Louisiana lawmakers back bill to widen state’s drug courts


State Sen. Bob Hensgens, R–Gueydan, sits alone at his seat with his mask around his neck as members of the Louisiana state Senate convene in the Senate chamber in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, May 4, 2020. With some in masks and others uncovered, Louisiana lawmakers Monday resumed the final four weeks of a legislative session stalled by the coronavirus, trying to get their arms around the scale of the budget problems caused by the outbreak. The return to the Capitol has caused a new rift between Republicans, who hold the majority and pushed for a restart of work, and Democrats who said it was too risky to have hundreds of people in the building in a state that is one of the nation’s hot spots for the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will seek to expand its specialized drug courts using the proceeds from opioid-related lawsuits, under a measure that received final passage from lawmakers.

The bill from Sen. Rick Ward, a Port Allen Republican, won unanimous support in the House and the Senate to head to the governor’s desk.

The legislation creates a drug and specialty court fund in the state treasury to deposit money recovered from litigation against or settlements involving the opioid industry. Those dollars will be used to expand drug courts across Louisiana, in which judges give some people arrested for crimes the option of substance abuse treatment and heavy supervision as an alternative to jail time.

The expansion would begin a year after the balance of the fund reaches $10 million.

The measure was backed by Attorney General Jeff Landry as a way to respond to drug abuse caused by the opioid epidemic. Landry’s office will oversee the fund and disburse the money through grant awards.

“Drug and specialty courts hold people accountable and connect them to evidence-based treatment -– something that protects public safety and promotes public health,” Landry, a Republican, said in a statement.

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