A number of Louisiana state representatives embarrassed themselves and their constituents when state Rep. Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson, introduced a "joke" amendment to Senate Bill 468 by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, two weeks ago. Johns' bill, which since has become law, raises the age to perform in strip clubs from 18 to 21. Its aim is to deter human trafficking, but Havard thought it would be funny to add age and weight limits for strippers, quipping that it was a way of "trimming the fat."
This wasn't just a tossed-off remark. Havard actually submitted an amendment, and other House members piled on by throwing down dollar bills as if they were in a strip club. Havard later claimed he was making a satirical statement about legislative overreach, which might have been believable had the bill (sans amendment) not passed unanimously — yes, he voted for it. When his female colleagues called him out, Havard stubbornly refused to apologize.
Sadly, the Legislature's campaign of insults to women did not end there. House Bill 386 by state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, is the so-called "Women's Enhanced Reflection Act." It increases the time a woman has to wait for a legal abortion — between counseling and ultrasound and the actual procedure — from one day to three days. The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. Legislators claimed, straight-faced, that it wouldn't deter anyone who really wanted an abortion. We can only imagine the reaction if someone introduced a bill requiring a three-day period of "reflection" before buying a handgun in Louisiana.
Worst of all was the treatment of bills that sought to ensure equal pay for women. The House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee torpedoed a bill by state Rep. Barbara Norton, R-Shreveport, who wanted to extend equal pay protections to women in the private sector. Norton said it was her eighth attempt to pass such legislation. The committee also rejected equal pay bills by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans. The ultimate insult was the committee's rejection of a measure by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, to create a commission merely to study equal pay matters.
The flurry of anti-women comments and votes by lawmakers inspired state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, to launch a social media campaign titled #ItsNoJoke (initially in response to Havard's comment that his proposed amendment was just a joke). "Women make up more than half the population in Louisiana, but only 12 percent of the Legislature," Moreno noted, adding, "Louisiana has the lowest percentage of women in any statehouse in the country." Moreno pledges to track issues that matter to women in the months ahead. So do we.
In the coming weeks, Gambit will highlight issues of importance to Louisiana women — and explore why and how our state falls short.