Legislation supporting sex assault victims advances to House App - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Legislation supporting sex assault victims advances to House Appropriations Committee

State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans (Source: James Sparvero/WAFB) State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans (Source: James Sparvero/WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Sexual assault victim advocates said there are 1,600 people across Louisiana getting forensic medical exams every year and now, supporters of one bill are working so no victim will ever again have to pay for that exam.

Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, is fighting for new financial support for victims of sexual assault with House Bill 194, which unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday and will next head to the House Appropriations Committee.

"And, how to make sure that they receive the treatment that they deserve and that is fair to them," Moreno said.

Moreno's bill would take away the financial burden on sex assault victims to pay for their own medical examinations when reporting their attacks. The momentum started building after some emotional testimony months ago from a victim who had to pay for her own exams.

"I found out it was pretty much at least like around $2,000, of which my insurance covered none of it," the sexual assault victim said at the Capitol in October.

Action from the governor's office shortly after put a halt to the practice. Moreno said it's time for a permanent fix, saying victims in the past were charged as much as $8,000.

"Under federal law, that's against the law. Those should be paid for by some type of governmental entity," Moreno explained.

In her proposal, hospitals would send the bill to the Louisiana Crime Victims Reparations Board, which would pay for the exam. The victim can apply for further reimbursement from the board if necessary.

"It's incredibly important that we protect our most vulnerable victims and we're very, very excited to be here today to pass this legislation," said Stafford Palmieri with the governor's office.

Moreno's colleague, Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, has similar legislation moving forward. Senate Bill 242 requires all of the state's law enforcement agencies to provide annual reports on how many sexual assault kits their department is using. It will next head to the House after passing a Senate committee and the Senate floor.

"There's a lot of bills and I think there's a lot of good ideas out there," said William 'Beau' Clark, coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish. "At the end of the day, it's really about how you take care of people and making sure they're taken care of in the proper fashion, so they can get the services they need."

One issue with Moreno's bill that was addressed by the committee is the requirement for the guilty parties to pay restitution to sex assault victims. The idea was welcomed by her and the governor's office. It will be closely watched to see if that language is added to the bill at any point.

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