On May 11, the Louisiana (LA) House voted in favor of limits to qualified immunity (QI). House Bill 609 is the Bayou State’s attempt to hold cops more accountable. Sponsored by Rep. Edmond Jordan, the bill passed the House with a 53-42 vote.
The Advocate reports that debate over the bill spurred emotional testimony from Black lawmakers.
“We live in two different Americas. We live in two different Louisianas,” Rep. Ted James told the House. “And some of the issues we have to face I pray to God you never have to face.”
In the fight for police accountability, HB 609 is certainly a step forward. Yet due to compromises, its QI provisions have been watered down. For instance, the bill limits QI only in cases where a court rules the actions were “unreasonable.” And, as The Advocate says, the House tacked on a measure that requires plaintiffs to pay all costs and fees if they lose their case. Basically, this measure is a roadblock. As the AP notes, it’s meant to “discourage civil lawsuits against police officers.”
Law Enforcement Reaction
The bill has also divided law enforcement organizations across the state.
The Louisiana Sheriff’s Association supports the bill. “There has been a lot of misinformation about [HB 609] that is simply false,” said Mike Ranatza. He’s the head of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association.
However, the Fraternal Order of Police is against the bill. As is the association representing police chiefs. However, as the AP observed, representatives from the latter who served on a task force “didn’t object” to the bill’s recommendations when it passed.
The qualified immunity debate in Louisiana reflects the national debate over the doctrine. As AP states, opponents claim that limiting QI would “send the wrong message.” They believe it would damage police recruitment. They also say it can deter even the good cops from doing their job.
Supporters believe otherwise. They say QI is so sweeping, it’s “nearly impossible” to hold bad cops accountable. That’s why they’re hopeful that HB 609 can offer a passageway to justice for victims of police violence.
HB 609 next heads to the Louisiana State Senate for a vote.