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Offshore orphaned well proposal has small drilling companies crying foul

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lailluminator.com – Wesley Muller – 2023-08-24 08:17:08

Offshore orphaned well proposal has small drilling companies crying foul

by Wesley Muller, Louisiana Illuminator
August 24, 2023

A proposed regulation that attempts to prevent orphaned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico has prompted complaints from small drilling companies that say the rule unfairly hamstrings their ability to compete with major corporations, while environmental advocates say it's a necessary reform to protect coastal waters. 

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently announced proposed changes to the financial assurance requirements for offshore oil and gas infrastructure. Before companies can start drilling for fossil fuels in the Gulf of Mexico, they have to post a surety bond as a form of insurance in case the company goes bankrupt and leaves an oil or gas well unplugged or in disrepair.

An abandoned and unplugged well with no financially viable owner or former owner is known as an orphaned well. Aside from posing severe risks to the environment, they can be costly to taxpayers if the owner of the well goes bankrupt or posts an insufficient bond. 

BOEM is proposing to increase the required bonding amounts for oil and gas lessees that don't have the investment grade credit rating most major exploration companies have. The average net worth of a lessee with an investment grade credit rating is $115 billion, according to BOEM's analysis. 

“What BOEM is saying is you need to be a major oil company or you have to bond,” Beer said. “It's a slap in the face to the small business operators.”

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Beer said the proposal doesn't make sense when one looks at who owns the majority of the abandoned offshore infrastructure. Approximately “88% of the plugging and abandoning liability in federal waters is associated with wells currently or formerly owned by one of the large, financially stable ‘supermajor' companies,” according to a recent study from researchers at LSU and University of California Davis. 

A key phrase from that statistic is “formerly owned,” according to environmental attorney Ava Ibanez Amador with Earthjustice. Many of the wells formerly owned by “supermajor” companies sold the leases to smaller companies that later went bankrupt, she said.

Earthjustice supports BOEM's rule proposal based on the track record of offshore oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“To this day, previously abandoned wells are still leaking oil and harmful gasses like methane, benzene, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide into the Gulf of Mexico,” Ibanez Amador said. “This is a sensible proposal that simply seeks to improve this system, by requiring offshore operators to show that they have the financial capacity to clean up after themselves before they receive the green light to set up drilling infrastructure.”

Beer and the industry trade group Gulf Energy Alliance argue that the rule would kill thousands of jobs in Louisiana. An alliance press release claims the Biden administration is trying to “shut down domestic oil and gas production.”

Healthy Gulf spokesperson Stephannie Kettle said the “job killing” narrative is a played-out claim industry always uses to oppose something they don't like. Making sure there is money left to plug an old well after it stops producing will actually ensure that workers stay on the job longer through the full lifecycle of the well, she said.    

“The oil and gas industry loves to threaten jobs unless we let them act with impunity,” Kettle said. “Right now, these companies' executives cut and run, laying off thousands of workers instead of keeping them employed to use their skills to properly close wells and remove old infrastructure.”

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At current rates, it will take more than 21 years to clean the Gulf of Mexico of useless platforms, Kettle said. 

Beer said there are very few examples of taxpayers being stuck with the bill to decommission an offshore oil or gas well. It has happened with onshore infrastructure but not so much in the offshore sector, he said. 

“It really is a problem that does not exist,” Beer said.

The government already has the authority to make former well owners pay to plug a well if the current owners go bankrupt. Forcing small exploration companies to purchase larger surety bonds would do nothing to help the situation and only eliminate competition for the big companies, he said.

Beer added that his current bonding cost of around $3 million would balloon to roughly $15 million if the proposal is adopted. The big oil companies would have to pay nothing, he said.   

Healthy Gulf scientist Scott Eustis feels Beer's argument is a distraction from the goal of solving the orphaned oil well problem. 

“This is the playbook: Millionaires argue with billionaires so that nothing gets done,” Eustis said. “Look at the coast. Forty years of arguing, 400 square miles of wetlands gone [and] coastal Louisiana is out 18% of its population.”

There are 14,000 unplugged, non-producing wells in Gulf of Mexico offshore waters, inland waters and wetlands with a total estimated remediation cost of $30 billion, according to the LSU-UC Davis study.

