Several new laws take affect in La. on Tuesday
With the start of the new year on Tuesday, 12 new laws went into effect in Louisiana. Among the dozen were bills regarding the requirement of unanimous jury verdicts in serious felony crimes, “granny cams” in nursing homes, and anti-sexual harassment policies for government agencies.
State lawmakers approved most of the provisions during the 2018 regular session. The unanimous jury law won overwhelming voter support in November after lawmakers placed the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Unanimous jury verdicts
The most prolific change that took effect ended the state’s Jim Crow-era law allowing for split juries to convict people of serious felony crimes.
According to an Associated Press report, “All jury verdicts for felony offenses committed Tuesday and thereafter will have to be unanimous to convict, leaving Oregon as the only state to allow split-jury verdicts for felonies in the future.”
The report continued, “But cases winding their way through Louisiana’s prosecutorial system for crimes committed before 2019 still will be subject to the old rules, which allowed some felonies — including some murder cases — to be resolved when 10 out of 12 jurors agree on a person’s guilt.”
Alex Chapman, director of the Evangeline Parish Indigent Defendant Board, said the main thing about jury verdicts is “you have to trust the system.”
Part of the system to be trusted, according to Chapman, is jury selection. “The way jury selection actually works between the judges and the lawyers and the whole solemnity of the proceedings, you very rarely get someone on the jury that’s just going to totally ignore the evidence.”
He added, “You never heard anything in the rest of the nation from prosecutors saying they can’t get a conviction because of one or two holdouts based on race or political reasons or whatever. It doesn’t happen, so this puts up in conformity with everyone who trusts the system.
Families across the state will now be able to install video monitoring systems in their family member’s nursing home rooms in order to keep track of residents who often cannot speak for themselves.
According to the AP, “Under the ‘Nursing Home Virtual Visitation Act,’ nursing homes cannot prohibit the cameras or retaliate against residents who want to install them. Cameras will be voluntary, and several requirements have to be met to use them. Signs must be posted, notifying people of the video monitoring systems. Costs have to be paid by the nursing home patient or family member. Roommates or their legal guardians have to agree to the installation, and if not, the nursing home has to try to move the resident to another room.”
“Nursing homes have to provide forms to nursing home residents or their legal guardians outlining the ways the cameras can be installed,” continued the AP. “The state Department of Health sent notices and consent forms to nursing homes in mid-December to distribute to residents and their families.”
Trey Prudhomme, administrator of Heritage Manor in Ville Platte, was contacted on the issue, but referred The Ville Platte Gazette’s inquiry to the Louisiana Nursing Home Association. The LNHA opposed passage of the bill during the regular legislative session citing concerns the cameras would harm residents’ trust with employees, would make it harder to hire employees, and would create the possibility of the cameras being hacked.
Even though the state’s first government-wide policy against sexual harassment took effect on New Year’s Day, agencies were encouraged to enact the provisions as soon as Governor John Bel Edwards signed the bill after it was passed by the legislature.
“The law requires state and local government agencies to enact anti-sexual-harassment policies that include a process for handling complaints, a ban against retaliation when someone files a complaint, and mandatory prevention training each year,” reported the AP.
The AP further reported, “Agency heads have to compile annual reports documenting the number of employees who have completed the training requirements, the number of sexual harassment complaints received over the last year, and the number of complaints that resulted in disciplinary action.”
Evangeline Parish Police Jury President Ryan “Leday” Williams commented, “Upon doing a little research on the sexual harassment, I don’t think it was a new law. I think it was just an update on the state’s sexual harassment policy due to the Tom Schedler situation.”
Williams was referring to former Secretary of State Schedler who stepped down last year because of sexual harassment accusations surrounding an employee.
“As for the police jury,” Williams continued, “we have policies in place that we abide by, and we have annual ethics trainings that has sections for sexual harassment.”
Boat registration fees are also growing by $9. The additional funding will go to the Aquatic Plant Control Fund to be used to fight aquatic plants and invasive aquatic species across the state, according to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
For additional information on the boat registration fees, please contact LDWF’s Licensing Section at 225-765-2898 or visit at www.wlf.la.gov.