BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana would create a study group to make recommendations about how to improve police training and tactics, address misconduct and recognize racial bias by officers, under legislation that moved closer to final passage Thursday.
The proposal by Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, received unanimous backing of the Senate on Sunday and easily sped through the House criminal justice committee without objection Thursday. It moves next to the House floor, backed by state law enforcement organizations.
Fields sought to create the Police Training, Screening and Deescalation Task Force in response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, an African American man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes even as he pleaded for air.
“The recent killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, and a series of other similar acts, has focused public discourse on the causes of police brutality and the use of excessive force, especially when used against people of color,” the legislation says.
Fields told his colleagues creation of the task force was “focused on identifying and eliminating bad actors at police departments across the state.”
Rep. Tony Bacala, a Prairieville Republican, challenged some of the data used in the legislation that described black men as three times more likely than white men to be killed by police. He also suggested police officers die in the line of duty at a higher rate.
“I just want to make sure we talk about the complete picture,” said Bacala, a retired sheriff’s deputy.
He supported the legislation, however. Bacala said the state needs to combat the use of excessive force by law enforcement and ensure that officers removed from one police agency for improper actions don’t get hired by another law enforcement agency.
Thursday’s hearing came without the controversy and strong reactions that similar legislation by Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, provoked in a different House committee last week.
White lawmakers in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee only agreed to advance that police study proposal after removing a reference to Floyd and language questioning the criminal justice system’s treatment of racial minorities. One white lawmaker, Republican Rep. Dodie Horton of Haughton, called the original language racist.
James is shelving that study proposal measure in favor of Fields’ task force, which has the stronger language.
When Fields’ legislation came to the House, Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder sent it to the criminal justice committee — which is chaired by James — rather than to the governmental affairs committee that heard the previous proposal.
Organizations representing the state’s sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys are backing Fields’ bill. Mike Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association said the discussion “is much needed in the state of Louisiana.”
Those same law enforcement groups were instrumental in jettisoning a separate bill that would have stripped the wide-ranging immunity available to law enforcement officers as a defense against damage claims for wrongful death or injury. Republican lawmakers on the House civil law committee Wednesday shelved that bill by Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Edmond Jordan.