Landry Urges Lawmakers to Pass Tough-on-Crime Legislation

BATON ROUGE (AP) — As Louisiana’s crime-focused special legislative session kicked off Monday afternoon, Republican Gov. Jeff Landry urged the GOP-dominated Legislature to pass tough-on-crime policies, assuring lawmakers that he would sign the bills into law.

Among the legislation on this short session’s agenda are proposals to expand methods to carry out death row executions, restrict parole eligibility, create harsher penalties for carjackings, allow concealed carry of firearms without a permit, give law enforcement officers “immunity from liability,” and lower the age of when someone charged with a felony can be tried as an adult to 17.

The aggressive agenda could reshape parts of the criminal justice system and public safety sector in a state that has struggled with violent crime. Some lawmakers say the proposed policies prioritize victims and will keep criminals behind bars and off Louisiana streets. Others say the legislation won’t address crime, especially at its core, and worry that it will undo bipartisan and historic reforms that were passed under Landry’s Democratic predecessor.

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“Our criminal justice system has lost balance,” Landry said during his address to the Legislature. “The steps we take to restore that balance are difficult to accept for some. However, when promises are made to a victim’s family and friends, granting them that justice restores balance.”

In the audience for Landry’s speech were police officers, victims of violent carjackings and family members of homicide victims.

“Let us take back our streets for them,” Landry said. “Let us empower our citizens to live their lives without fear and mourning. Let us end the irresponsible and deadly tolerance for violence, flagrant theft and the dealing of deadly drugs.”

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As Landry gave a synopsis of his priorities, most in the chamber applauded and, at times, gave a standing ovation. However, among those who remained seated were Democrats.

“Simply stated, the call for this special session does not allow us to address crime in a holistic approach that the people of Louisiana need and deserve,” Rep. Matthew Willard, the House Democratic Caucus chair, told reporters. “The governor talked about the victims of crime, yet every proposal that his team has put forward is reactive. None of it will help to reduce crime and keep our communities safer.”

Democrats say a “holistic approach” to addressing crime would include additional funding and programs to address drug addiction, improving outcomes for prisoners who re-enter society and allocating more money for mental health and education.

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Willard, along with other Democratic lawmakers and members of the Black Caucus, said that they had “no input on the legislative session” and were not consulted as Landry created his list of priorities and focuses for the proposed crime-related agenda.

In fact, Democrats say ahead of this session they attempted to file bills — including one that proposed creating an Office of Gun Violence Prevention — but were rejected for this particular legislative gathering because they were ruled as “not germane” to the governor’s call.

Landry, who took office in January, has vowed to crack down on crime in Louisiana — a state that in recent years has had one of the highest homicide rates in the country. The issue became a pivotal part of his gubernatorial platform, with him often pointing at New Orleans, which has been in the national spotlight for violent crime.

As in numerous other parts of the country, violence surged in Louisiana following the onset of COVID-19. And while data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that crime has steadily decreased in Louisiana over the past decade, New Orleans has continued to struggle with a surge of killings.

Louisiana’s special session must conclude by the evening of March 6.

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