New La. laws, including gambling ban, to take effect

Published 8:09 am Monday, August 13, 2007

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A new ban on gambling at rooster fights is one of over 200 new Louisiana laws set to go into effect this week, along with statutes affecting criminal prosecutions and homeowners insurance policies.

The bills approved by lawmakers and the governor this year will take effect on Wednesday, some of them dealing with less weighty topics: French vanity license plates and the size of largemouth bass.

The gambling-at-cockfights bill was intended as the first move in the push to outlaw the fights entirely. The sponsor, Sen. Art Lentini, R-Metairie, believes that wagering on the fights is the main reason people pay money to watch two fowls tear each other apart. Once the wagers become a crime, Lentini predicts that the cockfighting pits will stop drawing spectators and making money.

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Lawmakers also agreed to outlaw cockfighting itself, but that ban will not take effect until August 2008.

A bit of property insurance relief — for coastal residents — could come with enforcement of a new law affecting Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurance company.

The legislation by Rep. Jean-Paul Morrell, D-New Orleans, will eliminate the 10 percent markup Citizens is required to charge — but only under certain circumstances, and only in the 11 parishes hardest hit by the 2005 hurricanes. The markup will be eliminated in one or more of those parishes only if the Department of Insurance determines that Citizens is writing over 50 percent of new policies.

Lawmakers also approved a change to the state’s ‘‘speedy trial’’ laws, to give New Orleans prosecutors help in keeping violent criminals locked up.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, sponsored the legislation that doubles the amount of time — from two months to four months — that certain suspects can be held without being charged. The change only applies to the most serious of violent crimes: first-degree murder and rape cases in which prosecutors can seek the death penalty.

The legal change is statewide, but is a result of New Orleans law-enforcement officials seeking ways to reduce violent crime. The city’s police and prosecutors said they were forced to release 3,000 suspects accused of felonies in 2006 — some of whom then committed further crimes after their release — because it took longer than two months to build solid cases.

Other new laws will:

— Eliminate a prohibition on the sale of largemouth bass longer than 10 inches that are brought into Louisiana from out of state to stock private or public waters. The new law eliminates the length restriction.

— Allow for the creation of a new ‘‘vanity’’ license plate featuring the idiomatic French phrase ‘‘Chez Nous Autres.’’ The plates will be produced only if the state receives orders for at last 1,000.

— Tougher criminal penalties for those caught in drag races gone awry. The law will add new penalties for those convicted of involvement in such races when they cause ‘‘serious bodily injury.’’ For first offenders, the penalties will be fines of between $500 and $2,000, prison terms between one and five years, or both.