On Monday Republicans in the Louisiana House Appropriations committee advanced legislation that would deter the defunding of police in cities, parishes, and universities.
House Bill 38 would require universities, parishes, or cities planning on reducing law enforcement funding to notify the Joint Legislative Committee, which will be comprised of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees. If the funding drops 10% or greater they must appear before the committee which will deduce whether they think the budget cuts will have a “significant and harmful” effect on public safety.
If they decide that the cuts will, the university, parish, or city making the cuts will lose its appropriations from sales tax dedications and money for construction projects. In other words, the bill will keep all Louisiana local governments and organizations from defunding their police departments.
The author of the bill, Representative Lance Harris, explained that, “It’s a precautionary measure to make sure that we do not have a municipality that defunds their police department.”
He explained that the police “represent the thin blue line between chaos and peace” and that protecting police funding will allow citizens to “pursue happiness” and businesses to function.
Many of the qualms with the bill concern the fact that the citizens who are enabled to “pursue happiness” by the police are white. Lawmakers also called the proposal insensitive in the face of a nation-wide racial justice discussion sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
Representative Carter also noted that the bill is coming just as federal authorities are investigating the death of Ronalde Greene in 2019. Greene’s death has been largely shrouded in secrecy, but occurred after a struggle with the Louisiana State Police. Whether this timing is coincidental, or to set up road blocks for defunding if the investigation reveals egregious details about the case, is up for speculation.
Harris acknowledged that there are “bad apples” in the police department and that perhaps some “people have been treated wrongly by police.”
To rebuke comments about the bill being racially motivated he clarified, “This is about public safety — period.” Yet, Harris objected to an amendment by Representative Dustin Miller that would have required increased funding for police training in racial bias and peer intervention.
Representative Carter questioned Harris on the bill’s implications for New Orleans and what he actually knew about the city. He asked him what New Orleans’ city budget is, how much does the city spend on law enforcement, and how many officers are on the NOPD force.
Harris had no answers.
Carter rebuked him, stating “And yet you want to weigh in and say what you think is an appropriate level of funding for the city of New Orleans for our police department and you don’t know the basics of it. I object to that. I think its untimely. I think its offensive. I think it is nothing but a political stunt…You’re not running for the New Orleans City Council. … You’re running for congress.”
Theories have arisen that this bill is a political move by Harris who is currently running for the 5th Congressional District seat.
Further spurring theories that the bill is a political stunt are Harris’s responses to queries about what cities, parishes or universities in Louisiana are actually trying to defund the police.
He could not provide a valid answer.
Representative Freeman, a New Orleans Democrat who voted against the bill, commented on the lack of actual municipalities considering defunding in Louisiana, “I don’t see this happening in Louisiana, and if it were, I’d be with you.”
Democrats also argued that the bill would protect police departments above other city services if the city’s revenue was reduced. Many local governments in Louisiana are experiencing decreases in revenue due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Because of the decrease in revenue, it’s likely that police budgets will have to be decreased.
Despite arguments against the bill, Republicans voted along party lines 13-6 to advance the bill.