LaLege 040921

New Orleans Democratic Rep. Aimee Freeman was handling some work at her desk Friday, April 9, 2021. The of Louisiana's 144 legislators are arriving in Baton Rouge for the regular session of 2021, which begins Monday, April 12.

A legislative proposal that would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to apply for a temporary restraining order has come under fire from Louisiana's powerful gun lobby — though its proponents aren't exactly sure why. 

House Bill 55 from New Orleans Democratic Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman would remove the requirement that an application for a temporary restraining order include a notarized affidavit. Instead, it would allow applicants to provide a written affirmation, signed by a witness, that the facts included in the petition are true. 

In some portions of the state — including in the clerk of courts in Orleans, Calcasieu and Ouachita parishes — notaries aren't immediately available in-house, often forcing victims to seek out and pay for a private notary on their own, according to Mariah Wineski, the executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

"What we found is that it was difficult for victims to get a notary in some areas of the state," Wineski said. "This is a huge step for a victim and in many cases she has only one chance to get this and she has planned and waited and agonized over the decision to come forward and ask the court system to help keep her safe."

HB55 sailed through the House Civil Law Committee with bipartisan support and little controversy. It wasn't until the measure advanced to the House floor that gun rights groups registered their opposition with lawmakers.

"This legislation would allow Domestic Abuse Temporary Restraining Orders to be granted without notice based only upon written affirmation of the petition," wrote Matthew Herriman, the National Rifle Association's state director, in a note to lawmakers. "These orders, which are already fraught with frivolous claims, result in the loss of someone's constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Lowering the bar here is a violation of due process and sets a terrible precedent."

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A temporary restraining order does not, under current or proposed law, result in the loss of someone's ability to own firearms, Wineski said. It only restricts someone from purchasing a new gun during the duration of the order, which can last a maximum of 21 days before a judge is required to hold a formal hearing on the merits of the application. 

"I’m confused and concerned by the opposition to this bill. We think it’s a very simple bill. It doesn’t do what they’re claiming that it does," Wineski said. 

Dan Zelenka, president of the Louisiana Shooting Association, said that lowering the bar for a temporary protective order by removing the affidavit requirement could make it easier to purposely stunt someone's ability to purchase firearms. 

"You can affect someone's constitutional right" for 21 days, Zelenka said in an interview. "That gives me concern that someone might use this as a weapon against a person she's mad at."

HB55 strengthens the punishment for lying on an application for a restraining order, Wineski noted, upping the maximum fine from  $1,000 to a $10,000. She said the narrative around "frivolous" claims is overblown, and said that removing the affidavit requirement doesn't change the fact that an applicant has to later prove their allegations before a judge.

"So many of the arguments have been centered on the underlying myth that victims lie," Wineski said. "I just can’t help but wonder if they’d say that to the face of a victim who is terrified of her abuser and who mustered up the courage to ask the court to help her save her life."


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater