Louisiana lawmakers will be dealing with some key moral and social issues during
their current legislative sessions
C. Lacy Thompson
LBM Associate Editor
Louisiana lawmakers will be dealing with some key moral and social issues during
their current legislative sessions
Spring has arrived, which can mean only one thing – the
Louisiana Legislature is back in session and considering all forms and fashions
Some proposed measures are good.
Some are bad.
Some could prove downright disastrous.
All in all, almost 3,000 bills have been proposed in the current
session and must end by June 18.
As expected, considerable attention is being paid to gamb-ling
in Louisiana – even though one might wonder what is left to do that legislators
already have not done.
Indeed, in a recent special session, legislators approved a
reduced deal in order to keep the New Orleans land-based casino open. They also
passed a measure that now will allow the 14 riverboats throughout the state
to remain permanently docked, a move dearly sought by boat operators.
But with gambling, there is always the possibility for more
– and legislators have filed a range of bills on the issue.
However, gambling is not the only issue on the table. Bills
also are pending on other key moral and social issues – marriage and divorce,
school, abortion, alcohol.
Pick an issue – and there probably is a bill addressing
There even are bills to make it a crime to pick wildflowers
alongside the highway and to designate an official state fruit.
Likewise, there are measures related to what the state fish
will be and even the official tartan (that is the plaid pattern used to make
Okay, those are not burning issues for many folks.
However, other issues need to be matters of concern.
After all, the shape of the state is at stake.
Ken Ward understands that. As executive director of the Louisiana
Moral and Civic Foundation, Ward monitors pending legislation related to moral
and social issues.
He also spends considerable time urging Louisiana citizens
to get involved in the legislative process.
“Louisiana has one of the most accessible legislatures
in the nation,” Ward emphasized. “Concerned citizens need to take
advantage of that and let their voices be heard.”
Those voices can make a difference, Ward stressed. Legislators
are sensitive to what their constituency thinks.
In communicating with legislators, Ward urged persons to be
informed and courteous. He reminded them that there are several means of communication
– mail, telephone, e-mail.
He also reminded them that the time always is right to contact
ones legislators. “Things move quickly in this process, so one must
seize every opportunity to speak to a particular issue,” Ward pointed out.
At the same time, the Internet offers incredible access to
the Legislature, Ward continued. Via the Web, one can track legislation daily
and even watch some proceedings live. One also can obtain exact wording of legislation.
But one must take advantage of the available means.
“Thats the key – using what the process provides,”
Ward said. “And the truth is – unless good people speak out, bad bills
may be passed. Too much is at stake to allow that to happen.”
Consider the following measures that have been filed in the
current legislative session. The list is not exhaustive but includes measures
identified by the Baptist Message as important and representative of key moral
and social concerns.
When it comes to legalized gambling in the Bayou State, one
might think it could get no worse. After all, Louisiana already has full-blown
land casinos, riverboat casinos, video poker, a lottery, scratch tickets and
How could it expand more?
Nevertheless, if some of the proposed measures are approved,
things could get worse.
Of course, if other bills are passed, things could get better.
For instance, a key issue is whether the Legislature will allow
local votes on video poker. Gambling advocates have longed for such votes, so
they can reintroduce video poker into parishes that voted it out several years
Gambling foes oppose a re-vote, arguing that the initial vote
on the issue should stand. If a parish voted video poker out, it should stay
out, they insist.
Nevertheless, many observers expect the Legislature to pass
some kind of bill allowing for local votes on the issue.
The key is – what kind of elections will be allowed? Will
they be easy to call? Will they be written to favor the gambling industry?
On that issue and others, the voice of concerned citizens will
be key, Ward notes. The gambling industry is strong and well-financed. It only
can be countered by public sentiment and pressure on legislators to “do
the right thing,” he said.
Some of the following measures represent something good. If
others pass, it will be years before the state even begins to recover from the
affliction known as gambling, Ward warned.
