- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana Senate unanimously agreed on Tuesday to ban hospitals from billing rape victims for their medical exams, edging close to final passage a bill that will significantly change the way authorities investigate sexual assaults and treat its victims.

The proposal by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, would allow health-care providers to seek reimbursement for the exams from the state crime victim’s board. They could also bill a victim’s insurance company with the victim’s permission, but insurers couldn’t require a victim to pay a deductible, co-pay or other share of the costs.

Currently, many hospitals in Louisiana bill rape victims directly for medical exams even though the practice violates the federal Violence Against Women Act. In some cases, victims are charged for testing unless they formally report an assault to police - another practice that would be banned under the bill.

“It is very degrading for women to be investigated about rape and be questioned, was she really raped?” said Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, who is a former prosecuting attorney and judge.

The proposal, which is supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal, also requires local authorities to develop clear guidelines for gathering forensic evidence and storing it and submitting it for DNA testing.

A companion measure, also approved unanimously Tuesday by the Senate, would tap into unclaimed gambling winnings to help cover the medical exam costs.

The bills are part of a package of legislation sponsored by Moreno and Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, that are intended to improve the way sexual assaults are handled in Louisiana.

Both bills passed on Tuesday were previously approved by the House, which will now take a second look at the proposals after the Senate made changes.



House Bills 835 and 143 can be found at www.legis.la.gov

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