Saturday, April 20, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers settle on dates for redistricting, crime special sessions

by BIZ Magazine

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator

Louisiana legislative leaders have tentatively settled on dates for two special sessions that will be held in January and February before their regular lawmaking session gets underway in March.

The lawmakers are expected to convene Jan. 15-23 for a federally mandated special session to draw new U.S. House of Representatives districts for Louisiana. Gov.-elect Jeff Landry is also supposed to call a special session focused on public safety and crime from Feb. 19 through March 6, according to Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who is expected to be Louisiana Senate president next term.

The regular legislative session will begin a few days later on March 11 and last until June 3, meaning lawmakers will be meeting most weeks during the first six months of 2024.

A federal court is requiring the legislature to draw a second majority-Black district within its six existing U.S. House seats in order to comply with federal voting rights laws.  U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, ordered the map to be finalized by Jan. 30, effectively forcing a January special session on the Legislature.

While running for governor, Landry also repeatedly promised to convene a special session on crime as soon as he possibly could. The governor-elect hasn’t said what the agenda for that special session will include yet, though several conservative criminal justice proposals that Gov. John Bel Edwards shot down over the years will likely surface again. 

Some of those ideas include lowering the age at which a person automatically gets charged as an adult in the criminal justice system from 18 to 17. This adjustment would send more teenagers convicted of crimes to adult prisons instead of juvenile justice facilities.

District attorneys already have the ability to charge underage people — including 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds — with adult crimes if they desire. The proposed change would limit prosecutors’ discretion, removing the option of sending 17-year-olds to juvenile justice facilities.

Another legislative proposal expected to be revived is one that limits the extent to which bystanders can record police officers confronting or restraining a person in a public space. There has also been an effort to make records of underage teenagers accused of crimes more available to the public.

The January and February special sessions had to be squeezed in between the regular session and Mardi Gras festivities. Washington D.C. Mardi Gras – which hundreds of elected officials from Louisiana attend annually – begins Jan. 24 and lasts through Jan. 27. Fat Tuesday falls on Feb. 14 and is preceded in Louisiana with weeks of parades and other celebrations. 

Incoming Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple had been pushing for a special session on the property insurance crisis, but Landry wasn’t supportive of that proposal. Instead, lawmakers will have to wait until the regular session to take up insurance bills.

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