- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A week after rejecting a proposal to let law enforcement agencies automatically scan motorists’ license plates, a House committee has reversed course and backed the proposal that some called a money grab.

The House criminal justice committee voted 8-3 Wednesday to advance the Senate-approved measure for full chamber consideration.

The sponsor, Republican Sen. Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles, said the state would avoid financial risk because a license plate recognition system vendor would bear the initial cost — about $5.3 million — to create and implement the program. That would include paying $15,000 for each reader installed in sheriff deputies’ cruisers across the nine participating parishes.

The technology would enable law enforcement to cross-check license plates with databases to determine if vehicles are stolen or uninsured.

As the panel questioned the bill’s purpose, Johns said the plate readers would help to enforce Louisiana’s mandatory liability insurance law. Supporters said Wednesday they would also help in identifying criminals’ vehicles.

But Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, likened the suggested plate reader program to red light cameras, calling them both “a money grab.” He said law enforcement would be out stopping vehicles if they were concerned about safety. Other panel members agreed, asking why the state wasn’t running the program itself, instead of shopping it out to a vendor.

The state simply can’t afford such a program, Johns said.

The House committee reworked how to divvy up each collected $200 fine, giving public defenders 10 percent, handing the technology vendor 30 percent and splitting the remaining money between the local sheriff’s office and district attorney.

Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, wanted to give a larger portion of the collected fines to the state’s cash-strapped indigent defense funding, but the committee didn’t approve it.

“If it’s not a money grab, let’s spread it out and let everybody have some,” she said.

Critics there was no proof the proposal would reduce the number of uninsured motorists, adding that the bill overlooked privacy concerns and only supported “revenue-based law enforcement.”

“This is Louisiana politics at its worst,” said Daniel Hayes, Jefferson Parish representative of the Libertarian Party of Louisiana. “If it’s not about money, then what’s it about?”

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association supported the measure. Pete Adams, executive director of the organization, reminded the committee the Louisiana Legislature can eliminate the program in the future if it doesn’t work as intended.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed a similar bill last year.

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Senate Bill 54: www.legis.la.gov


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