After heated debate, a bill from state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, to reduce penalties for marijuana possession was killed in a Louisiana Senate judiciary committee this afternoon.
Senate Bill 323 would make possession of marijuana a misdemeanor in any offense with a fine of up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to six months. The committee attempted to add an amendment, however, that essentially stripped all of Morrell's bill to make possession of no more than one ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor for the first offense only, with other offenses remaining felonies. The bill would be exactly as current law with the exception of a first offense, a move that would have given the committee a better chance of passing the bill. But committee members voted 4-3 against that amendment.
Ironically, throughout testimony, several speakers and legislators admitted to smoking marijuana. Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb (who voted in favor of the amendment) said she has never smoked nor drank alcohol, while Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, admitted to smoking and inhaling. John DeRosier, district attorney of Calcasieu parish, said he was "downwind from several marijuana cigarettes from time to time."
"What this bill seeks to do is have a more compassionate outlook on how we interact with people who get caught with less than an ounce of marijuana," Morrell said in his closing statements before the votes.
Adley, who co-authored the bill, said, "This committee had an opportunity to reduce what you wanted to do dramatically. We’re not even willing to do that. Clearly it’s not going to pass in the fashion it’s in. I want the world to understand what happened here. .... People aren’t even willing to reduce to an ounce or less to protect the civil rights violated every day because the punishment does not fit the crime."
The committee voted 4-3 to defer the bill.
Following its narrow passage in committee last week, House Bill 12 — which aims to remove language in Louisiana's crimes against nature statute criminalizing consensual oral and anal sex — failed to pass in the Louisiana House, where it was voted 27-66.
The bill from state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, would remove part of a 200-year-old law that was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, a ruling upheld in Louisiana's Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005. Smith's measure also met approval from LGBT organizations as well as Louisiana criminal justice organizations, on the grounds that there exists in the books a law they can't enforce.
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, asked the House to vote against Smith's measure, consdering "yesterday was Passover and Friday is Good Friday."
"This has been on the Louisiana law books for nearly 200 years," she said. "Just because we decriminalize something doesn’t make it right. ... We’re not here to rubber stamp the Supreme Court. ... We’re here to uphold the law of what’s right and wrong."
The bill faced similar religious objection in the House Administration of Criminal Justice committee on April 9, when members of the Louisiana Family Forum called the measure "immoral" and that removing the language would create a health crisis.
At today's House session, Smith pleaded with members to vote in favor "not only for me, for this bill, but for your law enforcement … bringing in people who can’t be prosecuted."
Orleans and Jefferson Parish Reps. Jeff Arnold, Austin Badon, Wesley Bishop, Jared Brossett, Helena Moreno, Walt Leger and Ebony Woodruff were among the 27 people who voted in favor of the bill.
Orleans and Jefferson Parish reps. who voted against the measure: Bryan Adams, Robert Billiot, Pat Connick, Raymond Garafalo, Jerry Gisclair, Cameron Henry, Christopher Leopold, Joseph Lopinto, Nick Lorusso, Julie Stokes, Kirk Talbot and Thomas P. Willmott.
Neil Abramson was absent and did not vote.
The Louisiana House Judiciary Committee deferred for the second time a vote on a bill that would allow wine ice cream in the state. House Bill 471 from Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, would exempt ice cream from "adulterated food" prohibited by state law.
Wine ice cream — available from Mercer's in New York, offering flavors like Cherry Merlot, Peach White Zinfandel and Red Raspberry Chardonnay, with 5 percent alcohol by volume — was turned down by Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell last year in a letter to Troy Hebert, commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control (ATC), which helped draft Hunter's legislation.
At today's meeting, Rep. Ray Garofalo Jr., R-Chalmette, said he feared wine ice cream would be attractive to children, and that there are no ways for law enforcement to prevent children and people under 21 from buying it. Hunter said, "There’s no way we can legislate the provision for a child or adult from getting alcoholic beverages."
Rep. Edward James, D-Baton Rouge, said the committee was "creating more problems than it needs" adding that it already delayed a vote in March. "We beat it up then and we're beating it up now."
Cane syrup and pie have marched (read: oozed and rolled) into Baton Rouge, demanding the same respect as similar sweet treats from Louisiana legislators.
HB 294 (Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette) calls for the exclusion of home cane syrup preparations from the state Sanitary Code and commercial food regulations, affording it the same treatment as small batch jellies, preserves, jams, honey, and honeycomb products. A similar bill — HB 216 (Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington) — calls for home preparations of pie to be held to the same standards as small batch, home prepared cakes and cookies.
No word on why these two important sweets were excluded from the original laws. Both bills currently sit in the House Health and Welfare Committee.
Whether or not we achieve #canesyrupjustice or #piejustice, budding cooks of all backgrounds are on their way to having their own 30-day long, state sanctioned celebration. SCR 65 (Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma), which would designate November as Culinary Careers Awareness Month, passed the state Senate unanimously earlier this week and sailed through the House yesterday.
House Bill 12 from state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, which would remove consensual oral and anal sex from the state's "crimes against nature" statute, passed today's House Administration of Criminal Justice committee. The language already was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.
"This bill is a cleanup bill. That’s all it is," Smith said. "No matter what you think about the language, it’s unconstitutional."
Between 2011 and 2013, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office made arrests under the state's anti-sodomy crimes against nature statute. East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III later apologized and pledged to work to remove the language from the law. Smith's repeal also saw support from East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, Louisiana Sheriffs Association director Michael Ranatza, and Pete Adams, director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
In a February statement, Equality Louisiana president Tim West said, "This bill is a common sense solution to a silly problem. It just makes sense to remove an unenforceable law from the books." He also called opposition from Gene Mills and his conservative Christian group the Louisiana Family Forum "unambiguous discrimination."
In today's meeting, opposition to the bill came out in full force. The Louisiana Family Forum's Bill Smith said while he wasn't present “to make a moral judgment” he said the bill would not address the AIDS crisis in Louisiana and Baton Rouge, which has one of the highest rates of HIV in the U.S. "This [bill] opens up ways for them to kill themselves," he said.
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