Women in Louisiana

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 - PHOTO BY 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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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Louisiana Senate committee advances 15-week abortion ban

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 7:16 PM

At a 2017 rally, a Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion demonstrator. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • At a 2017 rally, a Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion demonstrator.

After a lengthy discussion that came to a head over the legislation's potential unintended consequences, the Louisiana Senate's Judiciary C Committee voted to advance a bill that would ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich (D-Shreveport), an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, mirrors a recently passed Mississippi law that bans abortions 15 weeks after conception. Before the committee, Milkovich argued that the law would justify a certain legal battle over its constitutionality.

"I cannot think of a better expenditure of money that Louisiana could make ... than to protect the life of the unborn," he said.

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Louisiana Department of Health offers free STD, HIV screenings April 25

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 4:58 PM


Louisiana Department of Health will offer free STD and HIV screenings at its Orleans Parish Health Unit (517 N. Rampart St.) April 25.

The event, which is scheduled to coincide with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's STD Awareness Month, includes free testing at clinics across the state. Clinics will test for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis as well as HIV.

Among states, Louisiana has been ranked second-highest in terms of gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and HIV rates by separate studies. There were more than 300 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Orleans and Jefferson parishes in 2015.

Low-cost STD and HIV testing is also available anytime at CrescentCare's Sexual Health Center (3308 Tulane Ave.) and some St. Thomas Community Health Center locations.

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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

On Equal Pay Day, busting a few wage gap myths with pay equity advocate Julie Schwam Harris

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 7:57 AM


On Equal Pay Day, women's advocates call attention to the gender pay gap — the phenomenon in which, year after year, women are found to be making less money than men.

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, women are still making an average of 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, with wider gaps for black women (63 cents) and Latina women (54 cents). This is true even across similar occupations — for example, women doctors make about $20,000 less than their male counterparts — and education levels. One recent Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report found that women need an extra degree (such as a bachelor's degree to match a man's associate degree) to attain comparable earnings.

This year's Equal Pay Day symbolizes the date a woman has to work through to match what men made in 2017.

To mark the occasion, Gambit caught up with self-described "volunteer activist" Julie Schwam Harris, a retired city administrator who works with organizations such as Independent Women's Organization to lobby lawmakers on pay equity and related issues in Louisiana, which is home to one of the nation's largest pay gaps. (In the current session, Harris has concentrated on Senate Bills 117 and 149, which would ensure pay equity for state contractors and protect people who talk about their pay with co-workers from retaliation.) We asked her to address a few common equal pay myths.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Sexism Project documents lives of sex workers with new online portrait series

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2018 at 3:29 PM


Her back to the camera, a woman wearing a bodysuit opens a refrigerator, the light outlining her forearm. In another photo, a woman bicycling down a New Orleans neighborhood street turns and grins at the photographer. Other women sit on their couches or beds, a dog or a cat close at hand.

These are the portraits from the most recent installment of The Sexism Project, a photography and interview series in which project curators discuss sexism with women in different industries. The women in the photos are sex workers — many are dancers in New Orleans strip clubs — and with this series, photographer Katie Sikora hopes to help tell their "human stories."

"As someone who's coming to the table with already a very liberal viewpoint on sex work, my mind is still being blown by what these women have to say," she says. "They're fighting against a long history of people kind of walking all over strippers, and treating them like second-class citizens."

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$15 minimum wage rejected by Louisiana House committee

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2018 at 12:26 PM

A "Fight for $15" march in 2016 rallied on Canal Street. - PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • A "Fight for $15" march in 2016 rallied on Canal Street.

Ryan Jones earns $290 every two weeks from his job at Popeyes in New Orleans. The check is gone the day it arrives, after bills are paid and his family's needs supported. "I can't afford to buy myself lunch," he said March 29. "I work hard on an empty stomach."

Baton Rouge lawmakers sitting on the Louisiana House Labor and Industrial Committee heard several stories about the cost of full-time work earning minimum wages — from the impacts to children in poverty while parents earn a low wage to workers' reliance on public assistance while big business earns millions of dollars in profit.

A few days after the Louisiana Senate rejected a mere $1.25 increase in a statewide minimum hourly wage, state Rep. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans, introduced his bill to bring it up to $15 in 2019 — the first-ever attempt in the Louisiana legislature for a $15 wage. The committee rejected the proposal, with only three representatives in support.

A second attempt to extend the state's equal pay protections to women who work for state contractors also failed in the committee, after a Senate version was voted down earlier this week.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Louisiana Senate rejects equal pay, minimum wage bills

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 7:35 PM


The Louisiana Senate failed to pass three bills working to close gender-based pay disparities and lift families out of poverty by increasing the minimum wage by $1.25 from the current federal minimum of $7.25.

New Orleans Democratic Sens. J.P. Morrell and Troy Carter sponsored a package of bills — one extending equal pay protections to women working with state contracts, another establishing a state minimum wage of $8.50 by 2020, and other prohibiting employers from firing employees for discussing wages. They narrowly passed a Senate committee earlier this month.

Morrell's extension of the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act, which currently applies to state workers, would apply to businesses with state contracts. It failed by a vote of 18-20.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Legislation, lawsuit show push-pull over abortion rights in Louisiana

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 6:11 PM

A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist at a 2017 rally. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist at a 2017 rally.

As a legal battle rages over neighboring Mississippi's recent ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, similar legislation and a lawsuit demonstrate ongoing tensions over the right to obtain an abortion in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Senate's judiciary committee will soon consider two bills that could further restrict abortion access in the state, including a 15-week ban that mirrors Mississippi's. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice have filed suit against the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) over what the organization says is an unnecessary delay in the processing of an abortion license for its Claiborne Avenue health center.

Together, the bills and lawsuit underline the fraught environment for abortion rights proponents and women who may need an abortion in Louisiana, which lost one of its few remaining abortion clinics last year. According to Guttmacher Institute data, there were seven clinics operating in Louisiana in 2011; today there are just three.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Needed: citizen engagement on bills regarding sunshine laws and domestic violence

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 2:24 PM


The Louisiana Constitution bars state lawmakers from considering revenue-raising bills in the current legislative session, but that hasn’t stopped them from taking up gravely important matters that warrant citizens’ close attention — and engagement.

Two cases in point:

• At least a dozen bills in both the House and Senate take aim at Louisiana’s public records, public notice and open meetings laws — known collectively as “Sunshine Laws.” A few of the measures would strengthen our Sunshine Laws, but most would weaken them in one way or another.

• The Senate this week will consider a bill to strengthen Louisiana’s anti-domestic violence laws by requiring stricter enforcement of existing laws that require domestic abusers to surrender their firearms.

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