May 23, 2016 12:29 PM
Despite privacy concerns and accusations of “crony capitalism,” the House, for now, is advancing legislation that would pave the way for electronic license plate readers to be used by law enforcement.

The proposal was sold to the House Committee on Criminal Justice recently as program that would encourage drivers to purchase liability insurance.

SB 54 by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, would set up a pilot program in nine parishes that would utilize already-existing license plate reading cameras to issue tickets to uninsured drivers. The system would work by pairing the camera’s information with a database of license plates and their drivers who have lapsed insurance policies.

A similar bill by Johns was passed by the House and Senate last year but was vetoed after arriving on former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk.

The bill would levy a $200 fine to ticketed drivers, a portion of which would go to an outside vendor to pay for use of the multi-million dollar camera software.

“This has nothing to do with a money grab,” said Johns. “This is about trying to enforce a current law that is on the books. We still have more than 15 percent of drivers out there today who blatantly said ‘I’m not going to carry drivers insurance.’”

Opponents to the bill compared it to Louisiana’s red light cameras that are connected to out-of-state vendors. Critics complained that the bill had vague descriptions of how the license plate cameras would ultimately be used by law enforcement and how the $200 fine would be spent by the state.

“We have on the one hand somebody saying that this is about insurance, and then we have somebody from the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office who’s saying it’s not just about insurance, it’s about other investigations,” said Kyla Blanchard-Romanach from the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “That opens up this data to being looked at for all sorts of reasons and exposing innocent people’s information.”

Johns said his legislation would ultimately cost non-compliant drivers less. Currently, those without insurance coverage have to pay a $500 ticket and the driver’s car can towed away.