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BATON ROUGE, La.- Louisiana's health secretary should have broader discretion to revoke abortion clinic licenses in case of safety and health concerns, the state Senate decided Monday, giving final passage to the proposal.

The measure by Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, would allow the head of the Department of Health and Hospitals to immediately suspend alicense if he decides there is an immediate health or safety threatat one of a handful of clinics in the state that provide abortions.

'Current law does not allow for immediate suspension forabortion clinic licenses, even when violations pose immediatehealth risks,' said Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, who handledthe bill in the Senate.

Mount said that decision is left to a three-judge panel, whichcould take months to make a decision while the clinic can stayopen.

Clinics could appeal the license suspension, under the bill.

The proposal also would increase the health secretary's authority to refuse to renew a license, revoke an existing licenseor deny a license if an investigation finds any violation of stateor federal regulations.

Supporters say the bill would put the health secretary'sauthority over outpatient abortion clinics in line with theauthority he has over other kinds of health care facilities, likepediatric day care, substance abuse and adult day care facilities.Senators gave unanimous backing to the measure, sending it tothe governor's desk. It already had received unanimous approvalfrom the House. Gov. Bobby Jindal supports the bill.

The Senate overwhelmingly rejected an attempt by Sen. KarenCarter Peterson, D-New Orleans, to remove a provision in the billthat would allow the DHH secretary to prohibit an operator or ownerof an abortion clinic whose license is revoked from owning ormanaging another outpatient abortion clinic in the state.

Peterson argued the penalty was 'extreme, and we don't do thatwith other businesses.' She only got four votes in support ofremoving the language from the measure.

The Senate also approved a proposed ban on coverage for electiveabortions in the insurance purchasing pools set up by the federalhealth overhaul legislation. The 28-3 vote of the Senate sends themeasure by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, back to the Housefor approval of changes.

Among the changes, a Senate committee scaled back the bill toaffect only the purchasing pools. As it passed the House, it alsowould have banned private insurance coverage for elective abortionsin the state.

Hoffmann has said he'll support the Senate changes. He also saidhe thought the issue was moot anyway, because he hasn't found anyprivate insurers in the state that currently cover electiveabortions.

Hoffmann's bill includes an exception for abortions when amother's life is in danger -- but no exception for rape and incestvictims, as other states have included in similar bills.

Opponents have argued the measure would add an unnecessaryobstacle to women trying to get an abortion and should includeexceptions for rape and incest victims. No one spoke against theproposal, however, on the Senate floor Monday.

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