Casinos Against Bill Requiring Them To Pay For Rape Exams

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's multibillion-dollar casino industry objects to a bill being pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that would use roughly $1.2 million in unclaimed gambling money to cover the cost of administering medical exams to rape victims.

         But just because casinos operators object to the bill, does not mean they are "being cheap," said Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association.

         "It's not a question of us being cheap. What other industry pays 21.5 percent (in taxes) off the top?" Duty said after the House Appropriations Committee passed the bill without objection Monday.

         Currently, many hospitals in Louisiana bill rape victims directly for medical exams even though the practice violates the federal Violence Against Women Act.

         Several pieces of legislation sponsored by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, would change that. Last week, a House judiciary committee approved the first component, which would prohibit hospitals from billing women or their insurance companies for the exams.

         The bill casinos opposed Monday was the second part of the package, using unclaimed gambling money to reimburse hospitals for the exams.

         Both measures now go before the full House for a vote.

         Duty said Moreno's bill has provoked a strong emotional response that obscures the fact that the casino industry already pays high taxes.

         "I think there is a lot of interest, and a lot of emotion, and people are not looking at what's going on with this bill. We paid $499 million to the state last year. What did (lawmakers) do with that?" said Duty, who said he supports Moreno's objective.

         Duty questioned lawmakers' spending priorities, noting the state has collected millions in tax dollars, but thus far has not made rape exams a priority.

         "The casinos cannot fund everyone's necessities — and we do agree this is a necessity," he said.

         Duty portrayed the measure as a tax. Even though unclaimed gambling money is technically owed to gamblers, it's the casinos' money until it's collected. If the state then takes that money from the casinos, it amounts to a tax, he said.

         When asked to respond to Duty's remarks, Moreno replied: "You've got to be kidding me."

         "Casinos are a multibillion-dollar industry. Other states have tracks and casinos that remit" unclaimed gambling money, Moreno said. "Why shouldn't Louisiana?"

         She said other states, including Kentucky and Nevada, use unclaimed gambling money to finance state operations, including health care spending. She said she tried working with the casinos, but said, "they came up with no solutions."

         During the hearing, lawmakers fell silent as a woman described being billed for medical care after she was raped during a home invasion in Orleans Parish. The Associated Press doesn't identify victims of sexual assault.

         "This huge stack are my rape bills," the woman said, fanning a thick stack of bills for thousands of dollars. "Sitting there getting a bill saying 'Hey, you got raped, now pay for it' — It's heartbreaking."

         – by AP Reporter Brian Slodysko

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