9 constitutional amendments on Nov. 6 ballot
Nine proposed constitutional amendments are on the Nov. 6 ballot, dealing with a range of topics from gun rights to special property tax exemptions and notice of crime prevention district creation efforts.
Some four dozen constitutional changes were proposed by legislators during the 2012 Legislature. Only nine propositions cleared the Louisiana Legislature with the required two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and now await a public vote.
“When you look at these constitutional amendments and try to determine whether you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ look at whether or not this really belongs in the constitution,” Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott said. “Is this worth protecting in the constitution at the price of diluting the central purpose of that body of law?”
The Louisiana Constitution has been amended 167 times since it was adopted in 1974.
PAR — a governmental research organization — has been concerned about the number of amendments proposed through the years “particularly those that appear to be somewhat picayune,” Scott said. “Voters should look at the proposals with that in mind.”
Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin wrote in an analysis the constitution is supposed to be a “framework for governance.” Instead details have been inserted that belong in state laws, he said. As a result every time even minor changes are needed, constitutional amendments must be proposed, said Erwin, who heads the group that lobbies governmental policy issues.
Two constitutional proposals that drew the most attention during legislative debate involved an expansion of gun rights and the Jindal administration’s push to allow property tax breaks to certain non-manufacturing businesses as part of economic development agency recruitment efforts.
The gun rights proposal is No. 2 on the constitutional amendment ballot. The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the right to bear arms.
The National Rifle Association-backed proposal would subject any restriction on the constitutional right to bear arms to “strict scrutiny” by the courts; remove constitutional language allowing the Legislature to pass laws dealing with carrying concealed weapons; and broaden the current right to “keep and bear” arms to include the right to acquire, possess, carry, transfer and use firearms.
Proponents argue that if the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court changes, the interpretation of gun rights could change allowing more restrictions on guns. Amendment No. 2 would strengthen the state Constitution protection with any restriction having to meet the highest level of court review, called “strict scrutiny,” they claim.
Opponents argue that the state constitution already provides strong protections for gun rights and legislators are not likely to pass overly restrictive laws given the state’s pro-gun climate.
They also claim that more than 80 laws on the books could come under court challenge, including those stopping possession of guns by felons and banning possession of firearms in bars, at parades, on college campuses and the like.
Amendment No. 8 would give the state Department of Economic Development another weapon in its arsenal of incentives to woo or expand specific types of businesses. Currently, some manufacturing businesses are eligible for the tax exemption.
Under the proposition, the potential for a 10-year break from most local property taxes would be expanded to include data service and distribution centers, corporate headquarters and other non-manufacturing businesses.
All local governing entities within a parish would have to agree — a provision that school boards, police juries and municipalities insisted on because of the potential lost revenues.
The businesses would also have to meet certain requirements such as make at least a $25 million new capital investment and create at least 50 new jobs.
Two other proposed amendments impact property taxes.
Amendment 6 is specially tailored to help New Iberia in efforts to annex an area into the city. The city wants to offer a limited tax exemption from municipal property taxes to encourage them to go along with the annexation. A constitutional amendment is required to allow the local property tax change.
Another proposed change sweeps some new people into an exemption from property taxes for spouses of disabled veterans. Under the current constitution, local government can hold an election asking voter approval to double the size of the homestead exemption for veterans with 100 percent service-related disability status. Forty-seven parishes have done so.
The constitution states that if the exemption is in place when a veteran dies,then the spouse could keep it. The change, envisioned in Amendment 4,would say a spouse would be eligible for the exemption if a veteran died before the law took effect.
Here’s a capsule of the other five proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot:
- Amendment 1 would protect the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly from being raided in tough state fiscal times to help balance the budget.
- Amendment 3 would provide for additional and earlier notice of legislation proposing changes to laws governing the state retirement systems.
- Amendment 5 would allow judges to order forfeiture of retirement benefits of a public employee convicted of crimes related to their government jobs or order any fines or restitution related to the crime be paid by the employee out of those funds. Under current law, portions of the benefit can be garnished by the court to pay such things as fines and restitution.
- Amendment 7 would change the makeup of six major state boards whose appointments have been based on membership from each of seven congressional districts. The state now has six congressional districts so the proposition changes the membership alignment.
- Amendment 9 would require more notice and details when legislative proposals are being made to create crime prevention districts. Notice of the legislation would have to be published three times instead of the current two. And the notice must detail whether a parcel fee is being sought, whether an election is required for its imposition or increase, and the maximum amount of the fee.