Louisiana bill would ensure clergy visits happen in pandemic

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana state senators agreed Tuesday they want to ensure a person’s pastor or priest can visit in the hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility during the current coronavirus pandemic or any future public health emergency.

The measure by Sen. Robert Mills, a Minden Republican, would require Louisiana’s Health Department to create rules requiring inpatient health care facilities to allow members of the clergy to visit patients during such an emergency — if the patient asks for the visit.

The health care facility would receive immunity from most civil lawsuits for injury or death for the exposure of the pastor, priest or other clergy member to COVID-19 or another infectious disease, unless the facility is proven to have been grossly negligent in its actions, under the bill.

In the legislation, lawmakers declare that they are trying “to protect the religious liberty of each patient or resident and to protect inpatient health care facilities from costly lawsuits and administrative complaints on the basis of religious discrimination.”

Those state rules, however, could be preempted if federal regulators require tougher restrictions on patient visitation.

The Senate voted 34-0 for the measure, sending it to the House for debate.

Several lawmakers have complained about decisions by Gov. John Bel Edwards and health care facilities to block visitors to hospitals and nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic. Those restrictions have since been loosened.

Mills’ bill comes in a monthlong special session where Republican lawmakers are trying to chisel away at the Democratic governor’s emergency authority, give the Legislature more say in the decision-making and revoke some of Edwards’ current coronavirus restrictions.

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The bill is filed as Senate Bill 12.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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