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Thursday, June 5, 2014

A look at the 2014 Louisiana Legislature's domestic violence prevention bills

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 5:45 PM

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a sweeping reform package for handling domestic violence.
  • Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a sweeping reform package for handling domestic violence.

On May 29, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law six bills strengthening the state’s laws against domestic violence — one of the largest-ever packages of bills tackling domestic violence issues in Louisiana. State Rep. Helena Moreno and state Sen. J.P. Morrell, both Democrats from New Orleans, introduced the legislation in their respective buildings. In a statement, Jindal said domestic violence “has plagued our society for too long. Sadly, too many victims of domestic violence live throughout Louisiana.” The bills also received unanimous support in the House and Senate and in committees.

Louisiana has one of the highest rates of domestic homicides in the U.S. In New Orleans, the Family Justice Center directly serves more than 1,200 people a year, and its 24-hour crisis line receives more than 10,000 calls annually. In 2013, the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children received 5,000 calls to its 24-hour crisis line.

Morrell’s Senate Bill 291 allows domestic violence survivors to be awarded punitive damages in suits related to domestic abuse, and Senate Bill 292 allows for an immediate divorce if a family member is physically or sexually abused or if there is an active protective order against the spouse. (In 2012, there were more than 3,000 protective orders issued in New Orleans.)

Moreno’s House Bill 747 includes “domestic abuse aggravated assault” as a crime of violence and requires offenders to participate in a court-monitored domestic abuse intervention program; House Bill 750 requires the immediate arrest of an offender if the predominant aggressor is in violation of a protective order; and House Bill 753 — the Pixie Geaux Act — prohibits domestic violence offenders from possessing a firearm or carrying a concealed weapon, updating state law to be consistent with federal law. That bill faced a Legislature disproportionately favoring Second Amendment rights, and thanks to a state constitutional amendment requiring gun laws to meet a “strict scrutiny” clause, it needed to pass muster with the NRA, which holds a powerful lobby in Baton Rouge. (In Louisiana, 66 percent of murders of a woman by a husband, boyfriend or ex are committed with handguns.) Kim Sport, United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s public policy committee chair, helped draft the legislation.

“When we started, we weren’t sure what reception we’d get in legislature,” she said. “We made sure the law passed does not go any further than federal law in place. Local law enforcement can’t enforce federal law — we had to have federal law on the books. As long as we kept the language identical, NRA said they would stand down.”

Sport added that the “NRA is realizing domestic violence is a battle they can’t win when it comes to gun possession.”

Jindal also signed into law House Bill 1142, aka Gwen’s Law, named after Gwen Salley, a woman killed by her husband last month after he was able to post bond after spending less than 24 hours in jail for violating a protective order. The law requires courts to electronically monitor domestic violence offenders and to hold a contradictory bail hearing, and gives courts the authority to deny bail.

Moreno’s House Bill 1052 — pending Jindal’s signature — creates the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission within the Department of Children and Family Services. Sport says the committee will help “find and fill the gaps” in domestic violence legislation for next year’s session, including domestic violence protection for same-sex couples.

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