By Claire Sullivan
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—Under a bill that cleared another legislative hurdle Tuesday, it would be a misdemeanor crime to be within 25 feet of a police officer on the job who said to get back.
The bill, authored by State Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, made it through the Louisiana Senate Committee on Judiciary C on a 4-2 vote after passing through the House earlier this month.
Sens. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, and Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, cast the opposing votes.
If it passes into law, the bill would impose a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment up to 60 days, or both, for those found in violation of police orders to stay away.
Johnson said his bill is a safety measure for officers. But critics raised concerns about its constitutionality, the potential for abuse and the limitations on the public’s ability to film officers.
They also noted that Louisiana law already prohibits people from interfering with police duties.
Meghan Garvey, president of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that “nobody knows what 25 feet is.” When the bill was coming through on the House side, she recalled people pacing and using their phones to figure out the distance. They had no luck.
Johnson said he came up with the 25 feet at the suggestion of police officers who asked him to bring the bill and by looking at similar legislation that passed in Indiana.
Garvey noted that the filming of George Floyd’s killing three years ago by a 17-year-old sparked a global movement calling for police reform and provided crucial evidence for the prosecution.
Though Johnson said people could still record officers under this bill, Garvey said people could not record audio from that distance.
“Citizens have the freedom to record public servants that the citizens are funding,” Garvey said.
Stephanie Willis, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Louisiana, noted the role witnesses have played in instances of police brutality.
“There wasn't only George Floyd. There was Rodney King. There was Walter Scott. There was Eric Garner. There was Alton Sterling,” Willis said. “Numerous individuals that without witness accounts, we would not know what actually happened.”
Sen. Barrow raised concerns over how the bill could impact those who have disabilities and may not be able to understand orders from an officer. Sen. Carter echoed those worries, saying he found the potential impact of the bill on those with disabilities “very disturbing.”
“I think you have a lot of constitutional problems with this,” Carter said. “I think you're gonna have an enforcement problem. But I just simply think that it’s government overreach.”