20 April 2016

Committee action, Apr. 20: HB 606, HB 266, HB 1019, HB 1081, HB 598, HB 1079

HB 606 by the House Health and Welfare Committee Rep. Frank Hoffman would prohibit state funding to any organization that performs abortion, regardless of whether the funding went to abortion. After a minor amendment was approved, supporters said that such organizations deceptively steered women towards abortions, distorted the overwhelming role abortions played in their service provision and revenues, and have many options for health care.

Rep. Kenny Cox wondered whether money that went to such organizations could be diverted to other pressing health needs, such as addressing diseases related to reproduction. Rep. Mike Johnson noted the complete constitutionality of the bill that would not restrict abortion.

Opponents claimed it would be restrictive and would not protect women because of economic disparities. Rep. Katrina Jackson noted that sufficient providers existed that could receive funding otherwise going to abortion providers, some providing free services, which opponents disputed. Johnson asked if it were an economic burden to women, why adoption was not a viable option. He wondered whether Planned Parenthood representatives were present and willing to testify, and one showed up. Johnson asked a number of questions about finances and incriminating video evidence concerning organization, which she gave little in the way of answers except to try to defend the content on the videos. Additional questions by Jackson also were evaded.

Other opponents tried to argue the bill would discriminate in favor of religious viewpoints. But Jackson pointed out pro-life views spanned religions and even that atheists had such views, so that kind of argument could not be sustained.

Hoffman closed by stating that if Planned Parenthood continued not to perform abortions in the state, it would not lose any state funding. The bill passed without objection.

HB 266 by Rep. Denise Marcelle would “ban the box” for state civil service hiring. She told the House Governmental and Affairs Committee that criminal records would not be asked at the initial intake of unclassified employees (because civil service regulations governed classified employees), allowing that only later in the process. Proponents argued this made more difficult successful reentry into the community by needlessly screening out job candidates who could find employment if allowed to have an interview first.

Rep. John Schroder, drawing upon his business and law enforcement background, thought this could be too restrictive in the latitude of supervisors hiring. Rep. Pat Smith, speaking on behalf of the bill, said questions about background could be asked in the interview. But Schroder questioned whether public employment should not have this higher level of scrutiny attached from the start.

Rep. Barry Ivey said that since questioning about criminal background did not have to happen in an interview, this could allow bad apples to slip through. Smith said interviewers could take the initiative to ask. Ivey asked what the data said on this matter, which Marcelle provided in broad strokes but she related no specifics. Ivey also said Smith’s conception that this represented “baby steps” to extend to the law to the private sector troubled him. He said maybe the bill should specify that questions about criminal background might be or should be asked. Marcelle was reluctant to make such questioning in the interview process mandated. Smith said rules could be promulgated for unclassified hiring.

Schroder asked about Smith about other related bills, which she said she did have one that would extend it to contracting. This concerned Schroder as an extension, feeling support of this bill opened the door to extension to other areas. Smith objected to connecting the two, saying they were separate matters. Rep. Lance Harris also expressed worries that this could encourage extension to the private sector. He also pointed out that the box served as an honesty check confirmed by an interview that would provide useful information in a hiring decision.

Ivey wondered about the Civil Service Commission and why it had not acted in promulgating rules about questioning or removing the box. Its director Bryon Decoteau noted it did not want to act until consensus came from policy-makers, but if a change came, it would review the question. Ivey questioned whether without the box exposed the state to too much liability.

Supporters, some of them previously convicted, testified that past criminals deserved a chance to get a job and the box unfairly kept or discouraged people from working. They said the high incarceration rate was related to barriers to getting work, which if removed would go down.

Opponents feared this would become an extension to the private sector, create liability concerns, and complicate hiring. Marcelle closed by emphasizing this bill stood on its own and did not preclude questioning, and applied only to unclassified employees. The bill passed 9-1.

HB 1019 by Rep. Rick Edmonds would prohibit abortions for reason of genetic abnormality. Edmonds, who has a child born with a congenital disorder, said to Health and Welfare his experiences with individuals with such disabilities were rewarding and they and their families loved their lives. Supporters argued that the prevailing culture devalued such lives so the law would protect such lives, and about protecting those with disabilities. People involved wanted their children until they were told of the potential of some disability and became swayed to abort them. Also, women who felt they had to abort because of potential disability exhibited disproportionate mental trauma later. And, they said there was a bias in them medical field because of insurance concerns to pressure women in this situation to abort.

An amendment identical to the one made to HB 606 was offered, which would permit abortions when the pregnancy was deemed futile; that is, the unborn would die regardless of medical intervention almost immediately outside the womb. It was approved after a quorum was reached.

Opponents argued the definition was too broad, so that children would die in infancy, have severe disabilities, and would cause families hardship. Edmonds closed by saying life is hard and people may believe they act compassionately by making it less difficult but at the cost of precious life, and reminded that no one can predict the future and that defects don’t determine a bleak life for a person or family.

The bill passed without objection.

HB 1081 by Johnson would prevent dismemberment abortions. He said a thousand a year were performed in Louisiana, essentially taking part living infants who feel pain. Being the cheapest method, Johnson said this was used far too often when others could be employed, a fact other states already recognized by banning this. Supporters testified to the violence involved in the process and that it was overused out of convenience; the unborn can be saved and live outside the womb despite mothers’ health problems.

Opponents said doctors should have the discretion to make choices of methods, the bill was too subjective, some other bills doing this had been blocked by the courts, and intruded into the doctor/patient relationship. They claimed the information given in support was more politically-driven than factual. This riled Cox, who said the notion that the Constitution gave the right to dismember children was ridiculous.

Rep. Robert Johnson also took umbrage when a representative for a pro-abortion group of alleged Catholics called upon representatives to consider reputed Catholic public opinion and doctrine on the issue. He pointed out the Catholic doctrine expressly prohibited abortion.

Mike Johnson closed by saying journals affirmed the cost benefit to providers, other countries banned the practice as barbaric to living humans, and that challenged laws were done on the basis of state constitutions that would survive under the state’s Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. The bill was reported favorably without objection.

HB 598 by Smith would relax requirements to the right to vote by convicted felons. She told House and Governmental Affairs that this could help integration into the community that would improve recidivism rates, especially since probation periods could go on for a long time. Supporters argued the right to vote was so important that upon exit from prison they should have that opportunity, even if still under supervision.

A representative of Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the bill failed to address informing the office about individuals affected under existing law needed to register and that a number of bureaucratic impediments, including changes involving costs, existed that would cause the office to miss the bill’s August deadline and November elections. The office also expressed unspecified philosophical objections. Smith said she objected to Schedler’s objection, but that the time frame could be moved and agreed to amending the bill as such.

Smith closed by arguing this bill relieved disenfranchisement. It was reported without objection.

HB 1079 by Rep. Dee Richard would allow candidates to appear on ballots with a party designation even if it was not recognized by the state. Currently, the designation “other” appears. To become recognized costs money and requires sufficient signatures. He said let them put what they want, and any confusion that resulted was the candidate’s problem.

A motion came from Rep. Sam Jenkins to defer it involuntarily, which happened without objection.

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