BATON ROUGE, La. (LBM) – Key protections for children, born and unborn, highlighted the 2019 Louisiana Legislative Session, but other moral issues and social concerns were in the spotlight, too, and most were decided favorably with regard to the consensus views of Louisiana Baptists regarding these matters.
In 2018, Louisiana Baptists overwhelming approved a resolution declaring their “unwavering commitment to rescue and protect life from the womb through eternity,” and pro-life legislation approved in 2019 included multiple bills championed by Louisiana Baptist lawmakers.
Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Morehouse, Ouachita), and Sen. Beth Mizell (R-St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington, Florida), a member of the First Baptist Church in Franklinton, sponsored a state amendment in their respective chambers. Approved by two-thirds votes in the House and Senate, the Love Life Amendment (H.B. 425) offers to add a simple statement to the Louisiana Constitution, declaring, “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” This measure protects against a rogue state judge ruling that an abortion right exists that is not explicitly stated, and invalidating the common sense pro-life laws that have been passed by the legislature. The original intent was to place the matter on the 2019 ballot (a simple majority is needed); however, Jackson accepted a change to have voters consider the issue in 2020.
Earlier this year, the Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Board unanimously endorsed the Love Life Amendment and the Office of Public Policy announced plans to energize Louisiana Baptists’ support.
Three Louisiana Baptist lawmakers advanced legislation that tightens restrictions on abortions:
— Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-Ouachita), a member of the First Baptist Church in West Monroe, authored H.B. 133, removing a loophole for chemical abortions, and, changing the definition of “abortion” in the law to use “unborn child” instead of “fetus,” specifically strengthening the language to acknowledge “abortion” causes “the death of the unborn child.”
— Rep. Raymond Crews (R-Bossier), a member of the First Baptist Church in Bossier City, successfully passed H.B. 484 “to deter and punish the illegal destruction of patient medical records by abortion clinics.” Crews undertook the initiative after discovering that abortion clinics “have obstructed investigation of sexual assaults involving minors and allegations of illegally performed abortions” and “hindered the rights of victims to pursue or obtain justice” by losing or destroying documentation such as patient records.
— Sen. Mizell moved legislation that requires “abortion facility professionals and abortion facility staff members to report crimes of human trafficking, trafficking of children for sexual purposes, rape, incest, or coerced abortion to law enforcement, whether the victim is a minor child or an adult” (S.B. 238). She also pushed through S.B. 221 that mandates women be provided information “in writing” that contains: the name of the abortionist as it “appears on the membership roll of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners;” details about the abortionist’s medical qualifications, active admitting privileges, if any, as well as malpractice insurance; and, disciplinary actions against the abortionist taken “in the last 10 years.”
All four bills await the governor’s signature.
Meanwhile, Act 31, authored as Senate Bill 184 by Sen. John Milkovich (D-DeSoto), provides protection against abortion at the first heartbeat of an unborn child, and mandates an ultrasound prior to every abortion to ensure adherence to the law. The bill has a “trigger statement” to avoid costly litigation, and goes into effect if the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decides favorably regarding a similar “heartbeat bill” passed this year by the Mississippi legislature. All 16 Louisiana Baptist representatives (Democrats and Republicans) voted “yes.” Four Louisiana Baptist senators said “yea” (Republicans). Among the remaining three (Democrats), one answered “nay,” while two were absent for the vote.
FAMILY & CHILDREN
Two resolutions were overwhelmingly approved to establish task forces that will research and craft legislation related to key issues impacting Louisiana families. Both address concerns raised by Louisiana Baptists in resolutions passed by messengers in recent years.
Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches, Sabine, Winn, Grant, Rapides, Red River), president pro tempore of the Senate and a member of the First Baptist Church in Natchitoches, took up the banner for protecting children against exposure to online adult content. SCR 56 directs the state attorney general to establish the Task Force on Protecting Children from Exposure to Pornography “to study all issues related to the exposure of children to pornography and the impact it has on their lives” with the aim of proposing legislation that regulates the internet and web accessible devices.
