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Louisiana's legislature begins a special session on crime

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

As in many states, people in Louisiana are worried about rising crime.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. And the state legislature opened a special session this week to consider dozens of bills meant to address that. But the proposed measures also threaten to undo some of the state's recent criminal justice reforms, including a controversial proposal that would make it easier to carry out death sentences.

FADEL: WRKF's Molly Ryan covers the Louisiana state government and joins us now from Baton Rouge. Hi, Molly.

MOLLY RYAN, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: So we mentioned this proposed legislation that would make state executions easier. What's in that bill?

RYAN: So basically there's been a bill that's been filed that would expand the methods of execution in Louisiana to include electrocution and nitrogen gas hypoxia. Right now, only lethal injection is allowed. But it's been hard to source those drugs. And Louisiana hasn't executed anyone since 2010. There's currently around 60 people on Louisiana's death row. Here's the state's new Republican governor, Jeff Landry, opening the session yesterday and inviting family members of murder victims to come to the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF LANDRY: Capital punishment is lawful. And we intend to fulfill a legal duty to resume it for the justice of these families.

RYAN: But there's also a lot of opposition to this bill from lawmakers. And even TV and film producers are talking about possibly boycotting the state as a filming location if this passes because they don't want to see the state resume executions.

FADEL: So, you know, some pretty significant opposition there. What other measures might come out of this special session? And are there similar concerns?

RYAN: Yeah, well, there are several bills that look to limit parole eligibility and cut back on the reduced sentences that incarcerated individuals can earn for good behavior. There's also a bill that would lower the age in Louisiana at which someone can be tried as an adult from 18 to 17. And there are several bills that would increase penalties for certain crimes, like carjacking and distributing fentanyl. So overall, the governor and lawmakers are looking to just get much tougher in terms of dealing with crime. And these items have all raised concerns from Democrats and Louisiana's Legislative Black Caucus, which said that these bills will disproportionately affect Black men. They also said that the bills are reactive and don't address the root issue of crime, so they don't think it will help anything.

FADEL: Now, Molly, Louisiana made big changes in its criminal justice system since 2016. And these bills would undo some of that work. Why go back on those policies now?

RYAN: There's a lot of angst in Louisiana about crime, like there is in a lot of the country. And crime rates in Louisiana are relatively high compared to other places in the country but have dropped in some of the state's biggest cities. And Louisiana's new GOP governor, Jeff Landry - he campaigned on a platform that would get tough on crime and promised voters on the campaign trail that he would call this session. So that's a big reason why we're here. These policies are likely to be popular with a lot of Republican voters in Louisiana. But as I mentioned before, others are worried that these bills won't address the root issues of crime, like mental health and education.

FADEL: WRKF's Molly Ryan in Baton Rouge. Thank you so much, Molly.

RYAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Molly Ryan

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