BATON ROUGE (AP) — Senators postponed a vote Tuesday on a controversial bill that would prohibit enforcement in Louisiana of any federal bans on assault weapons, after opponents called the measure unconstitutional.
Following a barrage of questions about the effort to usurp federal laws and several attempts to attach unwieldy amendments, Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen, deferred a vote on the House-approved measure.
He can seek a vote another day.
Whether the bill could pass a court challenge is a contentious point that even the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Morris of Oil City has acknowledged he doesn't have the answer to since introducing the measure. But he still doggedly pursued the bill, arguing states' rights.
The bill seeks to prohibit the enforcement of federal law in Louisiana as it relates to owning semi-automatic weapons and ammunition for such guns. A requirement that the state attorney general's office represents those who may be arrested for having federally prohibited guns was amended out of the bill in committee.
On Tuesday, Ward said he could not speak on whether the proposal was constitutional, but he said the federal government can become too intrusive.
"Federal government can go a little overboard, and sometimes you need to push back," he said. "Let the courts of this state and beyond decide."
Ward's attempt to push the measure was met with several amendments from opponents, including two wryly put forward by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, that would have made the bill retroactive to April 30, 1812, and would have charged violators with treason, punishable by death. Both amendments failed.
"That's the date (Louisiana) was admitted to the Union," Claitor said of the proposed 1812 change. "Frankly, I think it's unconstitutional. With this amendment, it highlights that" point.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, said the measure should be a resolution, not a bill that's "patently unconstitutional."
"You can't pick and choose," Murray said of federal laws. "We fought this war before."
However, his attempt to have the bill shelved failed on a 12-23 vote.
Meanwhile, the Senate overwhelmingly approved other gun-related measures that would make it a misdemeanor to release or publish the names and addresses of people who own or have applied for concealed handgun permits and to allow off-duty federal and state certified law enforcement officers to carry weapons on school campuses.
Those bills, already approved by the House, return there for approval of Senate changes.