The bill, carried by Houma Rep. Jerome Zeringue, would amend an existing law outlining critical infrastructure to include water control structures, flood gates, and pump stations. It would place them on the same level as chemical manufacturing facilities, refineries, electrical power generating facilities, electrical substations and transmission facilities, water intake structures and water treatment facilities, natural gas transmission compressor stations, liquefied natural gas terminals and storage facilities, natural gas and hydrocarbon storage facilities, and transportation facilities such as ports, railroads, pipelines, and trucking terminals.
The bill would also set forth criminal penalties for those who trespass on those properties during a state of emergency, including a mandatory minimum sentence of at least three years of imprisonment upon conviction.
“It’s primarily to address the problem, particularly after storms, that there’s the potential for people getting on these structures because they trying to get shrimp on them, sometimes there’s fisheries on them, but a lot of times on the levees themselves, people’s personal property, boats, and other equipment get washed up there and then people will go on them,” said Zeringue.
Zeringue says the Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana was the agency behind the bill, which wanted more teeth to trespassing laws in order to protect the infrastructure.
“The primary purpose is to address the issue of water control structures and pump stations that are essential to the people down in our area, of coastal Louisiana, and even along the river in other places,” Zeringue said.
The coalition argues the bill creates a slippery slope in which protesters, or anyone for that matter, who inadvertently finds themselves in one of these areas could be arrested and face harsh penalties.
“This bill would criminalize protesters, and they would call it trespass. We already have several statutes for trespass, so they’re making a new law for trespass for anyone who goes on critical infrastructure, including the levee and they’re putting a mandatory minimum on that if a governor calls a state of emergency,” said Alanah Odoms, the executive director of the ACLU in Louisiana.
Odoms says she’s urging the governor to veto the bill, not only to protect the first amendment rights of Louisianans, but also because it adds to an unjust system where judges do not have the discretion to impose more lenient sentences when the situation calls for them.
“If we see those people locked up behind a bill like this, the ACLU will be there to challenge those actions,” Odoms said. “Every single one of them.”
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