House Bill 1444 would prohibit “resident”
gambling on video poker or slot machines, allowing only persons with out-of-state
or foreign licenses to engage in the activity.
House Bill 882 simply would make it a crime to
gamble on video poker or slot machines in Louisiana.
House Bill 244 addresses the decision to allow
river boats to remain docked. That action notwithstanding, the bill would allow
a parish to call an election on the issue, giving residents a chance to prohibit
dockside gambling. Such elections could only be held once in a three-year period.
House Bill 1445 would increase the money from unclaimed
horsetrack winnings allocated to the Comprehensive and Problem Gambling Fund
from 0.25 percent to 1 percent.
House Bill 1437 would increase the money allocated
to the same fund from riverboats, video poker and the lottery from 1 percent
to 1.5 percent and increase the maximum allocation possible from $500,000 to
House Bills 532 and 1780 would expand gambling
by allowing slot machines at the New Orleans horsetrack. House Bill 1457 would
allow machines at a horsetrack in Livingston Parish. Current law allows machines
in only three parishes – St. Landry, Bossier and Calcasieu.
House Bill 1701 would repeal the authorization
for slot machines at horsetracks in St. Landry and Calcasieu parishes.
House Bill 761 would up the stakes on video poker.
Current law prohibits machines from accepting bills larger than $10, from accepting
bets larger than $2 and from awarding winnings of more than $500. The proposed
bills would raise all three limits, allowing machines to accept $20 and $5 bets
and to award winnings of $1,000.
House Bill 755 would require the Louisiana Gaming
Control Board to adopt rules for the development of program to identify and
treat compulsive and problem gamblers.
House Bill 1563, 1317, 1550 and 1364 all would
expand charitable gambling in various ways.
House Bill 793 would place limits on the amount
of money political candidates could accept from the gambling industry and set
some rules for reporting such contributions.
House Bill 1163 would allow Lake Charles residents
to vote on whether to develop lakefront property for commercial and revenue-producing
purposes. It also would remove the prohibition against using the properties
Senate Bills 466 and 467 would prohibit any votes
to allow or expand gambling, beginning in 2003. Senate Bill 224 proposes a constitutional
amendment prohibiting such votes.
Senate Bill 482 and House Bill 353 both would allow
parish referendum on video poker only when 25 percent of registered voters in
that parish submit a petition calling for such a vote. They would allow only
one vote every four years on the issue. Both of the bills were introduced at
the request of the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation and are being held by
the authors, pending action on other related measures.
Senate Bill 953 would remove a provision that allows
local governing authorities to call for votes on video poker or river boat gambling.
Instead, the proposed bill would require the state Legislature to authorize
such votes. In parishes that already have voted against video poker or riverboat
gambling in 1996, a two-thirds vote of the Legislature would be needed. In parishes
that approved the activities in 1996, only a majority vote would be needed to
call an election on the issue.
Marriage and the family
Concerns about marriage and the family continue to grow in
Louisiana and elsewhere.
As part of that concern, more and more observers are working
to change the “no-fault” approach to divorce – that makes it
easier for couples to divorce and for one mate to end a marriage despite the
sentiments of the other.
Increased attention also is being given to homosexual unions
these days. With such unions already legal in one state, observers warn that
other states may be forced to recognize them as well.
In addition, more and more attention is being paid to the role
of fathers in a family – and to how the increased absence of fathers in
homes can be remedied.
Proposed measures address all three issues.
Senate Bill 806 would provide funding for production
of a booklet for couples considering divorce. The booklet would be developed
by the Department of Social Services and used as a means of counseling couples
who are contemplating divorce. The bill stipulates that the booklet shall provide
information on the options available to couples, including private, public and
faith-based counseling services. It also “shall offer guidance on communication
skills, conflict resolution, domestic violence, financial counseling, ending
an affair, substance abuse issues and recommitting to marriage.” The booklet
also is to be distributed to counselors and clergy.
House Bill 234 would require state officials to
inform all prospective spouses of the states covenant marriage option.
