Once again, the November 4 elections will ask Louisiana voters to vote on the approval of 14 proposed Amendment to the Louisiana Constitution of 1974. It seems that every other year, in even numbered years when the Legislature holds a general session, there is another pile of constitutional amendments for us to say “yea’ or ‘nay’ to. The amendments come so regularly and are so technical, even informed voters seem to scratch their heads over what to do. I am regularly asked my opinion on how to vote on “those doggone amendments”. So, since I am now somebody, with my own blog, I an going to give my humble opinion about the 14 amendments on the November 4 ballot.
But, before I do, a little background and history. As a rule, a constitution is different from a regular statute. First, a constitution is generally recognized as a ‘blueprint’ for government in general. Its purpose is to set forth the structure of government, identify the various departments, define the role and limits of each, protect basic rights of citizens and protect certain ideals and principles, such as Civil Service, that are important enough to warrant, well, constitutional protection. Unlike an ordinary statute, a constitution cannot be changed by a simple majority vote of the legislature. For instance, the Louisiana Constitution requires that a proposed amendment be approved by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate AND a majority of voters statewide.
Historically, one of the reasons we now have the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 is the absolute mess that had become the Louisiana Constitution of 1921. The 1921 version was wordy to start with and over the years, as legislators, and the string pullers they worked for, began adding amendment after amendment, it constituted over a quarter million words and had been amended over 1,000 times. It had become so burdensome, archaic and unworkable that Edwin Edwards, in his 1971 campaing for Governor, made calling a convention for the establishment of a new constitution a central theme of his campaign. Shortly after taking office, Edwards was successful in doing so, which was the Constitutional Convention of 1973, which lead to the Louisiana Constitution of 1974. The 1974 Constitution was a good one. It was well written, to the point, streamlined the State government and, everyone agreed, was a nice piece of work.
Unfortunately, in the next 40 years, it seems we have fallen into the same trap be had before. Voters are asked again and again to approve amendments, many of which are “pet projects” of one group or another. We are continually adding amendment after amendment, most of which Louisiana voters don’t really understand or know why we need.
So, I said all that to say this. As you read my take on these things, remember that my philosophy on amendments is (1) many things may be a good idea, but that doesn’t mean they need to be in the Constitution: (2) some things may be a good idea but STILL don’t belong in the Constitution; (3) if I am not really convinced that an amendment is necessary, I am going to vote “NO”; and (4) if I do not know or understand what an amendment is supposed to do or what problem is it supposed to solve, my default position is to vote “NO” .
So, with all that in mind, here is my take:
Amendments 1 and 2: NO. No. 1 would establish a Trust Fund for the payment of Medicaid reimbursement. No. 2 would establish the Hospital Stabilization Fund. Both amendments would constitutionally dedicate funds the state is already collecting to a single purpose. While such a thing sounds good, the same thing could be accomplished by the Legislature having the intestinal fortitude not to raid these funds, which are already being assessed, to pay other bills. When you and I do this, it is called “theft” or “embezzlement”. More importantly, we already have way too many constitutionally dedicated funds in the state budget as it is. The result is that, for years, when things run short, the only thing that can legally be cut is health care and higher education. If these amendment pass, higer ed will be the Lone Ranger when it comes to budget cuts.
Amendment 3: NO. Amendment 3 would allow the sheriff or other tax collectors to employ private debt collectors to “assist” in collecting delinquent tax debts. First, if the sheriff can’t collect a debt, what makes anyone think that a private collector could do more? Of course the only reason to think so is to believe that the ‘collector’ can take actions the sheriff is legally prohibited from taking, or won’t take for other reasons. Which is exactly what makes this amendment a bad idea.
Amendment 4: NO. Amendment 4 is a perfect example of what is wrong with this whole process. It would allow the state to invest public money in something called the Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Bank. You have likely never heard of the Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Bank, because it does not exist. The enabling legislation, which would have set up the Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Bank failed to pass. However, the constitutional amendment to make the enabling legislation legal did, so the amendment is on the ballot, although the legislation it was supposed to bless is dead. For God’s sake, please vote NO!
Amendment No. 5: YES This amendment would remove the 70 year old mandatory retirement age for judges. For some inexplicable reason, Judges are the only elected officials in the State who have such a mandatory retirement. I can think of no office where experience and tenure are more important than the judiciary. I personally know many competent, experienced and capable judges who have been forced to retire when they could still have done a good job.
Amendment 6: NO . This is a special bill that applies only to Orleans Parish. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they can’t play by the same rules as the rest of us.
Amendment 7: YES. This amendment would raise the Homestead Exemption for ad valorem taxes for veterans with a 100% service related disability rating, and their surviving spouses, to $150,000.
Amendment 8: NO . This amendment would give constitutional protection for monies already being collected by the state in connection with establishment of artificial reefs from old offshore oil platforms. First, this would be another dedicated fund. See my argument for Amendments 1 and 2 above. Second, I am all about coastal restoration, environmental clean up and all that. I am even in favor of fishing. But frankly, this Artificial Reef Development Fund will actually only create good fishing spots for a very small handful of offshore fishermen and charter operators.
Amendment No. 9: YES. Louisiana voters have already approved special assessment levels for property owners who are permanently and totally disabled. This amendment would merely remove the requirement that they have to submit income information annually to keep the special assessment.
Amendment No. 10: NO. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a strong proponent of private property rights. I believe we should make it more difficult the government to deprive owners of their property rather than easier, which this amendment would do. It would shorten the redemption period for tax sales from 3 years to 18 months for property which is blighted or abandoned. While it sounds like a long time, 18 months is too short. And, who decides whose property is “blighted” or “abandoned”?
Amendment No 11: NO. One of the reasons we got a new constitution in 1974 was to streamline and consolidate state government. One of the ways this was done was to limit the number of state departments to 20. This amendment would increase that to 21, to create the Office of Elderly Affairs. First, this department would handle services which are currently being performed by other departments. Second, the legislature, in its wisdom, has not allocated funds to expand services to the elderly.
Amendment No. 12: NO. I could do a lot of explaining, but this one would change the membership of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and won’t make a rat’s *ss bit of difference to anyone who lives south of Bunkie.
Amendment 13: NO. This amendment would allow the City of New Orleans to sell government owned property (i.e., property seized for non-payment of taxes) in the Lower Ninth Ward for a nominal fee to certain buyers. If you have lived in Louisiana longer than 6 months, you would be very uncomfortable about the ‘nominal fee’ and who are the ‘certain buyers’. And, this is a proposed amendment to the State constitution that only affects one ward in one parish. Really?? And, once again, I am not sure why Orleans Parish can’t play by the same rules everybody else does.
Amendment No . 14: YES. This amendment would close a loophole that the Legislature loves to jump through. Under the current Constitution, revenue measures may not be introduced in even numbered years, which are supposed to be general sessions. “Fiscal” sessions are supposed to be in odd numbered years. However, some legislators love to give away tax rebates, incentives and abatement all the time. The amendment would confirm that these things are fiscal matters which may only be considered in odd numbered years.
Okay, I know that was long, but it is what it is. In closing let me say this:
Laissez le bon ton roullier! It’s election time y’all!