Sen. Mizell proposed SCR 107 which establishes the Task Force on Benefits of Marriage and Incentives for Premarital Counseling and Pre-Divorce Counseling under the purview of the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children, on which she serves as vice chair. The goal is to create tax code and other incentives to entice couples to participate in premarital counseling and to move parents considering divorce to take part in courses which include reconciliation sessions. The Senate passed the legislation without opposition. In the House, 21 lawmakers argued against the proposal, with some lamenting that it would make it harder to divorce in Louisiana, but the measure was approved.
Additionally, Sen. Regina Barrow (D-East Baton Rouge) sponsored S.B. 109, which awaits the governor’s expected signature. This bill extends foster care to cover an age gap that puts many young people at risk. Previously a child in a residential foster care home timed out in terms of eligibility at age 18. Barrow’s measure allows a child to remain in an extended foster care program until the age of 21.
The Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries already provides extended foster care for 18-21 year olds.
Perry Hancock, LBCHFM president and CEO, applauded the move by the state, saying that “extending care for those young adults will provide them with the support they need to successfully complete their high school education.”
“We have seen the positive results of having that support in our PathFinders transitional living ministry,” he affirmed.
“Gaming” legislation (“gambling” is banned in the Louisiana Constitution) appeared to be on the fast track in the legislature. Forty-seven parishes approved the legalization of fantasy sports “contests” in 2018, but the defeat of H.B. 600 (which would have levied taxes on fantasy sports) means neither fantasy sports (described as a “simulation sports game”) or live sports betting will be allowed in the state at least until 2021, unless a special session is called.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected Sen. Danny Martiny’s S.B. 153, which would have allowed sports wagering at riverboat, track or land-based casinos. Seeking to revive his bill, Martiny (D-Jefferson) amended H.B. 600 to include sports betting. However, both the House and Senate rejected those amendments, and Martiny subsequently engaged in what was viewed as a filibuster of H.B. 600 in the Senate until the legislative session ended.
Sen. Mizell offered a passionate argument “as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother” from the Senate ﬂoor to explain why she was voting “no” to alter the U.S. Constitution with an “Equal Rights Amendment.” Citing cases in New Mexico and Connecticut, she expressed specific concern about “the connection with abortion in the ERA” and how the ERA in those states has been used to appropriate tax dollars “to fund abortions.”
Other opponents raised concerns that the ERA would require women to be drafted if compulsory service was ever re-instituted.
Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard) argued SCR 2 was a bi-partisan issue that “predates the entire abortion debate.” However, he also used language that advocacy groups have employed to argue the ERA confers rights to those who claim a transgender or gender fluid sexual identity.
Ultimately, the resolution lost by a 9-26 vote.
The death penalty was highly debated this year.
S.B. 112 (Sen Dan Claitor, R-East Baton Rouge) offered to abolish the death penalty completely “after January 1, 2021” and H.B. 215 (Rep. Terry Landry, D-Iberia, Lafayette, St. Martin) sought to eliminate capital punishment as a penalty “for first degree murder, first degree rape, and treason committed on or after Aug. 1, 2019.” Various religious and legal groups argued passionately for their positions. In the end, the former lost a Senate vote, 13-25, and the latter, which made it out of committee by only one vote, was not brought up for consideration in the House.
Finally, attempts to legalize recreational pot in the state went up in smoke.
Rep. John Bagneris (D-Orleans) presented H.B. 509, which, among multiple other provisions, proposed to allow “individuals over the age of 21 to consume marijuana and to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.” A companion bill, H.B. 564, initiated by Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge) would have legalized “the cultivation, manufacturing, and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products.”
Both were assigned to the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice chaired by Rep. Sherman Mack (R-Livingston), a member of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Albany, and each lost on a vote of “four yeas and eight nays.”