The public comment period for BOEM's proposal ends Monday. Interested parties can submit formal comments online through the Federal Register website.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Lawmakers across the U.S. seek to curb utility spending on politics, ads and more extras • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Robert Zullo – 2024-03-03 15:00:47

Lawmakers across the U.S. seek to curb utility spending on politics, ads and more extras

by Robert Zullo, Louisiana Illuminator
March 3, 2024

After a string of scandals and amid rising bills, lawmakers in statehouses across the country have been pushing legislation to curb utilities spending ratepayer money on lobbying, expert testimony in rate cases, goodwill advertising, charitable giving, trade association membership and other costs.

At least a dozen states have considered bills to limit how gas, water and electric utilities can spend customers' money, according to a tracker maintained by the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog group funded by environmental and climate-focused foundations that concentrates on utilities and fossil fuel interests.

Another, Louisiana, has opened a proceeding at its public service commission to investigate use of ratepayer cash on trade association dues, “activities meant to influence the outcome of any local, state, or federal legislation,” advertising expenses and other costs.

Michigan joined the party last week with the introduction of legislation to ban utility political spending. In states like Illinois, the push has been joined by groups like the AARP and the Citizens Utility Board, a state watchdog group, which said the legislation would “stop electric, gas and water utilities from charging us for a long list of expenses they rack up trying to raise our rates and further increase their political power.”

Three states  – Maine, Colorado and Connecticut – have already signed similar bills into law. The legislation comes as natural gas bills have fallen but average residential electric prices in the U.S. climbed from 13.66 cents per kilowatt hour in 2021 to 15.93 cents per kilowatt hour in 2023, per the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That would mean a monthly bill going from $136.60 in 2021 to $159.30 in 2023 for a house that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month.

“It absolutely is a growing trend,” said Matt Kasper, the Energy and Policy Institute's deputy director. “There's a lot of eyes on the industry, how it's operating.”

The institute published a report last year that scrutinized how electric and gas utilities use ratepayer money to “fund political machines that push legislation, curry favor with regulators and alter the outcomes of elections, sometimes even breaking laws in the process.”

Some of the lowlights include:

A massive bribery scandal in Ohio involving FirstEnergy, a utility holding company that  paid nearly $61 million in bribes to the Ohio house speaker's political organization in exchange for a nuclear plant bailout worth $1 billion to the company. A U.S. attorney called it “one of the largest public corruption conspiracies in Ohio history.”In Illinois, the state's largest electric utility, Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd, showered the state House speaker's allies with jobs, contracts and payments to grease the wheels for the company's legislation. Three ex-lobbyists and a former CEO of the company were convicted by a federal jury last year for their roles in the scheme. The speaker's trial is scheduled facing calls for a federal investigation over accusations of using political consultants to back “ghost candidates” in legislative races to draw votes away from candidates it opposed. It also took over a news website as “part of an elaborate, off-the-books political strategy to advocate for rate hikes, agitate for legislative favors, slam political opponents and eliminate anything  … (that) might undermine its near monopoly on selling power in the Sunshine State,” the Miami Herald reported. That's not to mention accusations of hiring private investigators to follow a newspaper columnist who was critical of the company.

Other examples of questionable spending abound. In 2018, South Carolina lawmakers were flooded with bogus emails encouraging them to support Virginia utility giant Dominion Energy's takeover of SCANA Corp., a company struggling under the weight of a failed nuclear project. Dominion denied having anything to do with the fake emails, which were sent by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a group that was then supported by Dominion. (The company is no longer listed as a CEA member).

Consumer Energy Alliance was also involved in a 2016 campaign to support a natural gas pipeline running through Ohio that involved sending 347 letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission using the names of locals — more than a dozen of whom signed affidavits denying they signed the letters —  including “an Ohio man who has been dead since 1998,” The Plain Dealer reported.

In Louisiana, Entergy was fined $5 million by the New Orleans City Council after actors hired by a public relations firm working for the utility showed up at public hearings to support a proposed power plant.

Arizona Public Service, which has 1.4 million electric customers in the state, spent $10 million in 2014 that was funneled to dark money groups to help elect its preferred members of the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities. That spending wasn't revealed until 2019, when the company complied with a subpoena to release documents.

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‘The appetite is there'

However, bills to curb utility influence spending can face an uphill fight, demonstrating the stronghold that the companies can have on state governments.

In Virginia, for example, another round of legislative attempts to prevent candidates from accepting donations from public service companies like Dominion Energy, the state's largest electric utility and long the biggest corporate donor in Virginia politics, died in House and Senate committees. Both houses are controlled by Democrats.

“Time will tell what will happen,” Del. Josh Cole, a Democrat who was carrying the House version of the legislation,told the Virginia Mercury.  “The appetite is definitely there for it.”

