BATON ROUGE — State Rep. Helena Moreno said House colleague Kenny Havard's infamous "stripper amendment joke" may have been offensive, but she believes it helped catapult her campaign to elevate women's issues in Louisiana.
"My goal is to create a statewide network so women and men can reach out and push effective policy to address inequities in our state," Moreno said.
Havard, R-St. Francisville, submitted an amendment earlier this month requiring exotic dancers to be 28 or younger and weigh no more than 160 pounds, saying he wanted to "trim the fat" at strip clubs. He offered the amendment to Senate Bill 468 by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, which won final passage and raises the age of dancers at strip clubs from 18 to 21 and is designed to combat human trafficking.
Havard quickly withdrew the amendment when it drew the ire of women in the House like Moreno, Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, and Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, but declined to apologize, saying it was a joke.
A day later, after a House committee killed an equal pay bill for women, Moreno began her "It's No Joke" (morenocampaign.com and #ItsNoJoke) campaign that includes a petition to join what she hopes will become a movement to address women's inequity issues in Louisiana.
"I've always known the way women are treated is a terrible problem, but it wasn't until Kenny's amendment and the failure of the equal pay bill that I knew I had to step up and take a bigger leadership role," Moreno, who is serving her second term, said in an interview with Gannett Louisiana.
Among the issues that concern Moreno: pay equity; elected representation; and health care, although Moreno said she won't address abortion rights issues, even though she describes herself as pro-choice, because women are so divided on that issue. "I want to choose issues that unify," she said.
Fewer than 15 percent of Louisiana legislators — 16 in the House and five in the Senate — are women, the lowest percentage in the country.
Even Gov. John Bel Edwards took note of the anemic percentage following Havard's stripper amendment.
"We don't have enough females in the Senate and House, and I suspect if we had more these incidents wouldn't occur," Edwards said. "It was in bad taste and it wasn't funny."
Moreno said she plans to create an "It's No Joke" political action committee to elevate her campaign.
She said more than 500 people signed her online petition in its first few days and has had an outpouring of public support with a few exceptions.
"Ninety percent has been positive, but there have been a few 'go back to the kitchen' comments," she said.