News Law and Policy

Louisiana Committee Passes Bill to Ban Abortion Providers From Guiding Public School Discussions on Sex Ed

Teddy Wilson

HB 305 would prohibit abortion providers and their affiliates from providing sex education materials, or speaking about sexual health, to public school students in the state.

A Louisiana legislative committee passed a bill Wednesday that would ban abortion providers and organizations with direct ties to clinics from providing sex education materials, or speaking about sexual health, to students in the state’s public schools. Supporters of the bill claim the purpose of such a policy is to prevent the promotion of abortion in schools. However, opponents say that it would prevent students from receiving medically accurate information about sexual health.

HB 305, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), would prohibit organizations like Planned Parenthood from guiding discussions on sexuality in classrooms in the state. The ban would apply to all public schools and charter schools that receive state funding. Hospitals would be exempt from the proposed law.

In its original draft, the bill would have prevented such organizations from providing instructional materials on any topic, but an amendment submitted by Hoffmann narrowed the language of the bill to ban only materials about “human sexuality or family planning.”

During a press conference announcing the bill, Hoffmann, standing next to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who supports the bill, said that if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned Louisiana already has a law in place that would immediately outlaw abortion. “But until then, we want to make it as difficult as possible for the people doing that. This bill takes another step in that by not allowing these in-services in schools,” said Hoffmann.

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The bill is supported by Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund. Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel in the New Orleans office of Bioethics Defense Fund, assisted Hoffmann in drafting the bill.

Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said in a statement that the bill is needed “to reassure Louisiana families that their children in state-funded elementary and secondary schools are not being targeted by individuals and organizations who have financial incentives to sell abortion.”

Raegan Carter, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, told Rewire that her organization opposes the bill because state law already prohibits sex education in public schools from including information about abortion or contraception. “We are already in compliance with that law,” said Carter. “All of our health education material when we go into the schools are compliant.”

Carter also noted that Louisiana has some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and teen pregnancies in the country. “Planned Parenthood is one of the leading national providers of comprehensive sex education, and if we are eliminated from schools then our youth who need this information the most will not be able to receive the information,” said Carter.

According to the federal Office of Adolescent Health, Louisiana has the sixth highest rate of teenage births in the nation and the eighth highest rate of teenage pregnancies. A 2012 annual report by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals found that from 2008 until 2012, the state ranked in the top five each year for cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. One-third of sexual transmitted diseases in the state were reported among those from the ages of 15 to 19.

Under current state law, each individual school district has control over the sex education curriculum provided to students. There are no standardized requirements, but schools must emphasize abstinence as part of the sex education curriculum. Carter says that if Planned Parenthood and other organizations are prohibited from providing sex education, some schools may not have the resources to provide sex education at all.

“Planned Parenthood does not promote abortion in any of our health education materials,” said Carter. “Our sex education programs are age appropriate and medically accurate. We implement programs that are proven effective by the Centers for Disease Control and the federal Office of Adolescent Health.”

News Law and Policy

Louisiana Cops Get Hate Crime Protections as Violence Against Police Plummets

Teddy Wilson

A New Orleans activist said that the "Blue Lives Matter" bill allows law enforcement to hide “behind uniforms and badges” despite having a “long and egregious history” of committing acts of violence against communities of color.

Louisiana legislators this week passed a bill making assault of police officers a hate crime.

Supporters of the measure claim it’s needed because of a growing threat of targeted violence against law enforcement. Data shows that violence against law enforcement has declined to historically low levels, while the killing of civilians by police officers has dramatically risen. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to sign the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill into law. The bill’s name is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, a collection of grassroots activists around the country who have demanded justice for victims of police violence.

HB 953, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), would amend the state’s hate crime law to include acts of violence against “law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”

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Under the state’s hate crime law, someone can be charged with a hate crime for an act of violence against a person who was targeted because of their “race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry.”

The “Blue Lives Matter” measure would create the first protected class based on a profession, not an immutable identity. A person convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime could face a prison sentence of up to six months and a $500 fine, and anyone convicted of a felony hate crime could face an additional five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

Harris that the bill is necessary to protect law enforcement, reported USA Today.

HB 953 was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled state legislature. The bill was passed by the house with a 92-0 vote. It cleared the state senate with a 33-3 vote.

