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A woman holds up a sign and chants during a march against domestic violence in Baton Rouge in 2017.

For all their partisan battles in recent years, Louisiana lawmakers passed significant anti-domestic violence laws in 2018, and they did so in bipartisan fashion. In fact, this year's regular session produced some of the strongest protections for victims — and some of the toughest penalties for abusers — in the country.

Perhaps the most far-reaching victory for victims' advocates was passage of Senate Bill 231 by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. Morrell's bill puts teeth into previously passed measures aimed at disarming abusers. Among its provisions, the new law:

  • Requires judges and sheriffs to take proactive steps to disarm abusers. Judges must suspend concealed carry permits and order the transfer of all firearms to a sheriff within 48 hours of issuing a protective order against or convicting a person of domestic abuse battery or battery of a dating partner.
  • Requires defendants to disclose the number and location of all firearms. The local sheriff  then must prepare a "proof of transfer" form to be filed in court records. Sheriffs have several options for effecting the transfers, but they must disarm abusers.
  • Requires gun dealers to report failed attempts by abusers to purchase firearms (particularly when they fail background checks) - and it requires the abusers' victims to be notified of the "lie and try" attempt. Dealers who fail to notify authorities will be reported to the feds.
  • Raises penalties for abusers who attempt to possess firearms or who actually possess guns from five years to up to 20 years, with a minimum sentence of one year in jail.
  • Provides up to a year in jail for anyone who fraudulently obtains a firearm for an abuser or who transfers a gun to an abuser.

Kim Sport, an attorney who has logged countless hours advocating for victims and tougher domestic violence laws, credited sheriffs and district attorneys as well as victims' advocates for helping pass Morrell's bill. "It's one of the strongest laws in the nation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers," says Sport, whose advocacy earned her GAMBIT's "New Orleanian of the Year" recognition for 2017.

Other key measures passed this year include two bills by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, to protect victims and their families. Her House Bill 776 requires protective orders to be issued by judges against convicted stalkers - and the protective orders must include firearms prohibitions.

Smith's House Bill 896 requires a protective order with a firearms prohibition to be issued during prosecution of any crime of violence or any felony perpetrated against an intimate partner. It also prohibits direct or indirect communication, or attempted communication, by abusers with their victims (or victims' families) during prosecution.

"This will go a long way towards encouraging victims to cooperate in prosecutions without fear of coercion, retaliation and intimidation," Sport says.

Smith's measures passed both the House and Senate unanimously and had considerable support from law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. Even the National Rifle Association got on board this time, for a change.

Our lawmakers have taken a lot of heat — deservedly so — for their partisan budget battles, but on this important issue they deserve praise for finding common ground.