(The Center Square) – After a lengthy emotional debate, the Louisiana House voted to make it easier to win lawsuits against law enforcement officers who violate a citizens’ rights and cause injury or death, but not before tacking on what the author described as a “poison pill” amendment.
Under the concept of “qualified immunity,” law enforcement officers accused of violating citizens’ constitutional rights can be protected from civil lawsuits if the officer didn’t have prior knowledge the behavior was unconstitutional. Qualified immunity does not affect criminal liability.
Rep. Edmond Jordan, a Democrat who represents parts of East and West Baton Rouge parishes, said Tuesday the principle, in effect, means a citizen can’t win a lawsuit against law enforcement unless the exact same set of facts has been established as a violation.
“Qualified immunity has become absolute immunity,” Jordan said.
Jordan’s House Bill 609 would eliminate the qualified immunity defense when an officer causes injury or death and the court finds their actions to be unreasonable. He stressed the change would be relevant to only “bad actors.”
“No good officer wants a bad officer on the force,” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.
Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, asked Jordan to affirm he supported law enforcement, which Jordan did repeatedly. While several law enforcement associations participated in the police conduct task force that led to the creation of the bill, Miguez said he had been hearing from rank-and-file officers who were concerned the change would make their jobs harder and make recruitment of officers more difficult.
Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, said he was afraid the legislation would lead to a flood of lawsuits against law enforcement. He successfully amended the bill so that a resident who sues an officer and loses has to pay the other side’s court costs and legal fees, even if the court has not found the lawsuit to be frivolous.
The House sent the bill to the Senate on Tuesday with a 53-42 vote.