Lawmaker: Licensing for Cajun Navy not meant to limit, but empower

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NEW ORLEANS – The Good Samaritan who rescued hundreds, maybe thousands, of people during the 'Great Flood of 2016' said he was not happy after a state lawmaker announced he wants to introduce legislation around future actions by citizen heroes.

Some of these citizen heroes, a loosely-organized group called the 'Cajun Navy,' gained national attention for their rescue efforts last week, but that attention is nowhere near the pushback surrounding a lawmaker's proposal to require permits for citizen rescue groups.

For the Cajun Navy, it didn't matter if it was during day or night. People with boats took it upon themselves to save strangers, even when their own property was flooding.

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Cajun Navy member Dustin Clouatre of St. Amant said he hopped into his pleasure skiff, and with others, they cleared out entire neighborhoods under water.

"For the most part, these people are not going to wait for assistance," Clouatre said. "They're doers."

Republican State Senator Jonathan "J.P." Perry of the Vermilion-Lafayette area said he is working on legislation that could require training, certificates and a permit to allow these Good Samaritans to get past law enforcement into devastated areas. 

In a radio interview on News Talk 96.5 KPEL in Lafayette, Sen. Perry said it comes down to two main points for law enforcement officials.

“At the end of the day, there are going to be two things that are going to be the hurdle when you approach it from the state’s standpoint,” Sen. Perry said. “Liability is going to be number one for them. They don’t want the liability of someone going out to rescue someone and then not being able to find them, and secondly, there’s a cost.”

Perry continues by saying the liability issue could be solved by something like a waiver that boaters sign prior to a natural disaster.

Clouatre and members of the 'Cajun Navy' said they do not understand the regulations.

"How can you regulate people helping people? That doesn't make sense to me," Clouatre said.

Senator Perry did not return phone calls for a comment at the time this story aired on WWL-TV, but the senator took to Facebook Tuesday night to explain the logistics and reasoning behind his proposal.

"The intent of what I want to do is to completely un-regulate it to where our volunteers are not stopped from going out," Perry said in the video. "What's happening is, it's all getting twisted around like I'm trying to put a fee on it. I'm trying to tax it. I'm trying to require a permit."

Perry goes on to say if nothing changes, that is, if no legislation is passed, volunteers, like members of the Cajun Navy, will continue to get stopped and be prevented from attempting to rescue people, because, under current law, citizens who cross barricades or perimeters set-up by law enforcement face punishment for breaking the law. 

Clouatre argues citizens like the Cajun Navy may know the flooded areas better than official rescuers who come in from out of town to help. Clouatre also said they often did things officials would not have been allowed to do.

Some other citizens said they are not opposed to taking a rescue safety course, but some said they believed it would be better if the course were offered through the private sector.

Listen to Senator Perry's full interview on the KPEL radio show: http://kpel965.com/state-sen-jonathan-perry-working-to-put-more-authority-behind-the-cajun-navy/