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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

State Senate rejects expanding domestic abuse protections to same-sex couples

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 1:41 PM

click to enlarge ROBERT ASHWORTH / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0
  • ROBERT ASHWORTH / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0

The state’s domestic abuse laws will continue to exclude same-sex couples after a bill to extend the law’s protections failed in a 17-14 Senate vote. But the measure may not be dead.

House Bill 27 by State Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, proposed striking “of the opposite sex” from the law’s definition of a household member to extend domestic abuse protections — such as sentencing enhancements for abusers and greater protections for victims — to same-sex couples. Currently the law only applies to married couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, and heterosexual couples who are cohabiting.
Connick told the Manship School News Service after the Tuesday evening vote he was surprised the bill failed, and had expected it to sail through smoothly after a lack of opposition in Senate committee.
The bill faced some headwinds in the House earlier this month before Connick amended the law to remove references to marriage and spouses to appease conservative Christians. Even then, it narrowly passed in a 54-42 vote.

Connick said after the Senate vote he expects the bill to be returned to floor debate for a second chance on a reconsideration move. He said believes sufficient support for HB 27 is there if senators are properly educated on its intentions.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who presented the bill in the Senate chambers, echoed Connick’s sentiments after the vote and initiated reconsideration action.

Connick said lawmakers tend to shy away from LGBT issues, and some always will oppose the bill, but ultimately this is a question of the constitutionality of Louisiana’s domestic abuse statute and an important legal move for the state.
There are concerns if a challenge is brought against the state’s domestic abuse law for lack of fair and equal application it could be deemed unconstitutional, he said, negating the law for all individuals, whether LGBT or heterosexual, until a new law can be established. This would strip victims of increased protections and lessen prosecutors’ ability to pursue harsher sentencing for abusers.

Once senators are made aware of the situation, Connick believe he can get the six votes needed for passage. Seven senators — including five Democrats, three of whom are from the New Orleans area (Sens. Wesley Bishop, Troy Carter and JP Morrell) — were absent for the initial vote.

“You’ve got haters that you’re never going to get changed on it, but overall I think we have the message to say to people this is not a dangerous vote,” he said. “This is one that can help a lot of people and it’s needed in our law.”

Connick said he plans to “gather the troops,” including representatives from Jefferson Parish District Attorney office and the Louisiana Bar Association, to personally appeal to senators ahead of the next vote. Connick brought the legislation on behalf of District Attorney Paul Connick, who is his older brother.

The Marrero legislator said proponents for the bill were quiet ahead of the Senate vote because it seemed like a sure thing.

“You should never take anything for granted,” he told the Manship School News Service after the vote.

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