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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

Bill that would have made it a crime to be near officers on duty vetoed by governor

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a series of bills on Wednesday from the 2023 legislative session.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Wednesday that he vetoed a series of bills from this year’s legislative session, including one that would make it a misdemeanor crime to approach a police officer actively engaged on duty. Edwards also vetoed a bill he said was intended to undermine school vaccine requirements and one that looked to phase out the corporate franchise tax.

House Bill 85 by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, would have made it a crime to come within 25 feet of law enforcement officers actively engaged on the job who give orders to stay back or retreat. The bill created penalties of up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

Johnson and other proponents, including a police union, have called it a common sense safety measure for officers.

“This bill is about safety. Nothing more than that,” Johnson said in a Senate committee during the session. “Safety of police officers. Safety of persons who are being questioned or investigated by the police officers. And safety for the person who might approach that police officer.”

But critics worried the bill would create a chilling effect that could prevent bystanders from watching and filming incidents that could, in some cases, hold officers accountable for their actions. Edwards agreed.

“Observations of law enforcement, whether by witnesses to an incident with officers, individuals interacting with officers, or members of the press, are invaluable in promoting transparency,” Edwards said in his veto letter.

Edwards called the legislation unnecessary because it is already illegal to interfere with officers investigating a crime scene or accident when told to stay back.

Edwards also vetoed a bill on Wednesday that he said is a “covert attempt to undermine the faith of the public in vaccines.” House Bill 399 by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, would have required K-12 schools to send information about vaccine exemptions to all students and families when communicating about vaccine requirements.

Edmonston has authored several anti-vaccination bills in the Legislature, including another bill this year aimed to ensure schools cannot require the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Perpetuating mistrust in vaccines that are safe, effective and essential to public health is reckless and extremely dangerous,” Edwards said in his veto letter.

Additionally, Edwards vetoed Senate Bill 1, which looked to phase out the corporate franchise tax — a tax corporations pay to do business in the state. Critics have called this tax antiquated, saying it places a large burden on businesses. Most states do not impose this tax.

Edwards acknowledged the concerns about this tax in his veto letter. Eliminating the corporate franchise tax could leave up to a $631 million hole in revenue, and Edwards expressed concerns about the timing of the bill. He cited several concerns, including the anticipated expiration of a temporary 0.45% sales tax in 2025 that will also result in lost revenue.

The governor has until Sunday to sign or veto other bills.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.