If you’ve been keeping up with national news, then you know that having a relationship with a professional escort has become the political faux pas of choice, replacing kickbacks, tax evasion and insider trading — at least for now. It’s a bipartisan trend to boot, ensnaring Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and now-resigned Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York within the past year. And the latest round of politicians involved with the world’s oldest profession is prompting some lawmakers to take a fresh look at how prostitution violations are regulated.
There are still lingering questions — even in Louisiana — about how current laws are being applied to prostitution violations. Rep. Lowell C. Hazel, a freshman Republican from Pineville, wants the Louisiana Legislature to go into greater detail regarding illegal activities between a hooker and a john. Right now, state law generally refers to “sexual intercourse,” with only brief illustrations. Hazel’s House Bill 40 would clarify that “sexual intercourse includes oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.”
Hazel, a former prosecutor, says he has long been concerned about the Clintonesque definition now on the books, which is vague enough to allow some wiggle room, albeit minimal, under certain conditions. “I’m just worried that someone skilled enough could find a way around the current law,” Hazel says. “This would close that loophole.”
In a general session that will likely be defined by workforce issues, ethics legislation and budget debates, Hazel is among the lawmakers spicing things up with sex-related legislation. While it’s never a lawmaker’s intent to be sexy when it comes to policy, at least on the surface, it nonetheless happens on occasion, much to the delight of the lobbyists and reporters who are stuck in committee rooms for hours on end listening to officials harp about unfunded accrued liability or district roads. In short, it’s a change of pace.
Morality and sexuality collide on House Concurrent Resolution 4, which urges the state to amend the Louisiana State Plumbing Code to require privacy partitions between urinals in male restrooms. Rep. Mickey James Guillory, a Democrat from Eunice, notes that his measure only seeks to implement what is already in the International Plumbing Code, but adds the primary concern is homosexual behavior, some of which is “being directed at 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds” and not just adults, he says.
Guillory says the idea for the resolution came from Paul Marx, founder of KBON 101.1 FM, the “Louisiana Proud” 25,000-watt Eunice radio station. “This was a topic that was on the radio show, and people called in pretty heavy to share stories and talk about what’s going on. This is a pretty serious problem,” Guillory says. “And that station is on the Internet, so there were people calling in from all over the world.”
Porn shops, adult video stores and strip clubs are the targets of Sen. Julie Quinn, a Metairie Republican. At the request of the Louisiana Family Forum, a Christian-conservative group, Quinn filed legislation that would have regulated “sexually-oriented businesses and their employees.” While the bill has since been withdrawn from consideration and has no actual text, Quinn says she plans on re-filing a bill that would address a number of topics.
Her research is still in the conceptual stages, but Quinn is exploring laws that would prohibit clustering, or sex-related businesses located closely together, as well as others that would prevent such businesses from being built near churches or schools. She stipulates that existing businesses would be grandfathered in to any new law.
Until she actually files the legislation, however, Quinn says she is hesitant to go into the problems she sees with these types of businesses, but adds that drug trafficking and decency standards are among her concerns. “When you have all of these porn stores and gentleman clubs — if you even want to call them that — all within close proximity, there are concerns about pockets of criminal activity sprouting up,” she says.
There are also a slew of bills that target sexual predators, online and otherwise. For instance, Sen. Nick Gautreaux, a Democrat from Abbeville, has filed legislation that would ban sex offenders from taking part in Halloween. His Senate Bill 143 would prohibit the violators from “wearing a mask, hood or disguise during holiday events and from distributing candy or other gifts on Halloween to persons under 18 years of age.” Gautreaux is also pushing Senate Bill 144, which would authorize the state to oversee voluntary castrations of sex offenders.
Meanwhile, Rep. Juan LaFonta, a New Orleans Democrat, is taking on sexual discrimination in the workplace. His House Bill 443 would prohibit private businesses from discriminating against an employee or potential employee on the basis of sexual orientation. Among other provisions, it calls for businesses to “allow any employee to appear and dress consistently with the employee’s gender identity.”
LaFonta is also applying some of the same guidelines on the state level with House Bill 981, which would prohibit “state agencies and officers from harassing or discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation or disabilities.” The proposed law defines “sexual orientation” as heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.
All of these sex-related bills mark a change in the legislative process. Sexuality is rarely discussed on the floor of the House and Senate, but it’s up to lawmakers to bring the public into the discussions, give the bills fair hearings and explore every avenue of debate, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for some. Labor and financial issues will go a long way in defining the ongoing session, but these other topics are worth watching as a barometer of not only how far social politics have come in Louisiana but also where they’re going.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.