Institute for Justice · August 26, 2016

As is often seen when tragedy strikes, eager volunteers have come out of the woodwork in response to the devastating floods that hit Southern Louisiana this month. Unfortunately, another common occurrence could present an obstacle for the good Samaritans—politicians asking for licensing requirements.

Referred to by locals as the “Cajun Navy,” a group of loosely organized volunteers with boats have been navigating the flooded neighborhoods, rescuing stranded residents and bringing them to safety. But one lawmaker has already said he is working on new legislation to require training and a license that would be required before the volunteers can get past law enforcement.

As local news station WWL reported, Republican State Senator Jonathan Perry has proposed licensing requirements for the volunteers. Perry argues that the purpose of the licenses would simply be to prevent the volunteers from being stopped by law enforcement as they try to save lives. Like most licensing requirements, however, this would likely require the volunteers to be trained, wasting valuable time as lives are on the line.

The Cajun Navy volunteers argued that they are more familiar with many of the flooded areas than outside rescue groups could be. One volunteer added that many of these concerned citizens are not going to simply wait for outside help while their neighbors are stranded. “They’re doers,” the volunteer said.

While it is true that some officials initially stopped the volunteers from helping, as calls from stranded residents mounted, they backed off. One local official explained that in fact, law enforcement was ultimately grateful for the volunteers’ assistance:

“Then it was like, do you have vests? Do you have insurance? Are you truly capable of doing this?” Parish President Layton Ricks said. “And as it turned out, we couldn’t have done it without those guys. They were a tremendous asset for our people.”

Still, Sen. Perry argued that a new rescuer licenses needed to be part of the equation.

“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,” Perry said in an interview. “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, secondly, there’s a cost.”

Some of the volunteers said they would not be opposed to taking a rescue safety course in the future, though some would prefer if the course were offered through the private sector instead of required by government mandate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Louisiana was ranked the 8th most extensively and onerously licensed state in America by the Institute for Justice’s national licensing report, License to Work.