New laws take effect Jan. 1

Gun control, mental health measures among changes

New Louisiana laws designed to stop criminals and those with mental health problems from being able to buy guns go into effect with the start of the new year on Wednesday. They are among many new laws being added in 2014.

Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed for the gun restrictions in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut in which 20 children and six adults died. The alleged shooter, Adam Lanza, who also killed his mother and himself, was believed to have mental health issues.

The new laws implement a statewide system of reporting designed to capture the names of individuals with criminal convictions as well as those judicially determined to be mentally ill. The data are collected and reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System .

Retailers will have to check the names in the NICS database against a purchaser’s before selling a gun.

“This is a move in the right direction,” said State Police Col. Michael Edmonson. “This really gives us the ability to have a stronger reporting standard.

“Anything we can do to make sure that people who should not have a gun don’t, is good,” said Edmonson. He said it protects the rights of those who legitimately own guns.

Louisiana joins 17 states that already have laws that require courts to report mental health eligibility to the databank. “That’s the key thing,” Edmonson said, because previously, state law banned the mental health reporting. No other personal medical information is included.

Under the new laws, Louisiana’s clerks of court complete forms reflecting activity in their parishes, then forward the information to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which files statewide information with the national databank. There are also provisions for an individual to get his gun ownership rights restored and his name removed from the database.

Debbie Hudnall, executive director of the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association, said the clerks are ready to comply with the new responsibilities.

“We have worked with the Supreme Court coming up with some forms that are as simple as possible to do this,” Hudnall said. “We think we have most of the things ironed out.”

Clerks will do some of the reporting manually until computer software programming changes are made to an electronic filing system, Hudnall said.

“The clerks understand the reason behind it,” she said. But, she added, “It’s always a hurdle when more work is placed upon the clerks and they don’t get any funding for it.

“It’s not like pushing a button and the work is done. That data has to be put in the system. That takes manpower.”

The greatest burden will fall in the parishes that have civil judicial commitments of those with mental health problems, Hudnall said, such as East Feliciana, Rapides and Caddo parishes.

Two of the 15 new laws that go into effect Jan. 1 deal with the reporting issue.

Other laws require day care centers that accept state or federal funds to add an educational component to the programs they offer; allow “I’m a Cajun” notation to be placed on Louisiana driver’s licenses for an extra fee; make changes in the program where private insurance companies have taken over care of Medicaid patients; exempt those operating or riding in an autocycle from wearing a helmet; and increase employee contributions to the New Orleans Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund from 6 percent of pay to 10 percent, over time.

State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, sponsored the day care law change, which he said he hopes will get young children better prepared for kindergarten and first grade.

“We spend millions every year on day care for at-risk children. This just says if you take state or federal money, there will be more accountability, more of an educational setting,” Walsworth said.

Walsworth said the day care facilities would turn more into early learning centers.

“Some of our problems are with these at-risk children, and most of those children attend some kind of child care center, which is government subsidized. If we can start them early with a quality program, have some kind of accountability with those providers — the more educational opportunities they have early on, the better off they are, being caught up entering kindergarten and first grade. They have a chance of our teachers keeping them all the way up.”

The law goes into effect about six months after Jindal signed the legislation, so facilities would have time to adapt.

“If we can start doing something good for these children who are at-risk, I think the whole state will be uplifted,” Walsworth said. “If we can get that group up that will give them a chance, a fighting chance when they get to grade school, and the teacher a fighting chance too.”

The driver’s license change was pushed by Acadiana legislators in an attempt to raise funds for a Council for the Development of French in Louisiana scholarship program.

The “I’m a Cajun” notation on a driver’s license will be an option when the state moves to a new and different-looking driver’s license this month.

The rollout on the new driver’s license is expected to begin Jan. 17, said Office of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Stephen Campbell.

The driver’s licenses will take on a new look with the system change, along with more security features, he said.

People can get the label by paying an extra $20 when they get a new license or renew their driver’s license.

“I’m a Cajun” would be one of the designations that could be placed in black block letters in a box on the license’s face, Campbell said. Other possibilities include “veteran” and “sex offender,” he said.

A new special vehicle license plate is already available bearing the “Cajun” label.