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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.
Here we go again. Voters statewide will be asked to decide yes or no on four proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution on the Oct. 12, 2019, ballot. This year’s lineup will be especially challenging as the four in question are among the more arcane proposals citizens have faced yet.
As an independent, nonpartisan educational organization, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) has been providing a primer regularly on constitutional amendments set before voters over the past four decades. This PAR Guide to the 2019 Constitutional Amendments provides a review of each proposed amendment in the order they will appear on the ballot. The Guide is educational and does not recommend how to vote. It offers succinct analysis and provides arguments of proponents and opponents. These proposals were passed during the regular legislative session earlier this year. The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure reviewed each one for clarity. 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 for passage. The governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment bill.
Whatever their individual worth for the state of Louisiana, the amendments this year illustrate how our Constitution has evolved from a concise foundational document to a lengthy throng of regulatory minutia. One amendment calls for a minor appropriation of several hundred thousand dollars, something the Legislature rather than voters statewide could handle were it not for the lock-and-store habits of Louisiana’s fiscal culture. Another amendment attempts to use the Constitution to resolve a newly arisen legal dispute over an obscure form of property tax. The Constitution has accumulated a lot of detailed amendments that in turn call for more amendments to tweak those details. This trend is more a reflection on our constitutional condition than a knock against any specific proposed amendment this October.
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 governmental 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, especially when those changes are of a more statutory or regulatory nature.
And Louisiana excels at pitching amendments. Since the 1974 Constitution was adopted, voters have been asked to decide on nearly 300 proposals, or about seven per year on average since the changes began. So far, 195 have been approved, with more than half of those on Article VII, the money section. Three of the four on this year’s ballot are within Article VII. Louisiana’s Constitution has doubled in size and is the fourth longest state constitution in the nation.
Amending the constitution should require thoughtful analysis of the potential impacts of any change.Language should be carefully vetted to make sure legislators and citizens understand what is proposed.Unfortunately, the time demands on the Legislature, combined with authors seeking swift passage, do not always result in thorough reviews.These four amendment bills got an average discussion of 6 ½ minutes in each committee hearing during the legislative process. Basically, a Louisiana constitutional amendment bill typically clears both a House and a Senate committee in about the same period as a football halftime. This again reflects the regard for the Louisiana Constitution as a collection of detailed laws and regulations that can be changed swiftly and often.
Voters must do their part. 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.
Strong consideration should be given to whether the state Constitution should be revised and simplified. PAR has undertaken a major project to provide guidance to those seeking to revise the Louisiana Constitution and return it to the form of a foundational document. The reports for Louisiana Constitutional Reform can be found on PAR’s website at parlouisiana.org.