Later today, the Louisiana Legislature concludes its Spring 2013 legislative session and Forum For Equality has been there every step of the way these past few months keeping our state’s legislators fully aware of how the legislative bills up for consideration affect the rights and equality interests of our state’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Without you letting your voices be heard on these issues, our legislators would not know what is GOOD and what is BAD for Louisiana. Every year we grow in allies and numbers, and that doesn’t end just because the Legislative Session ends today. Help us continue to fight year round by becoming a member of Forum For Equality, join our team here: http://bit.ly/175SgSp.
Our legislative wrap-up will focus on the following four (4) bills of particular interest to our LGBT population:
Louisiana Fair Employment Act (LFEA) by Rep. Austin Badon (House Bill 85)
Forum for Equality worked closely with Rep. Badon in authoring this public employment protections bill and bringing the bill to the legislators’ attention. On May 1, the bill was heard before the House and Governmental Affairs committee. There, a coalition of groups firmly believing in the need for safeguards from discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression addressed the gathered legislators. Our collectively passionate and rational pleas for protections from discrimination for all of our state employees effectively swayed several legislators on the committee to vote for the bill, but a slim majority of committee members ultimately voted to not send the bill on to the House floor.
Forum For Equality was incredibly pleased to share the committee room microphone with groups such as Louisiana Trans Advocates, making their legislative debut this year! As state employers can hire and fire an employee for any reason not protected by federal and state laws, it remains imperative to cover LGBT employees from discriminatory employment acts and Forum for Equality will continue to press this issue with our state legislators.
Safe and Successful Students Act by Rep. Patricia Smith (House Bill 646)
Forum For Equality proudly worked with the Stop Bullying Louisiana coalition to bring this important legislation forward to improve the current Safe Schools laws in Louisiana to better ensure the rehabilitation of troubled students and not just turn them out of school with no reformative measures taken by the school system. The Safe and Successful Students Act also greatly improved the reporting requirements of bullying behavior to enable anti-bullying measures to better assist the student population at risk.
This vital bill coursed its way through the Legislature only to come up a few votes short of passage by the full House of Representatives. Rep. Smith should be commended for her stalwart leadership on this issue, and Forum For Equality is proud to belong to this successful coalition of groups advocating for ALL of our state’s young students.
Gestational Surrogacy Bill by Sen. Gary Smith (Senate Bill 162)
This bill sought to make gestational surrogacy contracts legally enforceable in our state, and while Sen. Smith should be commended for his efforts to allow citizens to become parents via this particular form of surrogacy, his efforts fell far short of Forum For Equality’s standards of equality and inclusiveness. The “intended parents” definition of this legislation only included married couples, thus excluding our LGBT population’s same-sex couples who are not allowed to marry under current Louisiana law. Efforts to expand this definition were ultimately unsuccessful, and while this controversial bill still may face a hurdle in securing Gov. Jindal’s signature, Forum for Equality is proud of its work alongside many of our LGBT-rights allies in successfully striking the anti-LGBT language tacked onto the bill by Rep. Frank Hoffman late in the process. Our joint lobbying efforts resulted in the full Senate rejecting Hoffman’s ill-advised amendment and the final version of the bill approved by both Houses no longer features any language overtly against same-sex couples. As our nation’s debate on the definition of married couples continues, it is highly possible that LGBT couples in Louisiana can one day utilize this gestational surrogacy legislation when marriage equality becomes a reality in our state.
Backdoor Bigotry Bill by Rep. Alan Seabaugh (House Bill 402)
The bill that ranks as the polar opposite of Forum for Equality’s House Bill 85 (Louisiana Fair Employment Act) was Rep. Seabaugh’s short-sighted and mean-spirited House Bill 402, which sought to automatically label as FRIVOLOUS future employment discrimination claims filed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression, amongst other practices that state law may one day deem discriminatory.
Rep. Seabaugh’s misguided and hateful bill mandated that any employment discrimination claim that doesn’t meet the contents of specific existing statutes is automatically to be dismissed as frivolous as a matter of law, with no judicial interpretation whatsoever. Thankfully, Forum For Equality banded together with LGBT-rights groups from across the state to lobby legislators AGAINST this terrible piece of proposed legislation. Ultimately, Rep. Seabaugh wisely chose not to bring this bill forward for consideration, and Forum For Equality gives a huge thanks to our fellow advocates in Shreveport (particularly P.A.C.E.) for protesting outside Seabaugh’s office and for successfully urging the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce to publicly oppose the bill.
With Equality for All,
Legislative Political Director, Forum For Equality
FORUM FOR EQUALITY sincerely thanks its many donors and supporters for standing up for LGBT equality again this year in our annual efforts before the Louisiana Legislature, and we promise to continue leading our state’s fight for LGBT equality in our daily lives.