BATON ROUGE — It was expected to be a simple vote on a bill to raise standards and crack down on human trafficking in strip clubs.
Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who was handling Senate Bill 468 in the House, was wrapping up his arguments about the importance of preventing young women from being taken, exploited or sexually compromised.
Then the jokes started flying.
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, asked whether Leger would put a maximum age on dancers. The House, which is 87 percent male, laughed raucously.
Rep. Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson, jokingly offered an amendment to require dancers be in between age 20 and 28 and be under 160 pounds.
“In the spirit of this legislative session,” he said he wanted “to trim the fat.”
Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, was not amused.
“Are you saying people over 28 or over a certain weight aren’t fit to be dancers or strippers?” Landry asked.
“No, ma’am,” Havard replied. “I’m worried about their health.”
Other women legislators didn’t think it was funny either.
“This isn’t funny,” said Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, to Leger. “This isn’t a funny bill.”
Havard withdrew his amendment, but it was too late to stop the jokes. Legislators derailed an argument for consistency of laws from Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, by bringing up a pile of one dollar bills, presumably tips for the dancers in Havard’s amendment.
Then Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, unleashed righteous fury, as she stormed to the podium in the well of the chamber.
“I hear derogatory comments about women in this place regularly,” Stokes said. “It has got to stop. That was utterly disrespectful and disgusting.”
“Looking out over this body, I’ve never been more repulsed to be part of it,” she said. “I don’t even know what Rep. Havard was thinking. That’s a dangerous thing to do politically.”
She went to tell the quickly sobering legislators to imagine if their daughter was in the situation that the some teens find themselves when they become dancers at strip clubs in Louisiana.
The bill, SB 468 authored by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, would raise the requisite age for dancers who have exposed “breasts” or “buttocks” from 18 to 21. Leger said Alcohol and Tobacco Control found 14 strip clubs where prostitution was occurring.
The bill passed 96-0 with 38 coauthors, including Havard. It now goes back to the Senate for concurrence on Senate amendments.