Sunday, April 14, 2024

Louisiana House committee tackles crime issues amid protests

by David Specht

Madison Maronge | Manship News Service

BATON ROUGE— Protesters swarmed House hearing rooms Tuesday as a top law enforcement committee passed legislation that would expand capital punishment to include death by nitrogen gas and electrocution. The panel significantly boosted sentences for carjacking and penalties for so-called “rainbow” fentanyl sold to children.

It also tightened parole issues and prisoner rules which drew opposition from groups that aid formerly incarcerated people in voting and civic participation.

Punishment for carjackings and selling fentanyl to children came in a flurry of legislation that swept across the Capitol on Tuesday following a stirring speech the day before from newly-elected Gov. Jeff Landry. 

Landry, a former state Attorney General, ran on a get-tough-on-crime stance that would roll back scores of revisions made under his predecessor, Gov. John Bel Edwards. Chief among Landry’s positions was to restart capital punishment as a deterrent to what has been soaring crime rates in the state’s major cities.

Louisiana has not administered capital punishment by lethal injection since 2010.

“Capital punishment is lawful, and we intend to fulfill our legal duty to resume it,” said Landry to a joint session of the Legislature on Monday.

Based on House committee action Tuesday, the minimum sentence for carjackings was raised to five years from two and carjackings involving violence – or causing severe bodily injuries – was raised to a minimum to 20 to 30 years from 10 years.

Two years ago, a horrific carjacking gained headlines nationally when an elderly woman was attacked by four teenagers in New Orleans and dragged 200 yards. Her arm was severed and she died 20 minutes later. 

“There’s just a huge risk for grave harm to victims and we want to deter carjackings as best we can,” said Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie. 

Sarah Whittington, a staff attorney from the nonprofit Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, which assists people re-entering society from incarceration, noted that increasing carjacking sentences would not deter the crime, violent or otherwise.  

“You need to invest in people and opportunities,” Whittington told House members. “And those will not bear fruit for 20 years,” she said, adding “ but that is where the investment has to lie.” 

Schlegel also attacked what is dubbed  “rainbow fentanyl” with another bill. 

According to Whittington, fentanyl is 50% more powerful than heroin and 100% more powerful than morphine. Children are being fooled with what seems to be innocent candy to suffer the effects of fentanyl from the manipulation of the deadly drug into fun colors and shapes, resembling SweetTarts, Whittington said. 

Schlefel successfully proposed a sentence of 25 to 99 years for selling fentanyl to a minor, which is similar to that of other crimes that harm children. This sentence comes without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. 

The debate around fentanyl was reported favorably and concluded in under 10 minutes with no opposition on the committee.

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