Jim Beam column:Criminal justice much tougher

Published 7:31 am Saturday, March 2, 2024

If Louisiana didn’t already have a reputation as a law-and-order state, it definitely has one now. The supermajority Republican Legislature at the crime special session that just ended gave GOP Gov. Jeff Landry everything he wanted and more.

Most of the nearly two-dozen bills that were approved got a two-thirds vote or higher (70 votes in the House and 26 in the Senate). Republican lawmakers shot down many attempts from Democrats to amend the legislation that was approved.

Bills dealing with methods of execution for the 56 prisoners on death row and giving those 18 and older the right to carry concealed weapons without a state permit were the headliners.

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The execution methods outlined in the death penalty bill are by intravenous injection, nitrogen hypoxia, or electrocution. Those companies that provide drugs for intravenous injection will be protected from public disclosure.

The publicity those companies got previously is responsible for the fact that Louisiana hasn’t executed anyone since 2010. Louisiana’s last electric chair execution occurred in 1991, according to The Advocate. Obviously, executions are going to resume relatively soon.

Sen. Caleb Kleinpeter, R-Port Allen, who handled the execution legislation in the Senate, said,  “We made an oath to uphold the laws of our state. Today we honor these families and remove the hurdles so that justice may be served for the victims.”

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus warned of the execution bill’s potential effect on Black Louisianans, noting the state’s history of executing Black men only to later unearth evidence of their innocence.

Landry was in the Senate chamber when the execution bill was debated, along with a group of victims’ loved ones. The Advocate said, “He watched the debate quietly then exited swiftly once the bill was approved, dodging reporters gathered outside the Senate.”

Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, sponsor of what is called the constitutionally carry bill for those 18 and older, said in committee, “We are merely offering law-abiding citizens safety to exercise their self-defense rights without a fee or other governmental barriers from a violent criminal who has no regard for the law.”

Louisiana’s Fraternal Order of the Police opposed Miguez’ bill. USA Today Network said the Louisiana Sheriffs Association took no position on the bill. Twenty-seven states already permit a form of concealed carry without permits, including all of Louisiana’s neighbors.

The network said a second bill by Miguez provides a level of immunity from civil liability for anyone who uses a concealed handgun to shoot a person in self-defense.

Other bills that were approved virtually guarantee that anyone who ends up in prison could be there for a long time. The Advocate said Landry on Tuesday and Wednesday is set to sign legislation to eliminate parole for all adults who commit crimes after Aug. 1 and slash prisoners’ chances at early release for good behavior.

Two of the more troublesome bills place 17-year-olds in the adult justice system and publicize youth court records, most of which have previously been closed. The 17-year-olds are supposed to be kept in secure locations,  but that is difficult in many prison facilities.

Sheriff Susan Hutson of Orleans Parish said the new law will force her agency to take 120 beds in the Orleans Justice Center offline and “make it nearly impossible” to meet state and federal rules.

Supporters of the change said 17-year-olds are a bad influence on those younger teenagers in juvenile facilities. However, those who deal with rapes in prisons are concerned 17-year-olds will become rape victims in adult facilities.

Opponents of the change for 17-year-olds were correct in saying district attorneys currently have the power to charge 17-year-olds if they feel the crime is serious enough. Now, they will be charged as adults for all crimes.

Another bill rolls back a 2021 law that made it possible for prosecutors to trim prison sentences they believe to be unjust or overly punitive. The legislation would eliminate most opportunities for such deals.

“Today is a great day in Louisiana,” Landry said. He told those who voted for his bills, “On behalf of countless citizens, victims, their families and the prosecutors who have labored for justice, I give you their thanks.”

Those who may be unhappy about the results of this session, as I have said before, should never forget that 63.7% of the registered voters in this state never went to the polls on Oct. 14, 2023. That is when Landry won the primary with 52% of the vote.

Voters always have the final word and Landry supporters have now had theirs.


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