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Louisiana Senate committee takes up theft-related bills

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(The Center Square) – Two bills intended to combat theft were taken up by the Louisiana Senate Judiciary C Committee on Tuesday.

It comes a week after Gov. Jeff Landry signed 11 bills addressing crime issues following a special session on crime.

Senators examined a bill that would add increased penalties for “porch pirates” stealing delivered packages from homes and another that adds more penalties to those involved in organized retail theft rings.

State. Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, was the sponsor of Senate bills 33 and 34. SB33 would add increased penalties for those who steal packages from multiple homes, while SB34 would provide stiffer sentences for those convicted as part of organized retail theft crews by upgrading those charges to a second-degree theft.

Sally West is the regional government relations director for Walgreens, which supported the passage of both bills. She said Walgreens spends $2.1 million for security at its 22 New Orleans locations.

West said nationwide, Walgreens closed at least five stores due to retail theft losses in Chicago, Seattle and other cities.

“We desperately need more tools in our toolbox for fighting organized retail crime,” West said. “We’ve hardened our stores. All of you have probably walked into a Walgreens or other similar retailer and wanted a razor that was locked up, or perfume or cologne, those types of things are getting locked up now, causing frustration for our customers but also our staff because it pulls them in a different direction to go unlock those items. Those lock boxes are not cheap.

“They cost thousands of dollars as well. Yet we continue to lose tens of millions of dollars in lost inventory and the state is losing untold amounts in lost sales tax revenue. It’s not just about money, it’s also about safety. Our employees, quite frankly, in some locations, are afraid to go to work sometimes because of these incidents.”

Attorney Sarah Whittington from the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, a group that helps ex-convicts with reentry issues, was the only one to speak against Hensgens’ bills. She admitted to being the victim of a recent case of porch theft, but said SB33 would add a fiscal burden to taxpayers having to house those convicted if the bill becomes law.

“I’m just here to draw your attention to a concern I have that this adds 60 days (in prison) with or without hard labor,” Whittington said. “So if the cost of whatever I ordered online was less than $1,000 and if that individual is potentially caught after only taking from my porch what we’re doing is potentially turning a misdemeanor theft into the possibility of a felony sentence.”

Hensgen said that his bill gave judges the option of aggregating multiple thefts together to make one crime.

“This is not little Johnny walking across the street and taking something off my front porch,” Hensgen said.

The committee reported both bills favorably.

The committee also approved bills that would ban child sex dolls, another that would add penalties for sex trafficking of minors, and another that would create the crime of obstruction of blocking a highway, such as during a protest.