If you've been keeping up with national news, then you no doubt already know that having a relationship with a professional escort has become the political faux pas of choice, replacing kickbacks, tax evasion and insider trading, at least for now. It's a bipartisan trend, scandalizing two Republican senators and taking down a Democratic governor within the past year. Still, it's hard to describe the exchange of money for sex as anything new, despite the high-profile players involved. Prostitution is said to be among the oldest trades, which is somewhat difficult to substantiate, but we do know that hooking has been reviled and even regulated in some form or fashion in the U.S. for generations. Don't be fooled by that longevity, though. There are still lingering questions even in Louisiana as to how current laws are being applied to prostitution violations. In fact, Rep. Lowell C. Hazel, a freshman Republican from Pineville, wants the Louisiana Legislature to go into greater detail regarding illegal activities between a hooker and a john. Right now, state law generally refers to "sexual intercourse," with only brief illustrations. Hazel's House Bill 40 would clarify that "sexual intercourse includes oral, anal or vaginal intercourse."
Hazel, a former prosecutor, says he has long been concerned about the Clintonesque definition currently on the books, which is vague enough to allow some wiggle room, albeit minimal, under certain conditions. "I'm just worried that someone skilled enough could find a way around the current law," Hazel says. "This would close that loophole."
In a general session that will likely be defined by workforce, ethics and budget debates, Hazel is among the lawmakers spicing things up with sex-related measures. While it's never a lawmaker's intent to be sexy when it comes to policy, at least on the surface, it nonetheless happens on occasion, much to the delight of the lobbyists and reporters who are stuck in committee rooms for hours on end listening to officials harp about unfunded accrued liability or district roads. In short, it's a welcome change of pace.
Morality and sexuality likewise collide on House Concurrent Resolution 4, which urges the state to amend the Louisiana State Plumbing Code to require privacy partitions between urinals in male restrooms. Rep. Mickey James Guillory (D-Eunice) notes that his bill only seeks to implement what is already in the International Plumbing Code, but adds the primary concern is homosexual behavior, some of which is "being directed at 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds" and not just adults, he says.
Guillory says the idea for the resolution actually came from Paul Marx, founder of Louisiana Proud Radio, a 25,000-watt station in Eunice that's better known as KBON and is found at 101.1 FM. "This was a topic that was on the radio show and people called in pretty heavy to share stories and talk about what's going on. This is a pretty serious problem," Guillory says. "And that station is on the Internet, so there were people calling in from all over the world."
Porn shops, adult video stores and strip clubs are the targets of Sen. Julie Quinn, a Metairie Republican. At the request of the Louisiana Family Forum, a right-wing Christian group, Quinn filed legislation that would have regulated "sexually oriented businesses and their employees." The bill has since been withdrawn, but Quinn says she plans to re-file a bill that would address a number of topics.
Her research is still in the conceptual stages, but Quinn says she is exploring laws that would prohibit clustering sex-related businesses close together, as well as others that would prevent such businesses from being built near churches or schools. She stipulates that existing businesses would be grandfathered in to any new law.
Until she files the legislation, Quinn says, she is reluctant to go into the problems she sees with these types of businesses. She adds that drug trafficking and decency standards are among her concerns. "When you have all of these porn stores and gentleman clubs if you even want to call them that all within close proximity, there are concerns about pockets of criminal activity sprouting up," she says.
Of course, there are also a slew of bills that attack sexual predators, online and otherwise. For instance, Sen. Nick Gautreaux, D-Abbeville, has legislation that would ban sex offenders from taking part in Halloween. His Senate Bill 143 would prohibit the violators from "wearing a mask, hood or disguise during holiday events and from distributing candy or other gifts on Halloween to persons under 18 years of age." Gautreaux is also pushing Senate Bill 144, which would authorize the state to oversee voluntary castration of sex offenders.
Meanwhile, Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, is tackling sexual discrimination in the workplace. His House Bill 443 would prohibit private businesses from discriminating against an employee or potential employee on the basis of sexual orientation. Among other provisions, it calls for businesses to "allow any employee to appear and dress consistently with the employee's gender identity."
LaFonta also seeks to apply some of those same guidelines on the state level via House Bill 981, which would prohibit "state agencies and officers from harassing or discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation or disabilities." The proposed law defines "sexual orientation" as heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.
All of the sex-related bills will make for flashy headlines, but they also mark an important change in the legislative process. Sexuality is rarely discussed on the floor of the House or Senate, despite it being a part of everyday life. Yet, it's ultimately up to lawmakers to bring the public into the discussions, give the bills fair hearings and explore every avenue of debate, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for some.
While labor and financial issues will go a long way toward defining the current session, these topics will likely serve as a barometer not only of how far sexual politics have come in Louisiana, but also where they're going.