Speed trap bill pulled over

A bid to label some communities as “speed traps” was watered down, then shelved Tuesday in the Louisiana House.

The proposal, House Bill 961, would require communities deriving more than 50 percent of their revenue from speeding tickets erect “speed trap” signs, including blinking lights.

The House yanked the “speed trap” language from the measure and replaced it with “strict speed enforcement zone,” minus any requirement that it include lights.

State Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Crowville and sponsor of the legislation, later returned his bill to the House calendar, which likely kills the measure for this session.

The plan was opposed by the influential Louisiana Municipal Association, which represents city and town governments across the state.

Opposition to the measure was led by state Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, who is in a parish St. Landry long known for strict speed limit enforcement.

Thierry objected to the “speed trap” language and said lawmakers were being asked to crack down on an unspecified list of towns.

She denied trying to kill the legislation. “I am trying to make a bad bill better,” Thierry said.

The House voted 52-44 for her amendment, which stripped the requirement that towns erect “speed trap” signs at their entrance as well as the blinking lights requirement.

Pylant later tried to return the lights to the bill.

“The truth of the matter is it is not about public safety,” he said of towns that rely on speeding ticket revenue.

“It is about revenue,” Pylant said. “Let’s put the lights back on the signs.”

The amendment failed on a 48-48 vote.

“And that’s not an April Fools’ joke,” said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, after announcing the tally.

Other lawmakers also objected to labeling towns as speed traps.

Applying such descriptions “is the wrong way to go,” said state Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette.

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said that, once towns lose revenue from speeding tickets, they will ask a budget-troubled state government for relief.

Pylant, a former sheriff in Franklin Parish, countered only a dozen or so towns would be affected by his proposal.

“It will slow people down,” he said of his proposed signs. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Pylant also said the American Automobile Association rated Louisiana as the top speed trap state in the nation.

“It’s a crime for a community to raise 86 percent of their revenue from speeding tickets,” he said, without identifying the community.

In a 2007 survey, former Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot said the village of Baskin, which is in Franklin Parish, topped a list of 303 municipalities with 87 percent of its revenue coming from the citations.

Robeline in Natchitoches Parish was listed at 86 percent.

The same report said Washington, which is in St. Landry Parish, collected 51 percent of its revenue from speeding tickets and forfeitures; Port Barre, 46 percent; Livonia, 41 percent; and Golden Meadow, 24 percent.

A total of 15 towns met the 50 percent plus threshold.

Ronnie C. Harris, executive director of the Louisiana Municipal Association, told a House committee last week that, while he understood the frustrations of lawmakers, it would be better for LMA leaders and others to talk to officials in the towns under scrutiny rather than passing a law.