Louisiana Senate approves law enforcement task force and rural broadband measure

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana state senators on Sunday voted unanimously to create a task force to study and make policy recommendations to improve the training, screening and de-escalation skills of law enforcement officers.

A House of Representatives committee approved a similar resolution to study law enforcement tactics last week, but not before Republicans insisted on removing language regarding the treatment of black men by white officers. They also stripped out a reference to George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police helped spur nationwide and even international protests.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 7 by Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, includes similar language but inspired no such controversy. Not only did it pass 34-0, with references to Floyd and the fact that black men are more likely to be killed by police than white men intact, it attracted 29 co-authors.

Fields said every member of the judiciary committee where the bill got its first hearing signed on as co-authors, which “sends a message to me and should a message to the rest of the state that this Senate cares and wants to do what’s right.”

If the House approves the concurrent resolution, the task force will consist of lawmakers from both bodies, activists, law enforcement and defense bar representatives, academics and youth leaders. The group is supposed to report its findings to the Legislature by February.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 10 by Franklinton Republican Sen. Beth Mizell seeks to promote high-speed internet access in rural areas by encouraging member-owned electric cooperatives to partner with broadband providers using existing electricity infrastructure.

The Federal Communications Commission has established the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to distribute $20.4 billion over 10 years to places with limited or no broadband access that don’t have enough people to be profitable markets otherwise. State officials hope the program will promote broadband investment in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a similar bill Mizell authored that passed both houses of the Legislature without objection during the regular session. Critics said her original proposal would have been in conflict with federal law because it restricted competition by only allowing the co-ops to get into the internet business in places that currently don’t have broadband access.

A spokeswoman for Edwards said the governor is “fully supportive” of Mizell’s Senate Bill 10, which started out calling for reporting about impediments to rural broadband and was amended to include her earlier bill’s main goals.

“I don’t know if he likes it,” Mizell said of the governor. “He’s good with it.”

This year’s pandemic-shortened regular legislative session ended June 1. Lawmakers began this month’s special session immediately afterward.