Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a controversial bill Wednesday (June 28) that would have required people to stay at least 25 feet away from law enforcement officers – when ordered – while they are engaged in their official duties.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, said it was intended to create a “safe space” for officers so they can perform their jobs without the fear of being harmed by people who wish to interfere in their investigations.

Despite his assurances that it was not designed to prevent the public from filming police, opponents of the bill said it represented a clear threat to the public’s First Amendment right to observe law enforcement and would undoubtedly draw legal challenges.

In a statement announcing his veto, Edwards said Johnson’s bill was unnecessary as there is already a law that makes interfering with a law enforcement investigation illegal. 

“Further, and perhaps unintentional, the effect of this bill were it to become law would be to chill exercise of First Amendment rights and prevent bystanders from observing and recording police action,” Edwards said. “Observations of law enforcement, whether by witnesses to an incident with officers, individuals interacting with officers, or members of the press, are invaluable in promoting transparency.” 

The bill, which was similar to a recently passed Indiana state law, stated that “no person shall knowingly or intentionally approach within 25 feet of a law enforcement officer who is lawfully engaged in the execution of his official duties after the officer has ordered the person to stop approaching.”

Violating the zone of protection would have been a misdemeanor, and violators could have been fined $500, sentenced to 60 days in jail or both. 

The bill had passed the Senate by a vote of 29-10 and the House 67-32.

Meg Garvey, president of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the group is “grateful that the governor stopped this unconstitutional bill from becoming law.

“Going forward, we encourage all Louisianans to become active participants in the legislative process and closely monitor for initiatives like this that promote government encroachment on individual rights,” Garvey said. “We can keep our first responders safe without becoming a police state.”

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Before coming to Verite, Richard A. Webster spent the past two and a half years as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. He investigated allegations of abuse against the Jefferson Parish...