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Voters statewide will be asked to decide yes or no on six proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution on the Nov. 6, 2018, ballot. These amendments address a number of serious issues. In particular, Amendment No. 2 would require unanimous verdicts in all felony cases. Unlike so many incidental proposals for changes to our Constitution over the years, Amendment No. 2 addresses an issue of historic proportions in that the current non-unanimous jury law is rooted in 19th Century cultural settings and sets the state apart from the rest of the nation. In addition to the six amendments, voters will face a ballot question determining which parishes will allow fantasy sports contests.
This PAR Guide to the 2018 Constitutional Amendments provides a review of each proposed amendment in the order they will appear on the ballot, plus the fantasy sports item. 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 creation in 1974, the Louisiana Constitution has been amended 189 times. Louisiana has a long history of frequent constitutional changes. Notably, Article VII of the Constitution, which focuses on fiscal issues, has seen more amendment activity over the years than any other article. Until this year, the Legislature had proposed 147 amendments to Article VII, with the public passing 95 of them.
The Legislature has tried to make it easier for voters to determine what a given amendment would do 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. In this Guide’s coverage of Amendment No. 6, PAR has provided a special explanation of the ballot language to help clarify its meaning and avoid voter misperceptions.
Voters must do their part. 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.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) is an independent voice, offering solutions to public issues in Louisiana through accurate, objective research and focusing public attention on those solutions. PAR is a private, nonprofit research organization founded in 1950 and supported by membership contributions, foundation and corporate grants and special events.
For more information, media interviews or public presentation requests regarding this constitutional amendment guide, please contact PAR President Robert Travis Scott at RobertScott@parlouisiana.org.