For a legislative session heavy on complex tax topics and ominous budget complications, state lawmakers still found time to introduce bills that tap into Louisiana's undercurrent of political, sexual and spiritual divisions. Social issues are always on the legislative agenda, it seems.
Nothing ups the temperature of rural and urban lawmakers like a debate over abortion or same-sex marriage. Nothing grabs clever headlines like a policy exchange over marijuana. And nothing fills committee rooms like possible changes to laws governing sex education and creationism.
Social issues represent a third rail lawmakers can't help but touch, whether it means throwing red meat at angry constituents during an election year or riling up the opposition. Here's 10 issues that will be on the table:
"Religious freedom" — House Bill (HB) 707 by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, aims to protect business owners from government action for defending their religious beliefs. Opponents liken it to lightning-rod laws in Indiana and Arkansas, arguing it would allow private businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.
Creationism — Senate Bill (SB) 784 by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, would prohibit the teaching of creationism in public classrooms.
Sex ed — HB 359 by Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, would require public schools in New Orleans to teach sex education to students in certain grades.
Defining life — SB 80 by Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, is a constitutional amendment that would legally define an unborn child as a "human being" from the moment of conception.
Gender-preference abortions — HB 701 by Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, would prohibit abortions that are sought due to the sex of the unborn child — and allow parents and grandparents to seek civil damages of $10,000 to $100,000 (or more) if its the fourth or subsequent offense "to deter future violations."
Loosening marijuana laws — HB 6 by Rep. Dalton Honore, D-Baton Rouge, and SB 143 by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, would make way for medical marijuana. Honore's HB 117 would also provide for proposition elections to legalize weed.
Pot busts — HB 149 by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would bar the application of habitual offender laws for second and subsequent convictions for possession of marijuana, but only when the conviction deals solely with marijuana possession.
Marijuana possession — SB 241 by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, does away with jail time for most first offenses of marijuana possession of an ounce or less and reduces penalties for subsequent convictions.
LGBT employment protection — HB 632 by Rep. Karen Gaudet St. Germain, D-Plaque-mine, would make it unlawful for any employer to discriminate based on an "individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."
Sexual discrimination — HB 612 by Badon would add new sexual discrimination protections for four orientation/identity categories under 62 different areas of law.