Senate, House approve compromises on abortion reporting, vaccine discrimination, ‘tampon tax’ exemption

Rep. Julie Emerson
Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro Photo by Travis Gauthier

The Senate, with little discussion Thursday morning, approved the conference report on HB423 by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, which will require hospitals to submit quarterly reports to the Louisiana Department of Health on treatments for abortion complications.

The vote was 35-1. The House approved the conference report late Wednesday afternoon 78-22. The “nay” votes included 21 Democrats, one independent, no Republicans.

“There is already a requirement to report complications when they happen at an abortion clinic but there wasn’t a requirement if the patient later went to the hospital with a complication,” Emerson says. “We’re just seeking to get the most accurate data here.”

Emerson says she felt the reporting necessary because the issue came up in suits challenging Louisiana’s abortion laws. “The hospital reports were lacking, so this bill will help to get an accurate number,” she says. 

The bill also requires LDH to submit to the attorney general and to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services reports each quarter on all abortions performed on girls under the age of 13.

After much back and forth, the House on Thursday approved the conference report on another bill that has divided the Legislature along partisan and ideological lines, HB498 by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, which would prohibit discrimination against people who decline to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The House and Senate, both of which passed the bill overwhelmingly but in different versions, butted heads in conference committee over the language in the bill, whether it encompasses any vaccination and how long it should remain in effect.

The conference report stipulates that it prevents discrimination by state agencies or officials against people who have rejected vaccination for “COVID-19 disease or SARS-COV2 or any variant or mutation thereof until the date that the application for use of such a vaccine has been approved by the secretary of the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Emergency Use Authorization for such a vaccine is no longer effective.” It fine-tuned some other wording.

The bill does not explain how alleged discrimination is to be determined, it just allows an aggrieved party to sue to bring a writ of mandamus against an official, which seemingly would put the burden of proof on a plaintiff.

At 12:14 p.m., the House approved the conference report 71-28, almost identical to the vote on Emerson’s HB423. Among the Lafayette Parish delegation, Emerson joined fellow Republican Reps. Beau Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Jean-Paul Coussan and Jonathan Goudeau and Democrat Marcus Bryant in voting for the conference report. Democrat Vincent Pierre voted nay. Speaker Clay Schexnayder abstained.

The Senate then took up the conference report on HB498 at 2:20 p.m. and adopted it 25-10. As in the House, it was largely along party lines. Lafayette Parish’s Republican Sens. Page Cortez, the Senate president, and Bob Hensgens, voted for it and Democrat Gerald Boudreaux voted against it.

A third bill that has drawn stiff opposition throughout the process, the sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products, cleared both houses in the last few hours of the session.

Just the day before, the House had voted against suspending the rules to allow Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, to ask the House to adopt the conference report for her HB7. But at 2:29 p.m., the House approved the conference report 64-34.

Among the Lafayette Parish representatives, Bishop, Coussan, Bryant and Pierre voted for it, as did Schexnayder. Beaullieu, Emerson and Goudeau voted against it.

At 2:56 p.m., the Senate approved the conference report 22-1.

The fiscal report attached to the bill says it will cost the general fund $50 million in lost revenue over five year.;

Under the compromise worked out in conference committee, the tax exemption will not take effect until July 1, 2022, the beginning of another fiscal year. That will give legislators time to figure out how to make up the loss during next year’s session.