Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) and other legislative leaders expressed to the people of Louisiana, in a 2/25/21 legislative news press release, that “As leaders of the legislature, we believe it’s our responsibility to be transparent and keep you informed.” These alleged beliefs were clearly short lived and lapsed for the 2022 session. Many news reporters and editors in Louisiana’s vast press corps also seemingly failed, for unknown reasons, to discover, publish and keep We the People informed of a new state police force that was deceivingly described in a senate bill “to provide security services for the state capitol building.”
SB490 was championed by the two, currently term-limited, Senator Cortez and House Speaker Rep. Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales). On the final day of the 2022 regular session, the vast majority of legislators in both chambers voted “yea” to create a new weaponized, state police force exclusively for only the legislature. Only five legislators in the House voted “nay.” More than nine months has passed since Governor John Bel Edwards signed Senator Cortez’s SB490 into law on June 16, 2022 creating Act 507. It is disturbing that this significant piece of legislation received very little to no press coverage statewide. There was no mainstream Louisiana media coverage that I could find published on the internet. I don’t believe any of the New Orleans television stations even reported this news, either.
Senator Cortez introduced SB490 after the nation had witnessed the January 6, 2021 acts of protest that devolved into civil disobedience (“riot” was the word Cortez used) in the nation’s capitol. He cited 1/6/21 as one of the justifications for needing more police in state capitol building (and complex) in Baton Rouge. Additionally, he mentioned needing more security for the Pentagon Barracks apartments (where many legislators personally rent inexpensive, state owned furnished apartments). Senator Cortez indicated in a Capitol Security Council committee meeting that $2 million had already been set aside to bankroll the force for the first year. (Go to the Louisiana legislature’s website, see replay of Capitol Security Council meeting Aug 15, 2022 9:30 PM Room A-B – @13:00). Act 507 authorizes the creation of another new force in addition to four other existing capitol security services whose personnel are classified as peace officers. Act 507 is eight pages in length; it’s a brazen, self-indulging measure. It will serve and benefit a tiny fraction of Louisiana’s estimated 4.58 million citizens. This weaponized new force is exclusively for only the state legislature!
When the 2023 session convenes on April 10, legislative leaders will presumably be anxious to move forward with this effort, by asking all legislators in both chambers to vote to approve by a simple majority the Capitol Security Council’s selection to fill the newly created position of Director of Capitol Security. The political appointee when hired will serve at the pleasure of the two chamber leaders and the legislature. The devil is in the details, however! The new Director will then hire up to 24 personnel (classified as “peace officers” who will be weaponized) to provide 24/7 security and protection just for the legislature, i.e., legislators, their employees, staffs and guests when they are anywhere in the state capitol complex at any time, including the Pentagon Barracks apartments (and not just the state capitol building as the bill title indicates). The new force will be commanded by the Director of Capitol Security who reportedly will also assume full or partial command of the other four existing security forces within the state capitol complex.
After the 2022 Regular Session adjourned, Speaker Schexnayder issued another press release, stating “we (the legislature) placed an emphasis on prioritizing families, taxpayers, and job creators over government expansion…and we’re not done yet.” Elitist legislators (D’s, R’s & I’s) creating a new police force exclusively for only them was inappropriate and unnecessary, and absolutely is government expansion. It’s also the “and we’re not done yet” statement quoted above that should concern every citizen; what does that mean for the taxpayers? We the People should wonder if the recently (2023) pre-filed House Bill 149 (which provides for increasing the annual compensation of members of the legislature to $60,000) would be a prime example of “and we’re not done yet?”
SB490’s passing was later mentioned on one line in the 2022 Legislative Session Wrap publication (a document similar to the mailers legislators have sent to their respective constituents after each session adjourns). In that document, SB490 was described as a measure “to create the position of Director of Capitol Security, designating the director as the chief security officer for the legislature.” Interestingly, though, there was no legislative news press release announcing the signing of SB490 AND the creation of a new police force just for the legislature after the 2022 Regular Session closed.
https://house.louisiana.gov/Agendas_2022/2022%20RS%20-%20Session%20Wrap.pdf – see the bottom of page 46
On April 10 or soon thereafter, assuming the Act 507 effort moves forward with all deliberate speed, “may the force be with you” may very well also become the common farewell expression legislators could say to each other as they leave their legislative work and leisure areas each day of the session.
The state capitol complex does not need another police force on 27 acres of property. We the People want, need and deserve (1) additional police presence and protection, (2) enforcement of existing laws, and (3) new laws that require judges to be tougher on violent criminal disobedients and lawbreakers – because bad behavior should have consequences with meaningful punishments. What We the People really need are fewer elected officials who apparently feel they are entitled because their public service and personal security and protection are more important than that of their constituents’ needs!
After others learn about Act 507, the presumption is some will also be just as incensed as I was (and still am) when I stumbled onto this news. Readers aggrieved about this information should immediately contact their two elected state legislators and voice their opinions.
2023 is an election year. Collectively, We the People have the power to make changes in the legislature. Let’s not squander this opportunity in the next election cycle.
Respectfully submitted 4/2/23
Victor L. Buccola