A covenant marriage license sets stricter guidelines on couples. A covenant
marriage license requires premarital counseling on the part of couples and stipulates
that persons take all reasonable steps to preserve a troubled marriage. It also
rules out “no-fault” divorce for couples and requires them to live
separate and apart for two years before a divorce is granted.
Senate Bill 232 would prohibit the recognition
of civil unions, domestic partnerships or similar relationships from other states.
Louisiana law already prohibits the recognition of a marriage between persons
of the same sex. The proposed bill simply extends that prohibition, noting such
unions violate “a strong public policy.”
House Bill 1771 would establish a Fatherhood Council
and charge it with developing and implementing a program to promote stronger
father-child relationships and enhance mens parenting skills and their
abilities to support their children.
An ongoing concern is the impact of alcohol on society –
and several proposed measures in the Louisiana Legislature seek to toughen laws
related to the substance.
House Bills 88 and 38 would set up a process by
which kegs of malt beverage could be tracked. Persons would be asked to sign
a form, specifying where the keg will be consumed and agreeing that no underage
consumption will be allowed.
House Bill 37 would close a loophole in current
Louisiana law related to underage drinking. Current law prohibits the sale of
alcohol to persons under age 21. However, it allows persons over the age of
18 to visit places where alcohol is sold, including bars. Critics have said
it is impossible to enforce the sale provision if underage persons are allowed
in such facilities. The proposed measure would remedy that by prohibiting persons
under the age of 21 from visiting places where alcohol is handled.
Senate Bill 784 would toughen the states
open-container law. Current law prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from
possessing an open container of alcohol or from consuming alcohol in the passenger
area of the vehicle. The proposed measure would extend that prohibition to passengers
in the vehicle as well.
House Bill 32 would toughen the driving while intoxicated
law. Persons now are considered legally intoxicated if their blood alcohol concentration
registers at 0.1 percent. The proposed law would lower that limit to 0.08 percent.
House Bill 358 would require persons suspected
of driving while intoxicated to submit to a chemical test if they have been
involved in an accident that resulted in a traffic fatality or serious bodily
injury. Current law allows persons in those situations to refuse to take the
Senate Bill 559 would toughen the penalties for
persons convicted of a second driving while intoxicated offense. Current law
stipulates that persons with a second conviction shall lose their drivers
license for 12 months. However, it also allows them to receive a restricted
drivers license if they show their vehicle is equipped with a functioning
ignition interlock device. The proposed law would not allow such a restricted
license to be issued.
With the recent outbreak of school violence, considerable attention
is being paid to what can be done to help students deal with difficulties.
Several pending measures in the Louisiana Legislature address
the issue of school quality and helping students.
House Bill 77 would require the state education
authority to develop and adopt a Bible course curriculum to be used in secondary
schools that offer such a class. The proposed measure stipulates that the course
shall include instruction in the King James version of the Bible. It also stipulates
that the course shall stress the influence of the Bible on history, literature,
politics, culture and the arts and inform students of the importance of religion
in history – “without imposing the doctrine of any particular religious
sect.” It requires that the curriculum shall be nonsectarian, shall neither
enhance nor inhibit religion and shall not promote a particular doctrine, dogma,
belief or theory.
House Bill 352 would require students in grades
four through six to recite a passage of the Declaration of Independence at the
start of each school day. The bill specifies the following passage: “We
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these
are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent
of the governed.”
Senate Bill 6 would require schools to provide
students with the opportunity to recite a passage from the Louisiana Constitution
each day. No student would be required to participate. The specified passage
reads: “We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil,
political, economic and religious liberties we enjoy and desiring to protect
individual rights to life, liberty and property; afford opportunity for the
fullest development of the individual.”
Senate Bill 971 would establish a program by which
every public high school student would be given an opportunity to visit a state
or parish prison facility.
Senate Bill 792 would require the state to develop
a youth suicide prevention plan for public schools.
