BATON ROUGE–The health and safety of women has emerged as a significant theme in this year’s legislative session, and five bills, two House resolutions and one Senate resolution dealing with these issues advanced on Tuesday.
Two of the bills focus on domestic abuse. House Bill 159, sponsored by Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, would provide a clear definition for domestic abuse, and House Bill 55, sponsored Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, would remove the notarization requirement on a temporary restraining order.
The recent mishandling of sexual assault allegations against multiple student athletes at Louisiana State University has prompted legislators to address women’s health and safety issues.
Multiple female legislators critiqued LSU’s handling of the allegations in a joint committee hearing in March, and they vowed to make dramatic changes.
Helena Moreno, a New Orleans city councilwoman and a former state representative, and survivors of domestic violence spoke in support of White’s bill in the Senate Judiciary A Committee.
Senate Bill 133, sponsored by Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, advanced through the House Committee on Health and Welfare. The bill would require the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) to serve as a resource for addressing health care disparities for women and vulnerable populations in Louisiana.
“Black women are more likely to die while giving birth in the state of Louisiana than white women are, and we want to continue to make sure we close that gap,” said Kimberly Hood, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Office of Public Health.
Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, questioned why addressing health care disparities among a population that makes up over 50% of Louisiana’s broader population is not a part of the health department’s integral mission.
Hood responded that the agency has different programs to address the needs of Louisiana residents and this bill aims to cover a gap.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 32, sponsored by Rep. Barrow, would recreate and continue the work of a task force to study health services delivery to help uninsured patients in the Baton Rouge region. The task force would be required to make a recommendation to the legislative committees on health and welfare.
House Concurrent Resolution 103, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, would request that the state Health Department address the impacts of maternal depression and anxiety on and implement screenings for preventative care, early identification and treatment services.
House Concurrent Resolution 105, also sponsored by Rep. Duplessis, would create the Louisiana Maternal Mental Health Task Force. The task force would identify and review barriers to screening, diagnosis and treatment of maternal mental health concerns in women. The task force would focus on health barriers for black and brown women.
Each piece of legislation moved through committee without opposition. White’s and Freeman’s bills relating to domestic abuse will move to the Senate floor for debate, while the other measures will move to the House floor for debate.
Two other bills relating to women passed the full House Tuesday and will now move to the Senate.
House Bill 468, sponsored by Rep. Mandy Landry, D-New Orleans, would extend Medicaid coverage eligibility to low-income post- mothers from 60 days postpartum to one year postpartum. The bill passed without opposition.
The expansion of Medicaid “is happening around the country, and it is a preventative measure,” said Landry. “Louisiana is at the top of the list for babies born at low-birth weight.”
Landry said the bill would help about 10,000 women in the state.
House Bill 7, a bill that would create a state-wide tax exemption on feminine hygiene products and diapers, passed the House 59-33.
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