Overcoming opposition from the National Rifle Association, the Louisiana House approved legislation that would include “dating partners” under the legal umbrella for domestic violence.

All of Louisiana’s neighbors and all but a dozen U.S. states and territories prosecute an intimate who beats up his or her unmarried partner under the much stricter domestic abuse laws.

The House voted 59-30 to approve a measure, House Bill 223, to do just that.

HB223 fills a loophole that allowed dating partners to elude prosecution under the state’s domestic violence laws, which cover family members and spouses. A dating partner is defined as a person in a social relationship of romantic or intimate nature with the abuser. Currently, people who are dating but have not lived together or share children are not covered by domestic abuse laws.

New Orleans Democratic Rep. Helena Moreno had tried before to add dating partners to domestic abuse laws but was shot down by NRA opposition. Wednesday she offered six pages of amendments that turned the NRA from ardent opponents to being neutral on the bill's success.

Essentially the amendments redefined “dating partner” in a way as to not trigger an automatic federal prohibition for possessing a firearm after the first domestic abuse offense. Moreno's changes created a new section of criminal law for dating partners that includes the same definitions, burdens of proof and penalties found in domestic abuse crimes. The only exception is that a dating partner convicted of a first offense wouldn't automatically lose the right to possess a firearm under the federal law. Currently, a conviction for first offense of domestic violence forbids gun possession for 10 years under state law and for life under federal law.

"Anytime you take away firearms, it gets tricky," Moreno said. 

Offenders convicted of a first domestic abuse charge pay a fine, participate in counseling, and sometimes do a little jail time. But the second time around carries mandatory jail time and harsher fines.

Moreno had attempted to add “dating partners” in 2015 but ran into stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights lobbies.

The NRA sent a lobbyist to a 2015 hearing before the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice to argue that “dating partner” can be too broadly interpreted and that the 10-year prohibition for possessing a firearm amounted to a curb on the constitutional right to bear arms. With Republicans and the independent representative voting no and Democrats voting yes, the House committee rejected Moreno’s bill.

The issue came up in a most dramatic way earlier this year when Troy Brown initially refused to leave the state Senate simply because he pleaded no contest, meaning he does not dispute the allegations, to two separate misdemeanors: beating up his girlfriend, then a few months later biting his wife.

Had Brown’s girlfriend been considered a victim of domestic abuse, rather than just another everyday casualty, his attack on his wife would have been a second offense, which would have been a felony and Brown couldn’t serve as an elected official.

But that's not Louisiana law. Brown argued he would have been the only American legislator in recordable history to be thrown out of office for committing two crimes officially defined as minor in state law. His lawyers asked senators to disclose every misdemeanor, like speeding or littering, they had committed.

He resigned Feb. 16, a few days before what promised to be an embarrassing Senate expulsion hearing.

 

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.