A separate proceeding at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been looking into the “rate recovery, reporting and accounting treatment of industry association dues and certain civic, political and related expenses.”

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric utilities and is one of the trade groups affected by some of the state-level legislation, said electric customers benefit when its member companies “have a seat at the table,” adding that they are among the most regulated businesses in the nation.

“We engage on their behalf through lobbying, advocacy and regulatory proceedings as part of our work to ensure that electricity customers have the affordable, reliable and resilient clean energy they want and need. Engaging in discussions with policymakers and regulators is essential to achieving these outcomes,” EEI spokeswoman Sarah Durdaller said in a statement. “We bring unique expertise and insights on how policy proposals will affect business operations, the cost for capital, and, ultimately, our customers. … There are strict laws in place already to ensure that lobbying activities are always funded by shareholders not customers.”

The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas utilities, did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, across the street from the Washington, D.C., hotel where the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners was holding its winter policy meeting, a group of climate justice organizations held a rally to call attention to energy company influence, taking aim at corporate sponsorship of the event and a lack of progress on renewable power.

“When we see events like this where utility execs fund gatherings and hobnob with regulators …  we need to speak out,” said Sukrit Mishra, D.C. program director at Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit that helps communities form solar co-ops. He voiced support for state legislative efforts as well as federal legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, to prevent utility companies from using ratepayer dollars to fund political activities.

“The public is ready to hold utilities accountable. We need regulators to do the same.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Telehealth abortions on the rise since Dobbs, new report shows • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Sofia Resnick – 2024-03-03 10:00:24

Telehealth abortions on the rise since Dobbs, new report shows

by Sofia Resnick, Louisiana Illuminator
March 3, 2024

Researchers studying national abortion trends found that in the 15 months since Roe v. Wade fell, abortion rates remained elevated despite more limited access throughout the U.S., according to the Society of Family Planning's latest #WeCount report published Wednesday.

Partially explaining this is a rise in people having abortions via telemedicine, Ushma Upadhyay, co-chair of #WeCount, told States Newsroom. Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, about 4% of total recorded abortions were via Telehealth abortion; that rose to 16%, as of September 2023.

“Telehealth abortion has really had a huge impact,” said Upadhyay, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. “We're addressing unmet need that existed in those states, even before Dobbs. I think that a lot of the unmet need in the blue states is being met, as well as people traveling from states with abortion bans.”

In the nation overall between July and September 2023, there were between 81,000 and 89,000 abortions monthly, numbers that are slightly smaller than in the previous report covering April through June 2023, but higher than in the months leading up to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision.

“Some of the volume may also be due to reductions of barriers to abortion care, including increased financial support for low-income abortion seekers, reduced burden of cost and travel by use of telehealth, and improved access via care navigation from practical support groups and public health departments,” the report reads.

However, researchers estimate that in the 14 states with total abortion bans, there were approximately 120,000 fewer abortions compared to before Dobbs.

“People in states with abortion bans or severe restrictions were forced to delay their abortions, to travel to another state, to obtain care from a provider in a shield law state, to self-manage their

abortions, or to continue a pregnancy they did not want,” the report reads.

Upadhyay said the recent small increases over the months does not compensate for the declines in banned states.

“Whenever we publish these numbers, we have to publish whatever we find,” she said. “But it is one of our worries that people will think, ‘Oh, there's no longer a problem.' We know that there are thousands of people living in states with abortion bans that continue to not be able to access abortion.”

States with the largest declines in 15 months were Texas (46,200), Georgia (24,640), Tennessee (17,545), Louisiana (11,465), and Alabama (9,525). Researchers saw the largest surges in Illinois (28,665), Florida (15,155), and California (12,515). Numbers in Wisconsin have fluctuated dramatically with its fluctuating abortion legality. Before Dobbs the state saw approximately 600 abortions per month, which dropped to fewer than 10 per month after Dobbs. Researchers recorded 50 abortions in Wisconsin in September 2023, shortly after providers resumed providing abortions following a court decision.

Though the majority were in-clinic abortions, Upadhyay believes the rate of telehealth abortions is likely to rise. There were a reported 14,110 telehealth abortions in July 2023, 14,060 in August, and 13,770 in September, according to the report, which includes in this tally abortions via telehealth provided by brick-and-mortar clinics and virtual-only providers, including those operating in the five states (Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Washington) that in 2023 started providing abortion care under shield laws to patients from states with abortion restrictions.

