A two-bill package aimed at helping victims of sexual assault advanced toward final legislative passage Tuesday.
The state Senate Judiciary B Committee slightly altered the bills then shipped them to the full Louisiana Senate for debate.
The House-passed measures, sponsored by Rep. Helena Moreno, would set up standards and procedures for the forensic medical examination and treatment of victims.
A key provision would stop sexual assault victims from receiving big bills for their medical treatment after the attacks. Hospitals would send bills directly to the Crime Victims Reparations Board for payment. The victims could also later seek help from the board in covering additional expenses, such as counseling or lost work days.
Some unclaimed gambling money would be dedicated to pay for the victim-related expenses.
“Our state was doing a very poor job in taking care of victims of sexual assault, especially dealing with forensic medical exams,” said Moreno, D-New Orleans.
Standardization of procedures statewide in forensic evidence collection would also help convict offenders, she said.
The legislation is the work of a task force that included representatives of victim support groups, hospitals, district attorneys, coroners as well as the state health agency.
Louisiana’s laws and regulations in regard to rape victims have been inconsistently applied around the state, not only on whether hospitals can charge but on what services they invoice. Some hospitals have been charging rape victims for such things as emergency room care, pregnancy testing, HIV testing and medications as well as treatment of injuries.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Sue Bernie said a protocol for the treatment of rape victims already exists in the parish and is working well. She said women are taken to Woman’s Hospital and children to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. She sought an amendment to guarantee that no disruption in that would occur as regional plans that are required under the legislation are developed.
“It’s very good for our victims … and makes sure that the exams are done properly,” so they can be used in successful prosecutions, Bernie said.
East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark said the parish has been doing things the same way for a long time. But, he said, “I don’t believe we have a protocol.”
Clark said victims don’t always end up at one of the hospitals Bernie mentioned. “Victims need the same response no matter where they are,” he said.
“I hear fear more than anything else,” said Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans. “I think there’s fear in the unknown. … Change is hard but uniformity is very, very important in this process.”