm Louisiana for years to come. Overall, the headline-grabbing disappointments in Baton Rouge obscured some important victories this year. We have written extensively on lawmakers' and Jindal's shameless moves to protect the energy industry from having to pay for its share (and only its share) of the damage done to our coast. We've also criticized their support of anti-abortion bills that masqueraded as measures to protect women's health. Now we'd like to shed some light on positive developments — yes, there were some — during the recent session.
Lawmakers enacted a slew of laws against human trafficking. Jindal supported these measures and made them part of his otherwise light agenda this year. Among them were several bills to increase the penalties for human trafficking in Louisiana and to ensure the protection of victims. To his credit, Jindal also agreed to increase state funding for training law enforcement to better identify and combat trafficking. Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, pushed passage of House Bill 1025, which permits courts to seize and sell assets directly related to the crime of human trafficking, with proceeds going into the Exploited Children's Special Fund. House Bill 569, by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, allows district courts to assign human trafficking cases to special divisions of court.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell and Rep. Helena Moreno, both Democrats from New Orleans, sponsored the most comprehensive domestic violence reforms ever adopted in Louisiana, ushering through seven bills to better protect victims and increase penalties for offenders. The two lawmakers worked successfully with the National Rifle Association — a feat in its own right — to prevent convicted domestic abusers from possessing firearms while special protective orders are pending. One of Moreno's bills created the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission within the Department of Children and Family Services to find holes in the law and draft appropriate legislation for upcoming sessions to better protect victims. This was an ambitious and long overdue slate of bills that will do more to protect women and families than any restrictions on abortion providers. Morrell and Moreno deserve recognition for shepherding these bills, but the real push to pass them came from women leaders of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, who trekked to Baton Rouge almost daily to buttonhole lawmakers in support of the measures.
Morrell also secured passage of Senate Bill 296, which sets a hard deadline of Jan. 1, 2015, for criminal justice agencies to inventory their untested DNA collection kits related to sexual assault crimes and to submit that information to the Louisiana State Police crime lab. By March 1, 2015, the lab must submit a report to lawmakers revealing the total number of untested rape kits in the state — with breakdowns by parish and law enforcement agency. With a clearer picture of the number of untested rape kits sitting in police crime labs, Louisiana can determine just how big that backlog is — and take steps to eliminate it. Morrell's Senate bill, which Jindal has signed into law, has the potential for major criminal justice reform by providing a framework for holding agencies accountable for untested DNA kits.
Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, again authored — and passed — legislation to secure permanent funding for New Orleans' casino-related support services. The state promised long ago to pay the city $3.6 million a year for providing police, fire, sanitation and other services to Harrah's Casino, and for six straight years Leger passed bills to establish a permanent source for that money — only to see Jindal veto them all. The seventh time was the charm. Jindal signed Leger's House Bill 389 last month. The measure creates a dedicated fund to send $3.6 million a year to the city, with another $60 million set aside for schools.
Finally, despite passing a bill specifically written to allow truck stop owner Michael Sandlin to keep his Bengal tiger as a roadside attraction at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, lawmakers also passed some significant animal welfare legislation. Jindal signed a bill sponsored by Morrell that strengthens the state's cockfighting ban, which originally passed in 2008 but had loopholes that prevented real enforcement. Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, got nationwide press (none of it flattering) for trying to exclude "chicken boxing" from the bill. He failed, and Louisiana has finally banned the inhumane "sport" — though it's the last state to do so.