State Sens. Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans), Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), and Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) were the only lawmakers to vote against the bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana is not taking a position on the bill. Executive Director Marjorie Esman told Rewire that “at the end of the day,” the bill does not change the scope of current law as it applies to protected classes of people. 

Allison Goodman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League’s office in Metairie, Louisiana, told the Advocate that the proposal is “not something we could recommend,” and a departure from the traditional intent of hate crime laws.”

“It’s really focused on immutable characteristics,” Goodman said. “Proving the bias intent for a hate crime for law enforcement or first responders is very different than proving it for someone who is Jewish or gay or black.”

Terrel Kent, a former East Baton Rouge parish attorney, told NBC News that the proposal is unnecessary and redundant.  

“As a former prosecutor I know for a fact that battery of a police officer is already covered by other laws here in Louisiana,” Kent said. “To include essential peace officers, sheriffs, law enforcement officials or first responders is a slap in the face to protected classes.”

Harris said during an interview with CNN that the law was needed to protect law enforcement.

“In the news, you see a lot of people terrorizing and threatening police officers on social media just due to the fact that they are policemen. Now, this (new law) protects police and first responders under the hate-crime law,” Harris said.

Harris cited the death of Texas sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth as one of the reasons he sponsored HB 953. Goforth, a ten-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, was ambushed, shot and killed while in uniform in August 2015.

“It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn’t like police officers, like a hate crime,” Harris said.

Shannon Miles was indicted for capital murder in November 2015, and prosecutors alleged he murdered Goforth for the sole reason that he was a police officer. Miles had reportedly been arrested multiple times and had a long history of mental illness.

As the legal proceedings unfolded, allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officials emerged. It was alleged that officials connected with the investigation had an improper sexual relationship with a witness to the shooting. This led to local activists to call for an apology from law enforcement for connecting the shooting to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Miles was found to be incompetent to stand trial, and will be reevaluated for trial after spending 120 days in a mental health facility.

Harris did not respond to Rewire’s request to comment on this story.

There were 42 police officers killed by firearms nationwide in 2015. The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has steadily decreased over the past three decades. Police deaths by gunfire decreased by 14 percent from 2014-2015 and police officer deaths were at a 50-year low in 2013. 

“The 42 firearms-related deaths of police officers in 2015 are 26 percent lower than the average of 57 per year for the decade spanning 2000-2009,” according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

Eighty-three officers have been killed in the line of duty in Louisiana since 2000, according the NLEOMF. There were eight policers killed in the state in 2015. No Louisiana police officers have been killed in 2016, according to NLEOMF data.

Statistics Raise Questions About “Blue Lives Matter” Law

The number of civilians killed by law enforcement in Louisiana far outnumber the number of police who have been killed in the line of duty.  

At least 1,146 people were killed in the United States by police officers in 2015, according to the Guardian database of police shootings. Police officers have shot and killed 28 people in Louisiana since the start of 2015. Of those 28 people, 14 were Black men, two of whom were unarmed.

Police in Louisiana have shot and killed eight people so far in 2016. 

Fatal Encounters, a project to create a comprehensive national database of people who are killed through interactions with police, has collected data on fatal police shootings in Louisiana.

There have been 438 civilians killed by police since 2000, according to data from Fatal Encounters. Of those killed by police, 143 were Black and 96 were white. There were 188 incidents in which a civilian whose race was unspecified was killed by police.

Harris represents House District 25, a rural district in central Louisiana that includes part of the town of Alexandria. There have been five people killed by law enforcement in Alexandria since 2000, with three of those five people killed since 2014. 

Bobby AndersonChristopher LeBlanc, and John Ashley were all killed by police officers in Alexandria.

Anthony Molette was also killed in February 2003 by police officers in Alexandria after allegedly shooting and killing police officers Jeremy Carruth and David Ezernack.

Aaron Rutledge, a combat medic and a recruiter for the Louisiana National Guard, was shot and killed in April 2015 by a Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy after local law enforcement responded to a call that Rutledge had threatened someone with a firearm and then threatened himself, reported the Town Talk.

Lawmakers in the state legislature introduced a resolution in April to offer “condolences of the Senate of the Legislature of Louisiana to the family of Louisiana Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Aaron Rutledge upon his death in the service of his country.”

Harris was not among the lawmakers who sponsored the resolution.

