Legislation already approved by the Louisiana Senate and one House panel that would authorize a private company to catch uninsured motorists — in exchange for a generous fee — unexpectedly met rejection Tuesday before another House committee and likely is dead for the session.
Senate Bill 54 sought to allow the company to install cameras in nine parishes that would automatically read passing vehicle license plates and issue fines to drivers who don’t have car insurance. The company would split the $200 fine with district attorneys and sheriffs in the nine parishes.
Legislators on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected SB54 in a 7-3 vote.
Afterward, state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, the bill’s sponsor, said he doubted he could revive the measure. “It’s getting very late in the session,” he said.
Opponents questioned allowing the private company, the Louisiana Public Safety Consortium, to profit from creating the program and cited concerns that creating a database consisting of which motorists don’t have car insurance amounted to an invasion of privacy.
Johns’ bill had sailed through the Senate as Johns and the district attorneys promised that it would improve public safety because the license plate readers in sheriffs’ deputies’ vehicles would alert the deputies to stolen cars and wanted criminals.
But SB54 began to face choppy waters after The Advocate reported two weeks ago that the idea for the license plate readers originated with the company and that it would collect 30 percent of each $200 fine under a contract with the district attorneys.
The newspaper also reported that no other state had attempted the program and that the district attorneys had no evidence behind their claim that the measure would reduce the number of uninsured motorists, who are estimated to be 12-15 percent of all motorists in Louisiana.
The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice initially defeated the bill 6-5 on fears it represented a money grab but reversed itself and approved the bill 8-3 a week later.
SB54 had to pass the House and Governmental Affairs Committee before advancing to the full House because it sought to keep records private through an exception in the state’s public records law.
But members of the committee focused on the broader intent of the bill, which would authorize the private consortium to link the cameras to the state database to determine which vehicles didn’t have insurance.
Rep. Gary Carter, D-Algiers, questioned whether deputies whose cameras captured uninsured motorists would then use racial profiling to pull over the vehicles.
Johns countered that the deputies wouldn’t know which motorists had been flagged because that information would reside at a central office in West Baton Rouge Parish, which would then forward it to the district attorneys so they could issue tickets.
Central Republican Rep. Barry Ivey said he didn’t understand the need to have a private company do the work and said it could be done more cheaply than the district attorneys were projecting.
The district attorneys said the private company would pay the entire cost, estimated to be $5.3 million to purchase the cameras and install the software linking to the state database.
“We don’t have the funds to do it,” Charles Ballay, district attorney for Plaquemines Parish, told Ivey and the other committee members.
Several members of Louisiana’s small Libertarian Party turned out — as they had before the House criminal justice committee — to express concerns.
Wendy Adams, a party activist from New Orleans, called the bill “crony capitalist, anti-privacy legislation.”
“We have no guarantee that our data will be protected by these people,” said Daniel Hayes, another party activist from Jefferson Parish. “This puts our citizens’ data at risk.”
Nicholas James, a local Republican Party official from St. John Parish, said the bill left too many privacy questions unanswered.
“They’re asking you to approve a pig in a poke,” he said.
John DeRosier, district attorney for Calcasieu Parish, sought to assuage privacy concerns by saying the camera would take a picture only of the vehicle license plate.
Schuyler Marvin, district attorney for Webster and Bossier parishes, also sought to address the privacy concerns by saying the bill had strong measures to prevent a breach but that if one occurred, the perpetrators faced jail time.
Members of the committee, though, emphasized concerns about privacy and the role of the private company.
“I would argue that the primary role of this bill is to generate money,” Ivey said.
State Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, made the motion to reject the bill.
Voting for SB54 (3): Reps. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.
Voting against SB54 (7): Reps. John Schroder, R-Covington; Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston; Steve Pugh, R-Ponchatoula; Greg Miller, R-Norco; Morris; Carter; and Ivey.
Absent and not voting (2): Reps. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, and Jimmie Harris, D-New Orleans.
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