By Staff, Baptist Message
BATON ROUGE (LBM) — Despite the heavy presence of paid lobbyists for the gambling industry, Louisiana Baptists secured a key victory against the casino interests of the state, helping to defeat Senate Bill 417 and its companion House Bill 438 and keeping a riverboat casino from moving to Tangipahoa Parish.
The Senate defeated S.B. 417 by a vote of 15-18, needing 20 votes to pass, whereas H.B. 438 did not make it out of the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.
Both proposed allowing an existing riverboat casino to relocate from Bossier City to the Tangipahoa River along I-12.
However, a coalition of pastors, led by David Cranford, First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula, and Louis Husser, Crossgate Church in Robert, mobilized the community and testified in both chambers of the legislature to help sink both bills. Likewise, Sherman Mack, chairman of the ACJ Committee, and a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Albany, gave leadership to defeat H.B. 438 and to keep it from coming back up during the regular legislative session.
Cranford told the Baptist Message “the Lord blessed and we are grateful” with Husser adding “it was a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario.”
“We stood firm as salt and light to preserve the pro-family, clean and green environment in Tangipahoa Parish—a parish we love with all of our hearts,” Cranford shared. “I’m especially thankful for the leadership of the LBC Office of Public Policy, the Louisiana Family Forum, and State Representative Sherman Mack.
“The church community overflowed the Parish Council meeting, pastors showed up to speak to House and Senate committees, and we got help from an unexpected group on the Senate vote,” Husser added. “Thanks also to Will Hall for his expertise and being ‘boots on the ground’ at the Capitol.”
Hall is the director of the Office for Public Policy for Louisiana Baptists.
SOCIAL ISSUES SUCCESSES
Louisiana Baptist legislators joined a number of other Christian lawmakers to tally a slew of victories in advancing key bills while defeating others.
Senator Beth Mizell, a member of the First Baptist Church in Franklinton, was particularly successful regarding key moral issues and social concerns, championing legislation now signed into law that: allows groups who provide care for children, the elderly or disabled persons to have greater access to criminal history data in screening volunteers and employees (Act 376); greatly increases fines for sex trafficking and provides funding to prevent such activity as well as aid the victims in recovering (Act 663); establishes a funding mechanism to combat domestic violence (Act 38); provides help to parents to safeguard children from online pornography (Act 369); and, requires state agencies to block Internet content that is pornographic or otherwise sexually explicit, or sexually harassing (Act 391).
But others led key victories, too:
— Representative Frank Hoffman, a member of the First Baptist Church in West Monroe, proposed H.B. 891, now Act 498 that prohibits any public funds in Louisiana from being transferred to an abortion provider or any entity tied “physically [facility] or financially” to an abortion provider. The significance of Hoffman’s legislation is magnified by the 2017 tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence in the U.S. Senate to end an Obama-era rule and allow states to withhold federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood.
— Representative Mark Abraham, a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, sponsored Act 504 that prohibits pornographers from benefitting from taxpayer film subsidies.
— Senator Neil Riser, a member of First Baptist Church in Columbia, pushed through Act 414 that relieves congregations of the burden of mandatory advanced tactical training for volunteer armed security teams, making it instead optional unless required by the congregation or its insurer.
— Representative Dodie Horton, a member of Fillmore Baptist Church in Haughton, successfully advocated for Act 189 that allows judges “based on the best interest of the child” to determine the placement of a child under the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services, eliminating the sole authority this state agency once held in these decisions.
— Representative Mack authored Act 263 which protects persons with infirmities from being abused electronically by use of images “to embarrass shame, harass, coerce, abuse, torment, or intimidate” them with “malicious or willful intent.”
Like Mizell, Senator Ryan Gatti, a member of Cypress Baptist Church in Benton, also enjoyed multiple victories. He was successful in keeping children from “timing out” from the foster care system before reaching the age of 21 or completing high school (Act 649); establishing a whistle blower fund to encourage individuals to report violators of the law pertaining to the prohibition of the sale of fetal organs, tissues, and body parts (Act 645); and, protecting children returning to the home from foster care by requiring parents to pass a drug test (Act 237).
He also led the fight on a key religious liberty issue, originating Act 673 which allows school employees to participate in student-initiated prayer during the work day and not just before and after school as previously restricted by law.
While Louisiana Baptists were a notable force in the legislature, other Christian lawmakers led major efforts on religious liberty matters, and key moral concerns and social issues, too.
Senator Rick Ward, a member of Bethany Church, a non-denominational congregation in Baton Rouge and five other campuses, succeeded in forcing the Board of Regents to adopt policies and procedures ensuring free expression on Louisiana’s college campuses.
The measure protects conservative thought, including religious speech, which is being stifled at many undergraduate institutions across the country. Act 666 reinforces the notion of “intellectual freedom” for students and faculty, affirms constitutionally protected speech; and, requires public areas to be truly open as forums for all forms of expression as long as such “does not interfere with regularly scheduled campus events.”
Likewise, the law sets up reporting provisions to hold postsecondary schools accountable, disciplinary requirements to sanction “anyone under the jurisdiction of an institution who substantially and materially disrupts the functioning of the institution or the free expression of others”; and, a freshman orientation program to familiarize new students with “free expression policies and regulations.”
Representative Rick Edmonds, a retired Louisiana Baptist pastor, now serving as outreach pastor with Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, proposed H.B. 643, now Act 562 that restricts payments from adopting parents to a mother to prevent inducements which would amount to the trafficking of babies. It also enacts safeguards to prevent scamming of prospective adopting parents.
He also guided H.B. 449 through signing by the governor as Act 319, which emphasizes adoption as an alternative to abortion in information the Louisiana Department of Health is required to provide. Edmonds also helped expand access to school information for parents of children “who have not reached the age of majority” with Act 547.
Finally, two pro-life bills championed by Senator John Milkovich, a member of the non-denominational Shreveport Community Church, are profound in their impact.
Milkovich moved S.B. 534 through the legislative process to declare feticide and the use of coercion to result in an abortion as “crimes of violence” (Act 674). He also took the lead from Mississippi legislation to make abortion “after fifteen weeks following the date of conception” illegal in Louisiana (Act 468) pending successful litigation of the Mississippi law with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.