If you’re looking for good news out of the 2015 Legislature, there is some, as lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal tackled a problem and for the time at least have produced a solution.
The issue was the patchwork of policies around the state regarding a sensitive issue: rape.
Some victims — obviously, greatly concerned about privacy — have been sent bills from many hospitals or clinics for their own forensic exams.
The administration and legislators — among them state Rep. Helena Moreno and state Sen. J.P. Morrell, both New Orleans Democrats — worked on this issue and found it more complex than it first appeared. Obviously, medical services cost money and providers need to be paid. At the same time, the possibilities of embarrassment or, worse, disclosure had to be avoided.
Law enforcement has a stake in this issue, as billing is a small issue that could lead victims to avoid seeking treatment or reporting attacks.
As Morrell told the Senate last week, “It was a dark day for Louisiana when you had rape victims receiving a bill for their exams. We don’t want them to ever see the bill.”
That led to passage of two measures. Under House Bill 143, some unclaimed gambling winnings will now go to a fund that will cover the costs. House Bill 835 would bar hospitals and clinics from sending bills to victims for the exams or health care services related to sexually oriented criminal offenses, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy tests. Billings could go to the Crime Victims Reparations Board.
This issue involved large numbers of institutional partners, the lawmakers and the administration working in common purpose. That’s one of the good things that came out of the recently concluded legislative session.
As has been the case with these legislators and this governor, funding is something of a problem. The state general fund being largely broke, the dedication of some unclaimed gambling winnings is another dodge for lawmakers who want to spend money but find it politically difficult to tax somebody to pay for their good intentions.
We’re not sure this dedication is the final answer, but it provides a funding source to deal with the immediate pressures raised by advocates for the victims. Perhaps the money issue can be addressed in the future, but today’s problem had been getting unfortunate national publicity for Louisiana.
For those who are victimized, and for the state’s reputation as a whole, the legislation put together this year is good news and welcome.