Louisiana’s voters will decide the fate of nine proposed amendments to the state constitution in the Nov. 6 election. The Advocate recently published its positions on Amendments 1 and 2. Here are our positions on Amendments 3, 4 and 5.
We will publish our positions on the remaining proposed amendments in coming days.
Amendment No. 3 – Public Notice of Retirement Bills – Yes.
The state constitution already stipulates that bills impacting the state’s public retirement systems must be filed at least 10 days before the start of a legislative session and advertised in the official state journal on two separate occasions at least 30 days prior to their filing.
Amendment No. 3 would lengthen the public notice requirements, mandating that such bills be filed at least 45 days before a session begins, and advertised three times 60 days in advance of their filing.
As strong advocates of public transparency, we support this amendment, but with reservations. Ideally, such matters of legislative housekeeping should be taken out of the state constitution entirely, and handled by legislative rules instead.
Amendment No. 4 – Exemption from Property Taxes for Spouses of Disabled Veterans – No.
In 2010, Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing local governments, with the approval of voters within their jurisdictions, to increase the homestead exemption for disabled veterans from the $75,000 exemption that most owners already have to $150,000. The amendment also stipulated that if the higher exemption was in place when the veteran died, the spouse would be able to retain the same level of exemption. Amendment 4 allows the spouse to be eligible for the additional exemption even if the veteran died before the law took effect.
We are deeply grateful for the service and sacrifices of Louisiana’s veterans, and we have always vigorously supported a strong network of programs for veterans’ assistance. However, we believe that the use of property tax law is not the best way to assist veterans or their families. We fear that using property tax exemptions in this way will lead to arguments for similar exemptions for other interest groups, needlessly expanding what could already be the most generous homestead exemption in the country.
We urge voters to reject this well-meaning amendment.
Amendment No. 5 — Pensions of Felons — No.
After some years of struggle, state Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, has pushed through an amendment that on its surface seems reasonable. It would allow judges to cut the pensions — at least the public’s portion of the pension fund — of public officials who abuse the public trust in office.
These sorts of laws exist in a number of states, but unhappily they appear to have had little effect in deterring public corruption.
In most cases such a penalty would be pleaded away as part of the bargaining for the sentences of those convicted of crimes related to public service.
Judges have, as part of the sentencing process, the capacity to order restitution by the felon. That forces the felon to pay without the need for this amendment.
There is a reasonable concern that, after a modest period of incarceration, high-profile public officials benefit from their pensions. As Ligi notes, that is offensive to the general public.
This amendment, though, gives an unreasonable impression that it is striking a significant blow to public corruption. It really does not. We urge voters to reject the amendment.