Bill To Serve Sexual Assault Victims Advances In Louisiana House

BATON ROUGE – A bill sponsored by state Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) that will expand the services provided at no cost to victims of sexual assault cleared the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

         HB 194 will improve services to victims of sexual assaults by eliminating the requirement that treatment and services be offered only when an allegation is under police investigation, extending the period through which potential evidence must be retained and requiring that costs for forensic examinations be borne by the State Crime Victims Reparation Board instead of the victim.

         The bill’s measures include prohibiting hospitals from billing rape victims for medical exams.

         Moreno said billing rape victims is commonplace in Louisiana, even though it is banned by federal law. Moreno's bill would direct health care providers to seek payment from a state crime victim's board.

         "It's well known that many victims of sexual assaults do not report the crime to law enforcement for any number of reasons," Moreno said.  "Those decisions by victims of sex crimes should not preclude them from receiving services.

         "Many survivors of sexual assault may also be reluctant to come forward because of the potential costs of hospital care and evidence-gathering," Moreno said.  "This legislation will eliminate that obstacle, as well."

         The bill has drawn widespread support from legislators and the governor's office since media reports last summer revealed the high incidence of sex crime victims receiving expensive medical bills for costs related to immediate aftercare and evidence collection.

         The House Judiciary Committee backed the proposal without objection Thursday, sending it to consideration before the full House.

         "I'm happy to see this bill advance, and look forward to presenting it on the House floor as early as next week," Moreno said.

         A companion bill, HB 143, pending before the Appropriations Committee next week, will direct funding from unclaimed horse bets and expired slot machine vouchers to the Crime Victims Reparations Board to cover associated costs.

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