The issue of capital punishment has taken on new urgency in
recent days, as several states have begun to question the legitimacy of the
Calls have come for a national moratorium as well while the
process is examined and evaluated. Meanwhile, others have argued for continued
– and expanded – use of the penalty.
Proposed measures represent both views.
Senate Bill 80 would create a commission to study
capital punishment in Louisiana. The study would focus on a variety of issues
and deliver a report no later than January 1, 2003.
House Bill 644 would abolish the death penalty.
House Bill 675 would provide for a moratorium on
carrying out the death penalty in Louisiana.
House Bill 886 would prohibit the death penalty
in cases in which the defendant is mentally retarded.
House Bill 599 would authorize the death penalty
in cases of aggravated rape. Under current law, the general penalty for aggravated
rape is life imprisonment without benefit of parole, probation or suspension
of sentence. In cases in which the victim is less than 12 years old, the penalty
also may be death. The proposed measure would make the death penalty an option
in all aggravated rape cases.
As always, various bills address issues of interest or concern
to Louisiana residents. Consider the following:
House Bill 1624 would require outpatient abortion
facilities to be licensed and subject to on-site inspection by the state Department
of Health and Hospitals. Currently, such facilities do not fall under the authority
of the department, which means they are not subject to inspections and various
Senate Bill 426 would require all new firearms
sold in Louisiana to be equipped with a child safety lock.
Senate Bill 424 would make it illegal for a person
to possess any firearm not equipped with a locking device that makes it usable
only to lawful owner.
House Bill 175 and Senate Bill 322 would provide
for “do not call” listings of residents who do not wish to receive
telephone solicitations. The listing would be maintained by the Public Service
Commission and provided to telephone solicitors for a fee. Violations of the
list would be subject to a fine of $1,500 each – $3,000 each if the unauthorized
call was made to a person older than 65.
House Bill 1202 would increase the fine for unauthorized
parking in a handicapped space from $275 for a first offense to $350 and from
$500 for any subsequent offense to $650.
House Bill 1191 would increase speed limit on state
highways from 55 to 65 miles per hour, on interstates from 70 to 75 miles per
hour and on multi-lane, divided roads from 65 to 75 miles per hour.
Senate Bill 345 would create the crime of cyberstalking.
Senate Bill 16 would create a “Truth in Advertising
Law.” The law would set several stipulations, such as requiring spoken
advertisements to be presented distinctly and in a way that is easily intelligible
to listeners and requiring disclaimers in written ads to be a certain size.
House Concurrent Resolution 49 would set the last
week of every April as Minister Appreciation Week.
And now for the measures cited earlier …
House Bill 70 would designate the Louisiana strawberry
as the official state fruit.
House Bill 1692 would designate the spotted sea
trout (otherwise known as Cynoscion bebulous or speckled trout) as the official
state saltwater fish.
House Bill 347 would provide for an official state
tartan that could be used by any and all groups and persons affiliated with
the state of Louisiana.
All three measures still are pending.
As for the wildflower issue … House Bill 415 made it out of committee –
but later was withdrawn from further consideration by its author.
To communicate with the governor
Call: (225) 342-7015
Fax: (225) 342-7099
Write: The Honorable Murphy J. Foster, Jr.,
P.O. Box 94004, Baton Rouge, LA 70804.
To communicate with a state senator
Call: (225) 342-2040
Fax (225) 342-0617
Write: The Honorable John Doe,
P.O. Box 94183, Baton Rouge, LA 70804.
To communicate with a state representative
Call: (225) 342-6945 Fax:
Write: The Honorable John Doe,
P.O. Box 94062, Baton Rouge, LA 70804.
The Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation:
Call: (225) 767-1908 Fax:
Write: LMCF, P.O. Box 2951, Baton Rouge, LA 70821
Visit the Internet: www.lmcf.org
To identify and monitor bills
Go to Web site at www.lmcf.org
Click on … Legislative
Click on … Legislative Program Resources
Click on … Louisiana Legislature Home Page
Click on … Session Info
Click on … 2001 Regular Session
Click on … various means of tracking bills
(including Subject Index)