By Kelly Boggs, Message Editor
BATON ROUGE – The 2014 session of the Louisiana Legislature was gaveled to a close on June 2. Law makers of The Bayou State vetted and debated more than 1,500 bills, mostly without fanfare or controversy, during the three month assembly.
There were, however, some bills introduced of a moral nature that have the potential to impact lives, communities and churches that are worth noting.
One of the more impactful pieces of legislation passed during the Legislative Session was House Bill 388, sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe. Among the provisions in HB 388 was the requirement that a physician performing abortions in an outpatient abortion facility must have admitting privileges within 30 miles of said facility.
HB 388 passed the Senate by a vote of 34-3 and the final House vote was 88-5 in favor of the legislation. Governor Jindal signed the bill into law on May 27. Many observers believe this law will hamstring the abortion industry in Louisiana.
A somewhat controversial bill that moved under the radar during most the Legislative Session was Senate Bill 654. Sponsored by Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans, the bill sought to clarify the issuance of alcohol licenses to movie theaters while, at the same time, introducing regulations concerning the sale of alcohol in said theaters.
The law, prior to SB 654, permitted the Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) to issue licenses at the agency’s discretion. The current director of ATC is opposed to alcohol being served in movie theaters. As a result, new permits have not been issued in a couple of decades. Only five theaters in the state currently sell alcohol.
SB 654 would require ATC to issue permits to movie theaters that meet certain criteria which include segregating alcohol sales from other food and prohibiting minors from entering the area where alcohol and is served and consumed.
While SB 654 did provide what seemed to be reasonable regulations, other issues related to the atmosphere of a movie theater, the probability of underage consumption of alcohol and the difficulty of enforcing the proposed regulations made the bill problematic. The Louisiana Baptist Convention Office of Public Affairs vigorously sought to defeat SB 654.
In the end, SB 654 narrowly passed in the House by a tally of 53-44. There was also some controversy concerning the final vote. Rep. Steve Pylant of Winnsboro, who was absent the day of the vote, complained that someone voted his machine in favor of the bill. The vote made on behalf of Pylant made the difference in SB 654 passing in the House.
Trinity Baptist Church, Natchitoches, was one of several voices who asked the Governor to veto SB 654. The LBC Office of Public Affairs was in the process of producing a veto request when Governor Jindal signed the SB 654 into law on June 19.
SB 654 becoming law does not mean that movie theaters can automatically receive a license from the state and start serving alcohol. Local authorities must still approve a theater that wants sell alcohol. Opposition to such a move will now take place on the local level.
House Bill 12, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Smith of Baton Rouge, was an attempt to repeal the prohibition of public and private acts of “crime against nature,” i.e., sodomy. The bill was defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 27-67 on April 15.
House Bill 305, introduced by Frank Hoffman of West Monroe, “Prohibits employees of and representatives acting on behalf of abortion providers, and of affiliates of such providers, from delivering instruction or materials on any health topic, including but not limited to human sexuality or family planning, in public elementary or secondary schools or in charter schools receiving state funding.” The bill passed the House by a vote of 91-6 and was approved by the Senate 31-5. The Governor signed the bill into law on June 12.
House Bill 369, introduced by Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge, would “require public school governing authorities, including those of charter schools, to provide instruction in sex education each year to students. Specifies that such instruction be medically accurate and developmentally and age appropriate…”
The instruction would include “information stressing that abstinence is the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases” as well as “the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent unintended pregnancy and of FDA-approved barrier methods to prevent sexually transmitted infections.”
HB 369 ran into problems in the House Committee on Education and was involuntarily differed which effectively killed the bill.
House Bill 876, sponsored by Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport, “authorizes a school board to educate students about the history of traditional celebrations in winter and to allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy holidays, and Happy Kwanzaa.
“Authorizes a school board to display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional celebrations in winter, including a menorah or a Christmas image such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of more than one religion or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.
“Prohibits a display relating to a traditional celebration from including a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.” The bill passed both the House and the Senate without opposition. Governor Jindal signed the bill into law on June 4.
House Bill 1105, introduced by Rep. Valarie Hodges of Denham Springs, requires the abortion providers to post information about the Human Trafficking Hotline in their facilities. Hodges’ bill passed the House and the Senate without opposition. The Governor signed the bill into law on June 9.
House Bill 187, sponsored by Rep. Joe Lopinto of Metairie, allowed for gestational contracts to be enforced in Louisiana. In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate mother is not genetically related to the child. Eggs are extracted from the intended mother or egg donor and mixed with sperm from the intended father or sperm donor in vitro. The embryos are then transferred into the surrogate’s uterus. Embryos which are not transferred may be frozen and used for transfer at a later time if the first transfer does not result in pregnancy.
HB 187 passed the House in a final vote of 72-7. It passed the Senate 22-11. The bill was vetoed by Governor Jindal on May 30. Among those who asked the Governor to consider a veto was the LBC Office of Public Affairs.
For those who believe gestational surrogacy should be allowed, HB 187 had several safeguards. However, all forms of surrogacy remain fraught with ethical questions and the bill did not address some of them. The debate over gestational surrogacy is not going away and a responsible public policy position needs to be considered by faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Senate Bill 164, sponsored by Sen. Edwin Murray of New Orleans, would add “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in provisions prohibiting or describing discrimination…” The bill did not clear a Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Bill 541, introduced by Senator Fred Mills of New Iberia, would allow marijuana for medicinal purposes to be prescribed by a physician and would establish a process for dispensing the product. The bill did not clear the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare.
The aforementioned bills are just some of the legislation the LBC Office of Public Affairs interacted with during the course 2014 Legislative Session.
When it became known two years ago that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette had begun offering a Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender Minor, ministers in the Lafayette area met with ULL Administration to express their concerns. The LBC Office of Public Affairs was a part of these discussions.
When the minor continued to be offered, a resolution was offered and passed at the 2012 LBC Annual Meeting requesting that the LGBT minor be discontinued. This resolution was distributed to ULL officials as well as Governor Jindal and all legislators. Time passed and at some point in past year the LGBT was dropped.
According to the ULL website the school is no longer offering the LGBT Minor. There is no way of knowing what effect, if any, the meetings and resolution had on the decision to cease offering the minor. However, the ULL Administration is to be commended for its decision to end the minor.