Louisiana senators refuse to limit police officer immunity
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal to place new limits on police officers’ broad immunity from civil lawsuits was rejected Tuesday by Louisiana state senators, stalling a key recommendation from a task force created to suggest policy changes addressing police misconduct.
A Senate judiciary committee voted 4-2 against the measure from Rep. Edmond Jordan, a Baton Rouge area Democrat, to put new restraints on the qualified immunity defense available to law enforcement officers against damage claims for wrongful death or injury.
Jordan’s bill, which narrowly received House approval earlier this session, would have barred the use of qualified immunity if a court determines the police officer’s conduct to be “unreasonable.” It also would have expanded what’s considered malfeasance for an officer.
Republicans voted against the proposal, while Democrats supported it.
This is the second year efforts from Black lawmakers to change Louisiana’s qualified immunity law failed in the Legislature. But this second rejection came even after compromise language was hammered out by a task force that included lawmakers, advocacy groups and law enforcement organization leaders.
The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association backed the bill as it moved through the House and Senate. Other police organizations — such as the state Fraternal Order of Police and the state’s police chiefs association — worked to defeat the proposal, even though they had representatives on the task force who didn’t object to the recommendation when it received the panel’s backing.
Supporters of the proposal said the qualified immunity law makes it nearly impossible to hold officers accountable for excessive force when prosecutors refuse to bring criminal charges. Opponents said legal avenues exist to prosecute police for inappropriate behavior, and they argued the changes could harm police recruitment.
Voting for the bill were Democratic Sens. Joe Bouie of New Orleans and Greg Tarver of Shreveport. Voting against the bill were Republican Sens. Cameron Henry of Metairie, Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles, Mike Reese of Leesville and Kirk Talbot of River Ridge.
Other task force proposals have fared better with lawmakers.
A 36-0 Senate vote Thursday gave final passage to a bill by Democratic Sen. Cleo Fields, of Baton Rouge, to place new restrictions on the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants. The measure also will require detailed policies for when body cameras and dash cameras must be turned on by officers who have them.
In addition, legislation by Republican Rep. Tony Bacala, of Prairieville, calling for police agencies to design policies aimed at increasing minority recruitment and to require anti-bias training for state grant eligibility is headed to the governor’s desk. It also will require suspension or revocation of a police officer’s state certification if the officer committed misconduct — a provision aimed at keeping officers fired from one police agency from moving to another. Bacala’s bill won final passage Tuesday with a 97-0 vote of the House.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is expected to sign both bills.
The bill is filed as House Bill 609.
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