By Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Louisiana legislators advanced bills in Senate judiciary committees Tuesday that would curb domestic violence, take steps to prevent sexual abuse of youth athletes, and study incentives to reduce the state’s high divorce rate.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have taken strides to address and prevent domestic violence.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat seeking re-election in the fall, has expressed his concerns about the high number of domestic violence incidents in the state.
“It is shocking but true, Louisiana ranks third nationally when it comes to domestic violence, and we should all be moved to bring an end to this senseless act,” the governor said at an event last October in which he raised awareness for survivors and their families.
Members of the Senate Judiciary C Committee advanced a bill proposed by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, which would require local law enforcement officers to receive and review a copy of protective orders. The bill would also require law enforcement agency to inform victims that filing a protective order does not automatically press criminal charges against their perpetrator.
Protective orders, commonly referred to as restraining orders, prohibit a person from being near another person with the intention to prevent abuse.
The bill, referred to as “Heather’s Law,” is named in honor of Heather Mouton, who was shot and killed by her husband last May in Crowley while their three children were present. Although Moutan had filed a restraining order, the courts had not yet taken up the case to enforce the order.
Mouton’s father, Tracy Andrus, was present at the hearing. “She thought she had to wait 20 to 30 days to go to court,” he said, describing his daughter’s lack of information about the legal process. “She didn’t understand that she could have still pressed charges,” Andrus said.
Residents of Crowley–a small town of 13,300 people west of Lafayette–are backing the proposed legislation with more than 4,000 signatures.
The bill would clarify the legal process by providing more information to victims.
Last month, the House passed the bill in a unanimous vote, signaling legislators’ strong bipartisan support.
Stefanski said that this bill would “put more eyes on protective orders,” but committee chairman Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, expressed his concerns about the practicality of the bill.
Claitor contended that local law enforcement needed further direction on how to manage copies of protective orders. “If [copies] is just thrown into a box and nothing is done with it, I don’t believe we are perpetuating anything there,” Claitor said after the meeting.
Nationally, Louisiana ranks second highest for the number of women killed by men. The Violence Policy Center, a non-profit advocacy group, reported that 58 women in the state were killed by men in 2016.
Sen. Regina Ashford Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, proposed legislation that would request the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission within the Department of Children and Family Services to study the long-term effects of domestic violence.
Marketa Garner Walters, who is the Executive Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services, requested the study be conducted by a research facility such as LSU.
Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, proposed a bill to expand background checks on youth athlete coaches and travel coaches who are not affiliated with a youth organization.
A father of three testified on behalf of his son, who was molested by the head coach of his travel baseball team in Union Parish a few years ago.
“He would have kids come over and spend the night with his son,” the father said. “Then, he would bring them out to the graveyard outside his house and do what he wished.”
The former coach was able to skirt past a background check because he was a travel baseball coach and not affiliated with a youth organization, the father testified.
In the Senate Judiciary A Committee, Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, proposed legislation to create a task force that would identify incentives, such as tax credits, for premarital and pre-divorce counseling to encourage couples to stay together.
In the United States, about 40% to 50% of married couples will file for divorce, according to the American Psychological Association.
Louisiana has the fourth highest divorce rate across the nation, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Although the bill passed unanimously, Sen. W. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, and committee chairman Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen–who both expressed support for the task force–questioned the state’s ability to pay for the proposed incentives.
“One thing we always struggle [with] in the Legislature is that there is a lot of good opportunity to impact people’s lives, but how do we pay for those things?” Ward asked.