“Hiding Behind Uniforms and Badges”

Louisiana has the worst racial disparities in the country, based on indicators related to household income, public school segregation, and health insurance, among others, according to a study by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.

These same racial disparities are manifested in the state’s the criminal justice system, according to local activists who have spoken out against HB 953.

Angela Kinlaw, an activists in New Orleans, said in a statement that the state of Louisiana has ensured that the law is used to “manipulate and control citizens” while being exploited by a systemically unjust system.

“In the face of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, this “Blue Lives Matter” bill is an intentional slap in the face, designed to control, create fear, and through police discretion penalize citizens for situations that often police create or escalate,” Kinlaw said. “We have seen it time and time again.”

Significant racial disparities have been documented in death penalty sentences in Louisiana. Defendants accused of killing white victims are nearly twice as likely to be sentenced to death and nearly four times as likely to be executed than defendants accused of killing Black victims, according to a study published in the Loyola University of New Orleans Journal of Public Interest Law.

Nia Weeks, policy director of the New Orleans-based Women With a Vision, said in a statement that hate crime laws should protect “vulnerable members of our community” when they are the victims of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

“Structurally there is a power differentiation between police officers and those they encounter. When Black women are immersed in the criminal justice system, they enter a place that imparts racist, sexist, and homophobic ideology on them from the beginning,” Weeks said.

The New Orleans Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) released a statement opposing the bill. Savannah Shange of BYP100 New Orleans said that the bill allows law enforcement to hide “behind uniforms and badges” despite having a “long and egregious history” of committing acts of violence against communities of color.

“We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts—we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents,” Shange said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated data about police officer deaths over the past 50 years.

News Law and Policy

Alaska Republicans Block Planned Parenthood From School Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

The measure contains provisions that single out abortion providers, which is likely unconstitutional, as a recent legal analysis indicated.

The Alaska Senate last week approved a bill that bars school districts from contracting with abortion care providers like Planned Parenthood for sex education classes, as part of a broader Republican-led measure.

Backers of SB 89, which passed 12 to 7 in a near party-line vote, say the bill promotes parental control by requiring new school procedures, so parents can pull their children from any school activity, test, or program due to concerns over privacy or sexual content. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), prohibits abortion care providers from furnishing sex education course materials to schools or teaching sex ed to students.

The bill faces a near-certain legal challenge if enacted. The measure contains provisions that single out abortion providers, which is likely unconstitutional, as a recent legal analysis by the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency indicated.

It’s unclear how schools would provide sex ed if SB 89 becomes law. Planned Parenthood officials have said in a statement that it is the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sex ed.

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Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said the senate’s passage of SB 89 was “awful news for sexual health education in Alaska.”

“SB 89 and its even-more-extreme companion legislation SB 191 are unconstitutional restrictions on the education available to communities across the state, and today’s vote didn’t change that,” Cler said in a statement. “Senator Mike Dunleavy is an increasingly desperate demagogue who clearly doesn’t care whether his ideas are based in science, medicine, or even the law.”

The bill represents Dunleavy’s second legislative effort to prohibit abortion care providers from teaching sex ed or providing sexual health materials. A similar bill, SB 191, mandates penalties on teachers, including termination or the loss of their teaching certificates, for using sex ed materials from an abortion care provider. SB 191 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the Education Committee.

Speaking in opposition to the legislation on the state senate floor on Friday, minority leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) called the bill a prime example of legislative overreach in a state with a significant sexual health problem.

“Alaska leads the nation in chlamydia rates, we lead the nation in child sex abuse rates … we’re among the highest in teen pregnancy, and many of us as parents want our children to be informed, we want them to know the scientific facts,” Gardner said.

Alaska reported 808 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2011—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Dunleavy, the bill’s sponsor, warned his senate colleagues against supporting the “abortion industry” and characterized Planned Parenthood’s sex ed programs as “indoctrination.”

“Parents want their kids to be educated in the public schools, they don’t want their children indoctrinated in the public schools,” he said.

2014 study in the Journal of School Health, which examined Massachusetts’ Planned Parenthood sex ed programs, showed that 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls had sex between the sixth and eighth grades in schools with the programs, compared to those in schools without them.

Sex ed is a growing target for anti-choice state lawmakers. Texas tried and failed in 2013 and 2014 to bar abortion care providers from providing materials for sex ed courses.