Gov. Bobby Jindal on May 29 signed into law six bills strengthening the state's laws against domestic violence — one of the largest-ever packages of bills tackling domestic violence issues in Louisiana. State Rep. Helena Moreno and state Sen. J.P. Morrell, both Democrats from New Orleans, introduced the legislation in their respective chambers.
In a statement, Jindal said domestic violence "has plagued our society for too long. Sadly, too many victims of domestic violence live throughout Louisiana." The bills received unanimous support in the House and Senate and in committees.
Morrell's Senate Bill 291 allows domestic violence survivors to be awarded punitive damages in suits related to domestic abuse, and Senate Bill 292 allows for an immediate divorce if a family member is physically or sexually abused or if there is an active protective order against the spouse.
Moreno's House Bill 747 lists "domestic abuse aggravated assault" as a crime of violence and requires offenders to participate in a court-monitored domestic abuse intervention program. Her House Bill 750 requires the immediate arrest of an offender if the predominant aggressor is in violation of a protective order; and House Bill 753 — the Pixie Geaux Act — prohibits persons convicted of domestic abuse battery from possessing a firearm or carrying a concealed weapon, making state law consistent with federal law.
The firearm prohibition also applies to any person subject to a protective order when a court finds that he or she presents "a credible threat to the physical safety of a family member or household member" and the court informs the person subject to the order that he or she may not possess firearms.
HB 753 faced a Legislature strongly favoring Second Amendment rights and a state constitutional amendment requiring gun laws to meet a "strict scrutiny" test. For legislators to back the bill, it needed to pass muster with the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has a powerful lobby in Baton Rouge. Kim Sport, United Way of Southeast Louisiana's public policy committee chair, helped draft the legislation.
"When we started, we weren't sure what reception we'd get in Legislature," Sport said. "We made sure the law that passed does not go any further than federal law in place. Local law enforcement can't enforce federal law — we had to have a state law on the books. As long as we kept the language identical, NRA said they would stand down."
Jindal also signed into law House Bill 1142, aka Gwen's Law, named after Gwen Salley, a woman killed by her husband last month after he was able to post bond after spending less than 24 hours in jail for violating a protective order. The law requires courts to electronically monitor domestic violence offenders and to hold a contradictory bail hearing, and gives courts the authority to deny bail.
Moreno's House Bill 1052 — pending Jindal's signature — creates the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission within the Department of Children and Family Services. Sport says the bill will help "find and fill the gaps" in domestic violence legislation for next year's session, including protection for same-sex couples.