Voters statewide will be asked to decide yes or no on three proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution on the October 14, 2017, ballot. These amendments address how property tax assessors should deal with construction work, whether surviving spouses of some first responders should be exempt from property tax and if a special transportation fund should be created in anticipation of future new fuel tax revenue.
This PAR Guide to the 2017 Constitutional Amendments provides a review of each item in the order they will appear on the ballot. The Guide is educational and does not recommend how to vote. It offers concise analysis and provides arguments of proponents and opponents. These proposals were passed during the regular legislative session earlier this year. Each bill received at least a two-thirds favorable vote in the House of Representatives and in the Senate and now needs a majority vote at the polls as required for passage of constitutional amendments. The governor cannot veto proposals for constitutional amendments.
A constitution is supposed to be a state’s fundamental law that contains the essential elements of government organization, the basic principles of governmental powers and the enumeration of citizen rights. A constitution is meant to have permanence. Statutory law, on the other hand, provides the details of government operation and is subject to frequent change by the Legislature. Typically, constitutional amendments are proposed to authorize new programs, seek protections for special interests or ensure that reforms are not easily undone by future legislation. Special interests often demand constitutional protection for favored programs to avoid future legislative interference, resulting in numerous revenue dedications and trust fund provisions. The concept of the constitution as a relatively permanent statement of basic law fades with the adoption of many amendments.
Since its implementation in 1974, the Louisiana Constitution has been amended 186 times. Louisiana has a long history of frequent constitutional changes. Notably, Article VII of the Constitution, which focuses on financial, budget and tax issues, has seen more amendment activity over the years than any other article. Until this year, the Legislature had proposed 144 amendments to Article VII, with the public passing 92 of them. All three of this year’s proposed amendments would change some part of Article VII. This constant revision of Article VII is one reason some legislators have advocated a formal review or convention focused on the Louisiana Constitution’s fiscal provisions.
Through the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure, the Legislature tries to make certain that each proposed amendment does, in fact, need to be posed to voters. The Legislature also has tried to make it easier for voters to determine what a given amendment would do if approved by requiring that the ballot language be written in a “clear, concise and unbiased” manner and that it be phrased in the form of a question.
Voters must do their part as well. In order to develop informed opinions about the proposed amendments, they must evaluate each one carefully and make a decision based on its merits. One important consideration should always be whether the proposed language belongs in the Constitution.