The #WeCount team plans to finish collecting state-by-state data as part of this project through December 2024. Among the data's limitations, it doesn't not include self-managed abortions.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Alabama passes IVF protections while red states still push ‘personhood’ abortion laws • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Sofia Resnick – 2024-03-03 05:00:57

Alabama passes IVF protections while red states still push ‘personhood' abortion laws

by Sofia Resnick, Louisiana Illuminator
March 3, 2024

All but six state legislatures are now in session, and abortion-related bills continue to be introduced, especially in states where the procedure is already banned.

It can be hard to monitor them all, so States Newsroom's Reproductive Rights Today team will track certain bills that could become law in their respective states in a biweekly legislative roundup.

Depending on the partisan makeup of a state's legislature and other state government officials, some bills have a higher chance of passing and becoming law than others.

Alabama

Following an explosive Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos count as children under state law, which shut down in vitro fertilization programs in Alabama, the state legislature on Thursday passed Republican-sponsored bills to protect IVF.

House Bill 237: Alabama Reflector reported the measure would protect IVF providers

Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, sponsored a bill to allow in vitro fertilization processes to proceed in Alabama after a Feb. 16 state Supreme Court decision shut down most IVF programs in the state. The bill passed the state House and Senate Feb. 29. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

from criminal or civil action “except for an act or omission that is both intentional and not arising from or related to IVF services.” The bill sponsors in both chambers called the measure, which will automatically repeal next year, a temporary fix aimed at reopening IVF programs.

State Democrats have criticized the bill for not addressing the state Supreme Court's findings about when life begins. The controversial ruling that a frozen embryo is an unborn child was based in part on a 2018 “Sanctity of Life” constitutional amendment. “If in fact, we have a constitutional amendment that requires us to adopt public policy that these embryos have a right to life, can we pass a law that authorizes life to be taken in fertility clinics?” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

Status: Passed Feb. 29 in the House 94-6 and in the Senate (SB 159) 34-0.Sponsor: Republican Rep. Terri Collins, Decatur

Alaska

Despite the political fallout in Alabama, states continue to introduce proposals to give “personhood” rights to embryos. Abortions are currently protected under Alaska's constitution, but a proposed bill could change that by defining a fetus as a person in the criminal code.

House Bill 107: Alaska Beacon reported the bill would establish the definition of “life” and “person” in criminal law. The proposal has received pushback in the wake of the controversial Alabama IVF ruling. John Skidmore, the deputy attorney general for the criminal division of the Department of Law, said that if passed, it would allow the state to file criminal charges for abortion, though courts would likely rule that unconstitutional.

Status: Introduced in 2023 and heard in the House Judiciary Committee.Sponsor: Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe, Big Lake

Florida

As Florida's legislative session comes to an end for the year (last day of the session is March 8), Republicans postponed a bill that would have let people file wrongful death lawsuits for embryos and fetuses.

Senate Bill 476: Florida Phoenix reported the bill's sponsor said the measure needs more work but would not have applied to IVF. As written it would permit lawsuits to recover damages for the wrongful death suit of unborn children at any stage of development.

Status: Temporarily postponed.Sponsor: Republican Sen. Erin Grall, Vero Beach

Iowa

Abortion is currently legal in Iowa after a court last year blocked a six-week abortion ban. The Iowa House just passed a controversial bill that Democrats warn could result in pushing anti-abortion views and potential misinformation in public schools.

House File 2617: Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the bill would require instructors of human growth and development and health classes to show seventh through 12th grade students ultrasounds and animations that demonstrate the processes of fertilization and fetal development. As an example of acceptable material, the bill cites the “Meet Baby Olivia” produced by the longtime anti-abortion activist group Live Action, best known for trying to entrap Planned Parenthood into criminal activity with undercover . A version of this legislation has been enacted in North Dakota and introduced in Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia.

Status: Passed 59-35 this week, going to the Senate for consideration (formerly numbered HF 2031).Sponsor: Republican Rep. Luana Stoltenberg, Davenport

Kansas

Abortion is currently legal in Kansas through 22 weeks' gestation. Two new bills would add abortion-related restrictions, one that would make abortion coercion a felony and one that would require ultrasounds before abortions.

House Bill 2813: Kansas Reflector reported this bill would make it a felony to try to convince someone to get an abortion using coercion or threats.

Status: Referred to House Committee on Federal and State Affairs.Sponsor: Republican Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, Ottawa

House Bill 2814: Kansas Reflector reported this bill would create the Kansas Ultrasound Act, requiring an obstetric ultrasound to be performed before an abortion. The proposal would allow “a woman to avert her eyes from such images.”

