A Louisiana Senate-passed bill that would provide a death benefit to the families of two state employees killed by a Ville Platte businessman cleared another legislative hurdle Sunday night.
The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice quickly approved the bill, which will provide a $250,000 benefit to the spouses of insurance fraud investigators Kim Sledge and Rhett Jeansonne, and a $25,000 benefit for surviving children.
Sledge and Jeansonne, both of Denham Springs, were shot to death by John Melvin Lavergne earlier this month as they were attempting to collect evidence on two cases involving Lavergne.
Lavergne died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a standoff with authorities at his insurance business.
Senate Bill 271 expands death benefits provided for law enforcement officials to state employees conducting investigations, serving subpoenas, warrants or other court orders or collecting evidence where there is a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed.
State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said no one would imagine that “two dedicated employees of this state would expose themselves to such a horrific incident” in the course of “a routine investigation.”
State Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said the killings of Sledge and Jeansonne pointed to a flaw in the death benefits law because it does not cover state employees who “go into hostile environments.”
“This is exactly what happened here,” LaFleur said.
The state employee category would cover such state employees as insurance fraud investigators, revenue department auditors, social service and environmental agency investigators, LaFleur said.
Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon said his agency has the funds to cover the death benefits for Sledge and Jeansonne’s families.
Donelon said Jeansonne’s wife told him that the death benefit would do for the family what Jeansonne had been trying to do working three jobs “and that is to provide a home for our family.”