Wednesday, August 18, 2010 Written by Jeremy Alford
There are now hundreds of new state laws you need to be aware of, including quite a few that impact Louisiana’s underground and underbelly.
The mainstream press did a superb job over the weekend picking up on all of the hot button, headline grabbing laws that went into effect Sunday — like the one that allows cops to pull you over for texting; another makes cyberbullying its own crime; ultrasounds are now required prior to abortions, although the law was suspended pending a court challenge; and there’s finally a law that cracks down on the kids and all their sexting, which if you don’t know about yet, I’m not going to tell you.
There were also a handful of other new laws resulting from this year’s regular session that shared the same Aug. 15 enactment date, yet received little or no play, much to the chagrin of the outlaws among us who seek to know and understand the law. Maybe they were just too colorful.
But before we get to all of that, let’s take note of a few laws that the Louisiana Legislature removed from the books Sunday. One such law required the Department of Education to host seminars for “selected teachers,” high school juniors and seniors to give them a “clear understanding” of the “evils of socialism, and the basic philosophy of communism and the strategy and tactics used by communists in their efforts to achieve world domination.” Passed in 1961, the law was accompanied by a $30,000 appropriation to bankroll the effort.
A now-deleted 1922 law required the state to keep a list of “aged and incapacitated” teachers. The legislative intent behind that one is unclear, but 36 years later the Legislature passed another law that called for the termination of school teachers who had reached the age of 65 and were not paying into the teachers’ retirement system.
It all balances out, though, because the Legislature passed enough new laws to take their places, especially in the criminal code and related sections. Anyone having anything to do with marijuana, especially, should be aware of this fact.
For starters, even fake weed is illegal now. You probably picked up on this one during the session: The stuff being sold as incense under names like Voodoo, K2 and Spice — but can reportedly be smoked like marijuana to achieve a similar high — is no longer being sold in convenience stores and head shops. But surely it’s still out there somewhere and the new law written in honor of synthetic marijuana has a first-offense possession penalty of up to six months in jail.
As for the real stuff, it’s still very much illegal and second offense possession penalties have been increased. There is now a minimum fine of $250, in addition to the old maximum of $2,000, and any probation awarded in lieu of hard labor will now have to include court-approved substance abuse treatments — ponied up out of the offender’s own pockets. Another new law also defines any possession charge between 60 pounds and 10,000 pounds as “racketeering activity” — so if you want to be a baller, get a good lawyer (and your head examined).
After all that risk, if you’re still a pot smoker and you’re facing a drug test, let it be known that buying black market urine is likewise a new crime that calls for imprisonment for no more than six months, a fine not to exceed $500 or possibly both. That law comes courtesy of Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, and plain old adulterants are on the taboo list, too. On the enforcement side, fellow Acadiana Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, passed his own law expanding drug-free zones around schools from 1,000 to 2,000 feet.
Law enforcement agencies in large, urban areas have been complaining not only about gangs, but it’s membership, which is growing younger each year. The state previously had a law prohibiting the recruitment of individuals for street gangs, punishable by two years in the pokey and/or a $5,000 fine. But now the statute includes a special provision for gang members who solicit children age 16 or younger. It’s carries up to four years at hard labor and maybe as much as a $10,000 fine.
Inside prisons, meanwhile, there are plenty of changes happening there this week as well. While cell phones have always been illegal, memory cards have also become contraband. New penalties have been created for inmates who try to light their cigarettes with anything not provided to them and for prisoners who so much as touch the video recording devices keeping track of them behind bars. Out-of-state residents are also now welcome to watch death row executions if they’re invited or connected to the case. Previously, it was confined to Louisiana locals only.
So, we have all these shiny new criminal laws on the books. And, really, it’s nothing new. Every regular session seems to produce another mandatory minimum and another crime that didn’t previously exist. It’s perennial, and just about as redundant as the study requests lawmakers file every few years or so to investigate the overload.
Today, possibly as a result, Louisiana imprisons more people per capita than any other state. Currently, that’s about 40,000 individuals in local and state jails, according to the Associated Press.
Are we any safer for it? Congressional Quarterly has released its annual state crime rankings for 2010 and Louisiana led the nation in murders. Overall, CQ estimates that Louisiana is the third most dangerous state in the entire country, ranking fourth for assaults, ninth for burglaries, 14th for vehicle theft, 18th for robberies and 33rd for rapes.
But, then again, Louisiana has some of the highest ethics rankings in the nation and our Legislature is really, really tough on crime. So, you know, we got that going for us.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at
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