During the 2014-15 school year, 188 7th-graders in East Feliciana Parish completed the “Know the Law” program through the efforts of East and West Feliciana District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla and program coordinators and presenters, Tom and Judy Sanches.The curriculum for students at East Feliciana Middle, Silliman Institute and Slaughter Community Charter schools was understanding the basics of laws and the consequences of breaking them, Judy Sanches said.
“ ‘Know the Law’ is a program that began more than 10 years ago by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office for middle-school-age children and introduces them to the Louisiana legal system in terms they can understand,” Sanches said. Is it the 10th year the program has been taught in East Feliciana.
Material is presented in a nine-chapter book that’s covered in weekly one-hour classes. Students are given a complete written version of the program, provided by the Attorney General’s Office and the East Feliciana District Attorney’s Office, to take home as well as additional handouts.
Topics include rules of law; juvenile justice system; criminal justice system and criminal laws; civil law and responsibility; weapons, guns and fireworks; alcohol and other drugs; driving and transportation; recreation; school; and family. The program features presentations from school administrators, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents and others from law enforcement and legal professions.
For completing the program, each student received a T-shirt that states: “I Know the Law, Do You?”
A statewide pilot program that would use license plate readers to catch uninsured motorists as well as perpetrators of crimes cleared a big hurdle Monday. The Louisiana House voted 83-13 for the Senate-passed measure. The bill now returns to the Senate for the concurrence needed in House changes before it can head to the governor’s desk.
Under Senate Bill 250, license plate readers would be linked to the state’s vehicle registration and compulsory motor vehicle insurance databases. The information generated could be used as evidence of a violation of the compulsory motor vehicle insurance law or for felonies being investigated such as motor vehicle theft, homicide, kidnapping and burglary, or for Amber and Blue alerts.
The sheriff’s office in each parish, in cooperation with the district attorney’s office, is authorized to participate in the pilot program.
“The technology can do what police cannot do: be everywhere all the time,” said Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, former Louisiana State Police superintendent.
Rep. Michael Johnson, R-Bossier City, said everyone has concerns about “big brother,” but he said the bill is tailored narrowly enough to allay concerns. He said law enforcement cannot retain a databank of information. The data not being used as evidence of a violation of the law must be destroyed in 30 days.
“Ultimately the benefit outweighs the risk,” Johnson said. He said the potential is there to reduce automobile insurance rates by getting uninsured motorists off the road.
An annual report would be submitted to legislative committees by the Department of Public Safety on program operations along with any recommendations for improvement.
Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, is sponsor of SB250 creating the Statewide Motor Vehicle Theft and Uninsured Motorists Identification Program. The program cannot be used to enforce civil traffic citations by any method including towing or booting or other immobilization method of a motor vehicle.
The license plate readers are in use in some places already. New Orleans received grants to purchase readers; they still must spend money on maintaining image databases. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spends roughly $200,000 a year to maintain its system, and the State Police spend about $90,000.
While most parishes are not yet saturated with mounted license plate readers, a growing number of jurisdictions are deploying a mobile version of the technology: cameras attached to police units that are constantly scanning the plates of both moving and parked vehicles.
The Louisiana Legislature appears poised to endorse a proposal to ease the severity -- to some extent -- of the state's exceptionally harsh pot possession penalties. The movement comes years after lawmakers have demonstrated an aversion to any kind of marijuana sentencing reform, previously snuffing out any attempts to do so early in the legislative process.
The Senate on Wednesday (June 3) gave final approval to a House bill that does a few things to bring Louisiana's possession laws more in line with surrounding states. For example, the proposed law lowers penalties for simple marijuana possession, increases the threshold for a felony-level charge and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders.
Jindal has already indicated he'll sign the bill. Unless a lawmaker, lobbyist or some other disrupter tosses a wrench in the process, it looks like Louisiana might soon have a new marijuana possession penalty system.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, who presented the bill to the Senate Wednesday, assured reluctant colleagues that the penalty reductions were not extreme. "In fact, we still (have) the highest (penalties) in the country for possession," he said.
In many states, there's no felony possession charge for marijuana. This bill moves Louisiana's maximum penalty from a felony charge that carries a 20-year prison sentence to a felony that carries an 8-year sentence. Moreover, the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association and Louisiana District Attorney Association did not oppose the version of the bill they were voting on, Morrell reminded senators. "It is generally agreed this is the best possible compromise."
Wednesday's 24-13 vote by the full Senate means both chambers have now approved the compromise legislation (HB 149), sponsored by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans. It now goes to the House, which OK'd an earlier version of the bill, for approval of added amendments before going to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk for a signature.
The following outlines changes to the law that both bills now propose:
• Under current law, the maximum penalties for possession of any amount of marijuana up to 60 pounds are a $500 fine and six moths in jail for a first offense (a misdemeanor), a $2,500 fine and five years in prison for a second offense (a felony); and a $5,000 fine and a 20-year prison term for a third or subsequent offense (a felony).
• The bill does not change penalties for first-offense possession of marijuana dealing with amounts between 14 grams and 2.5 pounds. The legislation makes possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana punishable by maximum sentence of a $300 fine and 15 days in jail. Second offenses are a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail; third offenses are a felony punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and two years in prison; and fourth or subsequent offenses are a felony punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and eight years in prison.
• The proposal also allows offenders one chance to apply to have their record expunged if they aren't convicted of a marijuana violation within two years of the first offense.
The current version of Badon's bill accomplishes the same goal -- reducing marijuana penalties -- but looks very different from the version he presented in April to a House criminal justice committee and in May to the full House. Much of his bill was reworked mid-session to mirror a Senate bill (SB 241), sponsored by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, that both lawmakers agreed would be the best option to get to the governor.
Morrell's bill went further in some ways, and it was crafted in conjunction with the sheriffs and district attorneys organizations. Getting the bill into a posture from which those lobby groups would feel comfortable removing their opposition was key to obtaining enough votes to push the measure through the Legislature.