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State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, center, answers questions during hearings in the Senate Judiciary A Committee on HB 425. Jackson is flanked by Dorinda Bordlee, with the Bioethics Defense Fund, left, and Benjamin Clapper, executive director Louisiana Right to Life, right.

The Louisiana Senate passes more legislation on abortion, hundreds attend an abortion rights rally, the state's smoking age will stay at 18, the Louisiana animal abuse registry isn't happening this year, and more. Here's what you need to know in New Orleans this week:

Louisiana Senate passes more abortion-related legislation

The Louisiana Senate passed a bill 31-4 last week that would let residents vote on adding language to the state constitution explicitly stating that Louisiana does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion — advancing yet another abortion restriction. The amendment will almost certainly appear on the Oct. 12 ballot, coinciding with the gubernatorial primary election.

That ballot measure would read as follows: “Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution?”

State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who presented the bill on behalf of State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said it was “the simplest of bills. ... It wouldn’t be the judges in D.C.,” she said. “It would be the people of the state of Louisiana determining what they thought about life.”

Louisiana already has a 2006 “trigger law” in place that would make abortion illegal in almost all cases if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Jackson’s proposed constitutional amendment, however, would be harder to overturn than the trigger law.

“The amendment is kind of a confusing measure,” said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney who has represented many of the state’s reproductive health centers. “Constitutional amendments generally give rights to the people. They're not drafted to take them away.”

The amendment does not include any exceptions for rape, incest or the life or health of the mother, which Schilling said could lead to some legal uncertainty about its implementation.

“It's just very unclear then, if that amendment were to ever kick in and have effect, if it would ban abortion in all instances — if that's how our judges would interpret it — or if the Legislature could, at a later date, enact exceptions to that general ban,” she said.

The Senate also overwhelmingly passed another abortion restriction by a vote of 30-4. House Bill 133 by State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would revise the legal definition of abortion to include medication abortions — terminating a pregnancy by taking a pill. It would require that doctors give patients the pill at one of the state’s three remaining abortion clinics. Currently, licensed OB-GYNs can administer the pill.

State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, expressed concern about the bill potentially being interpreted to outlaw the "morning after pill," but State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said that the bill only related to a diagnosable pregnancy.

“Anything we do here when we change the law is subject to interpretation,” Morrell said. “As we have seen, legislative intention means little when the politics of the courthouse comes to interpreting the things we do.”

He added, ”Ladies and gentlemen, that is a hop and a skip from 'The Handmaid’s Tale.’” The measure now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has said he will sign it. — KAYLEE POCHE

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Blocking off Poydras Street in downtown New Orleans, hundreds of people gathered on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 for a pro-choice rally in response to recent attempts to changes state abortion laws across the country.

Abortion rights protest in New Orleans draws hundreds

Hundreds of New Orleanians filled the corner of Poydras Street and St. Charles Avenue May 22 to protest the wave of abortion restrictions advancing in the Louisiana Legislature and across the country — which speakers called part of a “war against women.”

Brightly colored signs reading “Forced gestation is torture” and “All women deserve the same abortion access as the mistresses of pro-life politicians” were held aloft as Lakeesha Harris, director of reproductive health and justice at Women With a Vision (WWAV), read the same list of demands she did at a protest at the state Capitol the week before. The demands included abortion access, contraceptive access, comprehensive sex education and a reduced black maternal mortality rate.

“We want full control of our bodies — and goddamn it, we’re not asking,” Harris said.

But the scope of the demands spanned beyond reproductive issues to cover food and housing access for poor people, funding for child care centers and early childhood education and a $15 minimum wage.

“That is not a living wage. That is a minimum wage, and we deserve every freaking penny,” Harris said. (It came a day after the state Senate failed to pass a bill that would have let voters decide if they wanted to establish a state minimum wage of $9 an hour.)

WWAV, the New Orleans Abortion Fund, BYP100 and New Orleans Peoples’ Assembly organized the event.

After about an hour of speeches, the crowd went from spilling into the streets to packing them, chanting sentiments such as “Educate, agitate, organize” and “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Deon Haywood of WWAV said the turnout exceeded her expectations and that the numbers were proof that there are people in Louisiana battling abortion restrictions. “We haven’t been a part of the national conversation, so today was about claiming our rights but also letting people know that we fight in Louisiana,” Haywood said. “Southerners stand up, and we are always fighting. We’re always on the front lines.” — KAYLEE POCHE

Smoking age to remain 18 in Louisiana

Louisiana House members struck down a proposal Thursday to raise the state's legal smoking age from 18 to 21 for most people. The bill was backed by only 24 legislators, while 55 voted against it. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, a former smoker, would have banned anyone under 21 from purchasing tobacco, alternative nicotine or vaping products.

