Louisiana lawmakers and voters spend too much time considering amendments to the state constitution. A constitution is supposed to address broad legal principles, leaving smaller matters of governance to state laws. Instead, Louisiana lawmakers routinely agree to place on the ballot proposed amendments to the state constitution that deal with relatively minor issues best addressed at the state and local level. The result is a cluttered state constitution that invites confusion and often limits the flexibility of state leaders in managing government. That’s no way to run a state in the 21st century.
The Nov. 6 election, continuing this sad tradition of amendment overkill, will have nine proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, meaning quite a headache for voters.
Here are our positions on Amendments No. 1 and No. 2. Our positions on other amendments will be published in coming days.
Amendment No. 1 – Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly – No.
As part of an agreement with the federal government, Louisiana’s state government gets federal dollars to support certain health care programs for the elderly. To qualify for the dollars, state officials must ensure that the funds are used only for purposes designated by federal Medicaid officials. That’s why the Medicaid Trust Fund exists.
At one point, state officials became involved in a dispute with the federal government after using these funds for related health care needs that were, in the view of federal officials, beyond the scope of the original agreement. The dispute was settled after the state agreed to repay the federal government $120 million.
Amendment 1 is ostensibly aimed at preventing such problems in the future by constitutionally limiting how the trust fund can be used. As the settlement of the previous dispute between state and local officials over this trust fund makes clear, some pretty stringent safeguards against misuse of this fund are already in place. Amendment No. 1 would further clutter the constitution with unnecessary language.
Amendment No. 2 – Expansion of Gun Rights – No.
On its face, Amendment 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot sounds a bit legalistic, general in nature about an abstruse point of law. In fact, it’s an indirect approach to allow courts to overturn laws banning guns on school campuses and other public places.
We urge voters to reject the proposed amendment.
The amendment by state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, changes the legal standard by which courts would review challenges to gun laws. The amendment would require the most stringent standard of judicial review, called “strict scrutiny,” when considering the legality of gun-control laws.
Again, it seems on its face to be of little impact. But the standard means a lot in a courtroom: The state would have to prove that a law restricting the right to bear arms is of “a compelling interest,” and is “narrowly tailored” in a way to impact as few people as possible.
Why is this amendment on the ballot? After all, the right to bear arms is already outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
Over the past few years, legislators have been reluctant to overrule universities and other educational institutions banning guns from campuses. Despite the great influence of the National Rifle Association and other groups with lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal, the idea of guns on campuses — or the infamous “guns in church” bill of a couple of years ago — were unwelcome in the Legislature.
However, this ingenious amendment transfers decision-making from the State Capitol to the courts, and writes into the Louisiana Constitution a standard of review that would be most helpful to those challenging gun bans.
This is bad policy, not just because the legal standard is to be changed for this particular issue. It also marks an end-run around the legislative process, which is intended to collect the facts and divergent views on a question. Courts by their nature are narrowly focused on specific cases. This is a policy question that belongs in the Legislature, not in the courts.
Yet it is a tribute to the influence of the gun lobby that this amendment passed by overwhelming margins in House and Senate — the same bodies that balked at directly overturning campus gun protections.
There is a political degree of separation here: If a plaintiff seeks to overturn a gun law and succeeds, and then a tragedy later occurs, lawmakers can say that they are not responsible. It was the courts’ fault.
We are not alone in opposition to this proposal. The Council for a Better Louisiana opposes the amendment: “CABL feels strongly, in agreement with our universities, that the combination of guns and still-maturing students is not a good mix.”
We agree, and note that rejecting this amendment does not amount to any infringement of the rights of hunters and sportsmen. Our state has a wonderful tradition as the Sportsman’s Paradise, and we want to keep it that way.
The rejection of Amendment 2 does not endanger the legitimate gun owner at all. We hope voters will see through this proposal, and reject it.