Thursday, May 30, 2024

Louisiana Senate committee approves several crime bills

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Bills to address vehicular homicides, felony firearm possession, and Xylazine could soon become law following approvals in a Senate judiciary committee this week.

Members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary C on Tuesday approved House Bill 91, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Goudeau, R-Lafayette, to allow a court to order restitution for minor children of parents killed in vehicular homicides.

“This bill here, if someone is arrested for DWI and has killed one or more … parents, they’ll be subject to restitution to the living children,” said Goudeau, who carried similar legislation that did not gain full legislative approval last session.

HB 91 clarifies that if a court orders restitution and a judgment is obtained from a civil suit in favor of the surviving parent or guardian, the restitution order must adopt the civil judgment.

Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, suggested the overlap between civil and criminal law in the bill is “problematic,” a concern echoed by Megan Garvey, legislative advocate for the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Sarah Whittington, staff attorney for the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana.

“What we’re doing is sort of importing a wrongful death suit into a criminal procedure,” Garvey said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of confusion here.”

“I do believe the civil system would better serve a victim in these cases, specifically because the civil systems allows … exemplary damages here in Louisiana,” Whittington said.

The committee also voted 4-2 to approve HB 464, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, to increase the penalty for felons on probation or parole who are convicted of possessing a firearm. The bill initially aimed to increase the penalty from a minimum of 5 years to a minimum of 10, but was amended to keep the current minimum.

HB464 would require felons on probation or parole who are prohibited from carrying a firearm to serve any sentence for violations consecutively with probation or parole violations, effectively increasing the sentence. The bill was also amended to exempt felonies involving low-level drugs from the felony firearm possession restrictions.

Whittington citied the “extremely expensive” fiscal impact of consecutive sentences, and pointed to data that showed the average sentence for felony firearm possession in Louisiana has increased from 65.2 months in 2016 to 72.5 months in 2020.

“To serve it consecutive I think would be unnecessary and expensive,” she said. “Right now the data does not support this is a great need.”

Among other bills approved Tuesday was HB 645, sponsored by Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, to create a crime for production, manufacturing, distribution, or possession of Xylazine, a large animal tranquilizer known as “Tranq” that the DEA warns is increasingly mixed with fentanyl.

“The DEA has issued an urgent warning about the use of this with humans,” Miller said.

The drug, used for veterinary anesthesia, is not scheduled federally, which means possession is not currently illegal. When mixed with fentanyl, it’s known to cause flesh wounds at injection sites, and its effects cannot be reversed with Narcan, which is commonly used to prevent opioid overdoses, Miller said.

“We’re just adding a penalty if it’s used for anything besides its intended purpose” in veterinary medicine, he said.

The penalty would carry a prison term of between one and 10 years, along with a fine of up to $15,000.

HB 645 was backed by longtime Louisiana attorney Barton Conradi, whose 30-year-old son died in July 2021 from a combination of heroin, fentanyl, and Xylazine.

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