New Louisiana laws start in Jan.
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — Public library access will be limited for certain sex offenders, election day voting hours will shrink for most state elections and food stamp crimes will carry stiffer penalties as nearly two dozen laws take effect with the start of the new year.
The measures were passed by lawmakers in the regular legislative session that ended in June.
Most noticeable may be the shortening of Louisiana’s voting hours by one hour on Saturday election days, pushed as a way to shrink the workload for elderly poll workers.
Under the change sought by Secretary of State Tom Schedler, polls will open at 7 a.m. on Saturday elections, instead of 6 a.m. Election Day voting will run for 13 hours.
Schedler told lawmakers the state has more than compensated for the lost hour by adding dozens of voting hours through early voting around the state.
Also taking effect in January, boards that govern local public libraries are required to set limits on library access for sex offenders whose victims were under 13 years old. Those offenders will be barred from library property during certain times or days, under guidelines set by parishes.
Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, described the new law as a way to protect children in a state that has repeatedly added limitations on sex criminals by lengthening jail sentences, expanding monitoring, and putting restrictions on where they can live, visit and travel.
“People who prey on our children are among the most dangerous criminals that we face. They target our most precious and our most vulnerable citizens,” Erdey said during legislative discussion of the bill.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who oversees the state library that was charged with providing technical assistance for the new law, said his office has trained local libraries in what’s required and provided draft policies on how to limit sex offender access.
“We just kind of guided them. We gave them a specific set of criteria to look at. We did a webinar for them,” Dardenne said.
The guidelines suggested libraries could bar the sex offenders from public library property during peak hours when children are likely to be on site and when children’s programs are scheduled. They also could ban sex offenders from the children’s and young adult areas of the library.
Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said librarians in her parish worried about having to confront sex offenders or having them limited to small windows of time, creating a concentration of convicted criminals on library property at once.
“Although this bill has good intentions, it’s actually going to make it more dangerous especially for the poor people who work there who have to police this,” Landry said during House debate on the proposal.
However, it’s unclear how librarians will be able to enforce the new regulations because they will have no way of knowing who was convicted of assaulting a child under 13.
Penalties also were toughened for people convicted of food stamp fraud.
Anyone convicted of unauthorized use of food stamp benefits will face at least six months in prison and could be jailed for up to 10 years. Anyone who knows about food stamp abuse and fails to report it will face a fine of at least $250 and up to $5,000.
Other new laws on the books create a continuing education program for embalmers and funeral directors and add new confidentiality rules governing the information submitted by companies who have to register with the Louisiana secretary of state’s office.
Senate Bills 595, 633 and 753 and House Bills 161 and 209 can be found at www.legis.la.gov