Status: Referred to Committee on Federal and State AffairsSponsor: Republican Leah Howell, Derby, on behalf  of anti-abortion groups Kansans for Life and Kansas Family Voice

Kentucky

Republicans continue trying to apply “personhood” to fetuses and embryos. The next foray in Kentucky, where abortion is banned, is child support. “The support obligation begins as soon as that life begins,” said the bill's sponsor.

Senate Bill 110: Kentucky Lantern reported the proposal would allow Kentuckians to collect child support for fetuses, if an order is in place within a year of the child's birth. But the bill's sponsor says that county attorneys cannot use federal resources to enforce this law, and that he would support a new state appropriation to help fund the enforcement. The bill also has support from Democrats, some of whom want it categorized as maternity care support instead of child support. “I worry about this being a stepping stone to things like in-utero visitation and … the downstream consequences that could arise,” said Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville.

Status: Passed unanimously by Senate committee Feb. 27.Sponsor: Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, Fruit Hill

House Bill 711: Kentucky Lantern reported this bill would expand state abortion exceptions to pregnancies caused by rape and incest, but no later than six weeks after the first day of the woman's last menstrual period. The proposal would leave it to the physician to determine if rape or incest had occurred. The bill would also clarify abortion exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages.

Status: Introduced Feb. 26.Sponsor: Republican Rep. Ken Fleming, Louisville

South Dakota

Abortion is currently illegal in South Dakota, but that could change with a potential ballot-question decision. In an attempt to thwart the measure, Republicans have advanced a bill that would allow people to remove their signatures from ballot-question petitions.

House Bill 1244: South Dakota Searchlight reports that an emergency clause in the legislation would make it effective immediately, ahead of this spring's deadline for petitions to place questions on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. Initiated measures and referendums need 17,508 signatures from registered voters to make the ballot; initiated constitutional amendments need 35,017. Rick Weiland of Dakotans for Health said the abortion-rights ballot petitions already have 50,000 signatures.

Status: Passed 59-9 Feb. 20; passed Senate State Affairs Committee Feb. 28.Sponsor: Republican Rep. Jon Hansen, Dell Rapids

Utah

Abortion is currently legal in Utah up to 18 weeks' gestation, awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on whether to uphold a trigger abortion ban. In an attempt to try to speed up the court's decision, Republican lawmakers, on the last day of the legislative session, passed a bill that would repeal last year's legislation that bans abortion clinics.

House Bill 560: Utah News Dispatch reported the bill would repeal portions of HB 467 that are already enjoined in court. Democrats have argued the bill disrupts the separation of powers by interfering in ongoing litigation.

Status: Passed House 59-10 on Feb. 21; passed Senate 24-0 on March 1.Sponsor: Republican House Majority Whip Karianne Lisonbee, Clearfield

West Virginia

Abortion is currently illegal in West Virginia. This week state senators voted to require high schoolers to watch a video created by the anti-abortion activist group Live Action.

Senate Bill 468: West Virginia Watch reported the bill would require eighth and 10th grade public school students to view a video called “Meet Baby Olivia,” which depicts insemination fetal development. Republican Sen. Tom Takubo, a doctor, voiced concerns about the measure during debate, saying there were “discrepancies in the video that are grossly inaccurate.”

Status: Passed the Senate 27-6 on Feb. 27; referred to House Health and Human Resources Committee.Sponsor: Republican Sen. Patricia Rucker, Jefferson

Wyoming

Abortion is currently legal in Wyoming, but Republican lawmakers are trying to increase regulations for clinics by requiring them to be licensed surgical centers and for their doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar law in Texas was unconstitutional.

House Bill 148: WyoFile reported this bill was amended last week to require patients to undergo an ultrasound at least 48 hours before the abortion. Currently, having an ultrasound is optional.

Status: Passed the House 53-9 on Feb. 23 and the Senate 24-6 on March 1.Sponsor: Republican Rep. Chip Neiman, Hulett

U.S. Congress

Meanwhile, this week the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill to protect IVF access nationwide.

S. 3612: States Newsroom reported the bill, introduced earlier this year, would bar limitations on “assisted reproductive technology services” that are “more burdensome than limitations or requirements imposed on medically comparable procedures, do not significantly advance reproductive health or the safety of such services and unduly restrict access to such services.” In the wake of the recent IVF situation in Alabama, the SenateDemocratic sponsor asked for unanimous consent in the Senate to avoid having to send the bill to the House. But Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi blocked the bill.

Status: Introduced in January; failed unanimous consent request Feb. 28.Sponsor: Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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