Lawmakers already had their reservations about the bill when it advanced through the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month. In an effort to accommodate legislators’ concerns, the bill would have exempted first responders, military members and veterans. Still, the bill fell short in the lower chamber.

A higher smoking age, Hoffmann stressed, would bring health benefits and health care savings. He also cited reports from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that showed 7,200 Louisianans die from smoking each year and that the state pays $1.9 billion in annual health care costs. “Folks, this is a health issue,” Hoffmann said in his closing remarks. “It’s a simple but tremendously important concept. It’ll reduce deaths, make better health, save money in the long run and make life better for many.”

Fourteen states have already passed laws to raise the minimum smoking age to 21, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The state of Louisiana would have lost $5 million in revenue by raising the smoking age, according to the bill’s price tag.

Opponents argued that the bill would restrict people’s liberties. State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, argued the state should not outlaw retailers from selling tobacco products to people under 21 because smoking is legal nationwide. Harris, who is the owner of several convenience stores that sell tobacco products, contended that health risks from smoking already are posted on products and the precedent for restricting smoking would carry over to other items such as soft drinks.

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A bill to raise the smoking age in Louisiana from 18 to 21 failed in the Louisiana Legislature last week.

“Eighteen-year-olds right now can get married, they can die for your country, but they can’t make the decision to smoke?” Harris asked. “Are you going to raise the age on Twinkies to 21?”

Even some anti-smoking groups did not back Hoffman’s bill. They argued that the numerous exceptions, which were added by lawmakers in the committee, weakened the proposed law. Ashley Hebert, government relations director at the American Heart Association, commented in an interview that the provision by state Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, to allow retailers to mark up the price of smoking products on customers and keep the money was “the nail in the coffin.”

“This particular piece of legislation,” Hebert said, “lacks enforcement mechanisms on the retailer.” — HUNTER LOVELL | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

Louisiana animal abuse registry won’t happen this year

A bill that would create a public registry for convicted animal abusers — similar to the one in place for sex offenders — was pulled from committee consideration last week in Baton Rouge after hints of potential opposition.

House Bill 161 by state Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, would have given convicted animal abuse offenders seven days following either the conviction or the date of their release from imprisonment to register with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Individuals convicted in another state would have a week after moving to Louisiana to register.

Those on the registry would have been legally banned from owning an animal. The bill — which defined animal abuse to include sexual abuse of an animal, animal cruelty, dog fighting and hog fighting — would have required first-time offenders to register for 10 years with further offenses resulting in a lifetime registry. Failure to register in the 7-day-period would have resulted in a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for not more than six months or both.

Retail pet stores and animal shelters would have been responsible for checking the registry before selling or giving away an animal. Organizations or businesses that sell or give an animal to someone on the registry would have had to pay up to $250 for a first offense, up to $500 for a second and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

The Humane Society of Louisiana (HSLA) backed the bill, saying it could help curb animal abuse in the state. “It’s a great idea and it’s much needed,” said Jeff Dorson, the executive director of the HSLA. But The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has said registry policies are ineffective, citing maintenance costs, underuse and other avenues for abusers to obtain animals.

Tennessee has had an animal abuser registry since 2016, with slightly more than a dozen people registered. Other states, including North Carolina and Missouri, are considering bills that would implement similar registries. — KAYLEE POCHE

‘Sources’ turns 35 with a TV special

"Informed Sources," the long-running reporters' roundtable aired weekly on WYES-TV, made its debut Feb. 3, 1984 — and WYES will air a 35th anniversary edition of the show May 31 at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

Marcia Kavanaugh, who founded the show and moderates it today, will be joined by Errol Laborde, the show's producer and panelist, along with WWL-TV Executive Producer and New Orleans broadcast historian Dominic Massa.

More than 1,500 episodes of "Informed Sources" have aired since its inception, and moderators have included Kavanaugh and journalists Warren Bell, Richard Anderson and Larry Lorenz. Panelists have included reporters from Gambit, The New Orleans Advocate and The Times-Picayune, along with local TV news and sports reporters. — KEVIN ALLMAN