Baton Rouge

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Louisiana Senate to consider bill that would fortify policies against sexual harassment at state agencies

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 6:10 PM

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, responding to questions at a Senate hearing on her bill that would fortify sexual harassment policies across the state - TRYFON BOUKOUVIDIS/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • Tryfon Boukouvidis/LSU Manship School News Service
  • Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, responding to questions at a Senate hearing on her bill that would fortify sexual harassment policies across the state
Louisiana senators agreed Wednesday to cooperate on a comprehensive compromise bill that would fortify Louisiana’s policies against sexual harassment in state agencies.

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee sent the bill to the Senate floor to be considered next week after senators negotiate changes in the language.

The bill would provide uniformity in sexual harassment policy across the state. It would shield sexual harassment victims from employer retaliation and provide training to public servants.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Would a Louisiana constitutional convention change much?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 2:03 PM

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Talk of holding a constitutional convention to address Louisiana’s structural deficit has gained momentum. The idea has merit on several fronts, but it’s also an admission that our state legislators are either unwilling or unable to do their jobs. And, ultimately, there’s a danger that not much would change.

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea or not worth the risk. The sad political reality is that most Louisiana lawmakers know perfectly well what needs to be done to stabilize our state’s revenue stream, change our budgeting process, and make state government more efficient. Unfortunately, most of them lack the political will to do it.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'We are coming for you': Women's groups converge on the Capitol for lobby day

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 8:55 PM

State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.
  • State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.

At the Louisiana State Capitol Building, there are imposing elevators with brass-coated doors, gold-painted Ionic columns, marble walls, lots of men clad in navy sportcoats and blue and gray suits, lobbyists with shiny "LOBBYIST" badges, security guards and school groups in matching T-shirts. And today, there were feminists.

A group of more than 100 women, many of them affiliated with women's advocacy groups including Lift Louisiana, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Feminist Majority Foundation, Women With a Vision, New Orleans Abortion Fund and Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, convened at the nearby Capitol Park Welcome Center on the morning of April 11 for "Justice for Louisiana Women." The event was part lobby day, part activist workshop and part response to a legislative session that has included a great number of bills that would be consequential for Louisiana women.

From bills that affect health care for women who are incarcerated to bills preventing people convicted of stalking from owning a firearm to bills preventing Medicaid service providers (such as Planned Parenthood) from simultaneously holding an abortion license, legislation currently being considered could endanger women's health, economic security and, some argue, even their lives. At today's lobby day, organizers seemed prepared to train a new generation of activists in the grinding, sometimes multi-year process of influencing and educating legislators, often with the threat of evicting them from their seats.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Morrell's bill to eliminate Louisiana's death penalty passes Senate judiciary committee

Posted By and on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 5:56 PM

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, supported a bill Tuesday to ban the deal penalty in Louisiana. - SARAH GAMARD/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • SARAH GAMARD/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, supported a bill Tuesday to ban the deal penalty in Louisiana.

A Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in Louisiana effective August 1. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, authored the bill, reasoning that the death penalty is an outdated and costly means of punishment.

"The death penalty is an archaic holdover from a time where we were not as civilized as we are today," Morrell said.

Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, provided the only vocal opposition. He argued that abolishing the death penalty would have no effect on the state’s high rate of violent crime.

Morrell responded that “we have had the death penalty on the books since the founding of our state, and it has not deterred violent crime.

“Increasingly, we are finding individuals that commit these violent crimes are mentally unbalanced,” Morrell said. “Many of them are tortured, damaged people who do horrific things because they don’t value human life.”

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ABCs and AR-15s: State Senate approves bill to allow Louisiana students to wear bulletproof backpacks to school

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 3:43 PM

State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, presented a bill to the Senate that would allow Louisiana students to wear bulletproof backpacks. - PHOTO BY DREW WHITE/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • PHOTO BY DREW WHITE/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, presented a bill to the Senate that would allow Louisiana students to wear bulletproof backpacks.

In the latest effort to fortify schools, Louisiana children may be able to start wearing bulletproof backpacks to class.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday that would let students wear body armor on school grounds or buses. The bill, which passed 34-2, now heads to the House.

Current Louisiana law prohibits body armor on school property.

“Members, we’ve seen the headlines,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said. “Currently there is nothing that a parent can do that says to a child that you are protected.”

Two members — Sen. J.P. Morrell and Sen. Karen Peterson, both New Orleans Democrats  — voted against the bill.

