Louisiana bill supports victims of domestic violence with new protective orders

Brittney Forbes | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — A House bill that removed a notarization requirement to make it easier for people to seek court orders to protect them from domestic violence moved forward Monday.

Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, said her bill, HB55, would remove a requirement that victims provide notarized complaints about domestic or dating violence, stalking or sexual assault. It would allow them to simply file a signed statement with the court.

“The reason for this bill is for the many survivors of domestic violence where the first step is the courage to come forward and actually ask for that temporary restraining order,” Freeman said at a hearing of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.

The bill “will ease the process for them in the already tumultuous decisions that they’re already having to make to change their lives,” Freeman said.

More than 10 million adults experience domestic abuse–1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men–per year, with violent incidents happening every three seconds, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence.

Rep. Gregory Miller, R-Norco, said there were concerns if there would be enough safeguards to keep accusers from providing false statements even with a notary.  

Freeman’s bill notes that under Louisiana law if anyone makes any false statements about such an incident, they are subject to being fined $1,000 or being sentenced to up to five years of imprisonment or both.

The committee also passed an amendment requiring accusers to date their statements and sign them in front of a witness who also signed the document. Another amendment noted that any false statements would be subject to the penalties for perjury.

Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, thanked Freeman for coordinating with the committee to ensure all concerns were addressed and made the motion to advance the bill. 

Freeman said she wanted to simplify the process because finding a notary can be difficult.

Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said she was proud to co-sponsor the legislation to help people in domestic violence situations.

Present law provides for a temporary restraining order when an affidavit shows that injury, loss or damage was caused.

Brandi Melissa, a domestic violence survivor who was identified only by her first and middle names, came forward at the hearing representing not only herself but her mother who succumbed to domestic violence trauma in 2017. She wore a shirt that read “end the silence on domestic violence.”

Brandi began her testimony, shaking, discussing how she was conceived through sexual violence and has experienced severe brain trauma. At the age of six, her father left her mom to die, she said.

She and her mother relocated from their home to Baton Rouge, but this did not stop her mother’s abuser from continuing his violence. She added that her mother ran into several bureaucratic hurdles until her restraining order was finalized.

“Allowing survivors to affirm first with affidavits makes the risky first step, legal step of escaping abusive situations easier,” Brandi said, holding back tears. “Notaries are not charged with deciding someone’s honesty, and those in true danger should not be punished…If this bill, God forbid, doesn’t make it out today we could have countless more victims in the condition my mom currently is.”

She held up a photo of her mother’s urn inside of her apartment.

In Louisiana, 35.9% of women and 35.2% of men have experienced intimate partner physical violence and intimate partner stalking within their lifetimes. In every Louisiana parish, there has been at least one domestic homicide.

Several legislators, including Miller, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, and Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Houma, commended Brandi for her bravery in speaking for thousands of survivors and those who can’t be here to testify.

“Just as a mom I believe that most every mom who sees and hears [Brandy’s story], would agree with me when I say, I bet your mom is really proud of you,” Amedée said.

If you or a loved one needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit www.TheHotline.org.