Legislature 2021

Domestic abuse bill pulled after explosive exchange, but child sex abuse bill wins passage in both houses

Louisiana State Capitol Photo by Travis Gauthier

After an explosive outburst Wednesday at a colleague who questioned whether she understood the provisions of her bill redefining domestic abuse, a tearful and contrite Rep. Melinda White, D-Bogalusa, went before the House Thursday and asked that the conference report on her bill be returned to the calendar.

“I come here with a lot of heartache,” White said, then muffled back sobs before saying, “I ask that House Bill 159 be returned to the calendar.” There it died.

On Wednesday, White was asking the House to concur in the conference report, or compromise version worked out between the House and Senate. Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, went to the back mic to question whether the bill were too broad and could have the unintended effect of ruining lives over frivolous claims of domestic abuse. When he mentioned that White is not a lawyer and may not understand the law, White, herself a victim of domestic abuse, began lashing out at Seabaugh. Another House member physically escorted her from the House floor, halting action on the bill. 

White later apologized to the House, but the damage appeared to be done. The incident has been making the rounds on social media.

Ironically, the complex, 66-page bill, which has been in the works for years, had overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed the House 95-0 on April 15 and the Senate 36-0 on Monday, but the Senate had added five committee amendments and two floor amendments. The House, at White’s urging, voted unanimously to reject the Senate amendments on Tuesday, and a conference committee was named.

HB159 would have removed sexual and physical abuse as the sole definition of domestic abuse and added non-physical abuse, which it defines as “any act or threat to act that is intended to coerce, control, punish, intimidate, or exact revenge on the other party, for the purpose of preventing the victim from reporting  to law enforcement or requesting medical assistance or emergency victim services, or for the purpose of depriving the victim of the means or ability to resist the abuse or escape the relationship.”

Another social-oriented bill that provoked some emotion Thursday was HB492 by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, which greatly extends the prescription period a victim of child sexual abuse has to seek civil remedies against an abuser.

“I didn’t seek this bill,” a sometimes emotional Hughes said as he asked the House to approve the conference report on the bill. “In some respects, it sought me. This will give some justice to those who have been robbed of their innocence. We owe it to them.” 

His Republican colleague, Barry Ivey of Baton Rouge, went to the back mic to voice his support.

“I have family members who have been victimized,” Ivey confided, “and I can tell you this is a lifetime of recovery.”

In closing on the motion to accept the conference report, Hughes said plaintively, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

His appeal was rewarded with a unanimous 101-0 vote at 12:48 p.m. At 2:09 p.m., the Senate approved the conference report 32-0.

The key element of the bill is that it extends the prescription period for a victim to sue an abuser from 10 years past the victim’s 18th birthday to 35 years.