“A Kevlar backpack is not a Captain America shield,” Morrell said. “You are not going to run out there blocking bullets with a good outcome.”

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Chickening out on criminal justice reform

Posted By on Sun, Apr 8, 2018 at 11:48 AM

CREATIVE COMMONS/NEIL CONWAY
  • CREATIVE COMMONS/NEIL CONWAY

Criminal justice reform was among the few bright spots in last year’s dispiriting legislative session. Lawmakers adopted far-reaching laws that traded “tough on crime” grandstanding for “smart on crime” policies that have been proven to work.

The Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a nonpartisan coalition of conservatives, liberals, clergy, judges, law enforcement, business people and civic leaders, spent a year developing legislation that streamlined Louisiana’s hodgepodge sentencing laws. The reforms were enacted with broad bipartisan support.

Many leading Republicans supported — and still support — criminal justice reform. A handful of ambitious demagogues are now attacking it with lies and scare tactics, not because they care about public safety (the reforms actually promote public safety) but because they hope to grab cheap headlines and run for another office. U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, who can’t seem to stop running for something, is the most glaring (and shameless) example.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Louisiana House committee rejects comprehensive sex ed

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 6:05 PM

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Louisiana has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections among people age 15-24. The state also has the seventh highest rate of teen pregnancies. Public health advocates and officials have pointed to a gap between the state's lack of comprehensive sex education and disproportionately high rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancies among school-aged young people.

But repeated attempts to change state laws to incorporate those programs — or at least anonymously ask young people if they've engaged in the kinds of behavior that would produce those kinds of statistics — have failed.

On April 4, after pushback from conservative Christian lobbying groups, a pair of bills to support comprehensive sex ed died in the state House Committee on Education.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Kids, don't throw away those fake IDs; proposal to let 19- and 20-year-olds drink in Louisiana has been spiked

Posted By and on Tue, Apr 3, 2018 at 5:20 PM

State Rep. Eric LaFleur's bill that would allow 19- and 20-year-olds to drink after completing an alcohol education course was withdrawn today. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • State Rep. Eric LaFleur's bill that would allow 19- and 20-year-olds to drink after completing an alcohol education course was withdrawn today.

Sen. Eric LaFleur on Tuesday withdrew one of the most talked-about bills of the legislative session — his proposal to allow 19- and 20-year-olds to drink legally — amid fears that the state could lose federal highway funds.

LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said he thought his bill, which would have required parental consent and alcohol education courses, would have led to more responsible drinking.

But state officials and other lawmakers said the state risked losing up to $600 million in highway construction funds under federal laws meant to encourage safer driving.

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Louisiana Senate committee backs proposal to raise age for assault weapon purchases

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2018 at 1:40 PM

Students participating in the New Orleans March for Our Lives on March 24. - PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • Students participating in the New Orleans March for Our Lives on March 24.

A bill to raise the age for purchasing assault weapons in Louisiana narrowly passed a state Senate committee April 3, after debate among legislators, gun rights advocates, teachers, students and law enforcement officials including New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison. It now heads to the full state Senate.

House Bill 274 would prevent people from under age 21 from purchasing so-called assault weapons, including guns with high-capacity magazines. It also would raise the penalties for unlawful sale to minors from $300 to $1,000.

Harrison argued the bill — introduced by state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans — could decrease the number of so-called assault weapons used to commit mass shootings. Among the hundreds of murders and shootings in New Orleans since his became chief, Harrison said there hasn't been a single instance of someone using an assault weapon to defend themselves — but "a large percentage" of those shootings were committed by a person firing an assault weapon.

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Louisiana House unanimously supports making hazing a felony

Posted By on Mon, Apr 2, 2018 at 8:11 PM

Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, left, whose son died last fall from hazing, were in the House as it voted Monday on a bill by Rep. Nancy Landry, right, to make hazing a felony. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY WOLF
  • PHOTO BY ASHLEY WOLF
  • Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, left, whose son died last fall from hazing, were in the House as it voted Monday on a bill by Rep. Nancy Landry, right, to make hazing a felony.

Louisiana House lawmakers on April 2 unanimously supported a bill that would make hazing a felony.

The “Max Gruver Act,” named after the 18-year-old LSU fraternity pledge who died from alcohol consumption at a fraternity event last fall, would upgrade hazing from a misdemeanor to try to stop the worst abuses.

“This bill will deter, punish, and raise awareness, and that’s what we have criminal statutes for,” bill sponsor Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said.

The anti-hazing bill passed with a House vote of 87-0. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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