Fourteen proposed constitutional amendments go before voters on the Nov. 4 ballot dealing with topics ranging from state budget and health care policy to blighted property and creation of a new state department dealing with elderly affairs.
Others would eliminate mandatory retirement at age 70 for judges; allow Orleans Parish voters to increase property taxes for fire and police; and implement a plan aimed at putting lots in the Hurricane Katrina-devastated Lower 9th Ward back into commerce.
Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin said voters are going to have to do more homework than usual before the election.
“Fourteen is a lot of amendments. Most are technical, and the ballot language is not very helpful at all,” he said. “It’s kind of hard for voters.”
Besides looking at the proposals’ merits, Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott said voters should decide whether the particular change sought should be part of the Louisiana Constitution. Often state law changes are preferable because they can be more readily altered if problems arise, he said.
Since its adoption, the 1974 constitution has been amended 175 times. The new propositions before voters were approved by the Legislature in 2013 and 2014. Now, they require a majority vote in the Nov. 4 election to be added to the constitution.
The first two propositions — Amendments 1 and 2 — are generating the most attention statewide. Both proposals set up special funds in the constitution aimed at providing more stable state financing for specific segments of the health care community. Amendment 1 is geared to nursing homes, developmental centers and pharmacists. Amendment 2 is for hospitals.
The special funds fueled by dollars from the industries would be used to generate federal Medicaid dollars. The propositions also guarantee nursing homes, hospitals and the others a baseline compensation rate and provide a layer of protection from budget cuts.
Opponents argue that the propositions would make other areas of health care vulnerable to cuts as well as leave Louisiana’s colleges and universities more exposed to reductions.
The Louisiana Nursing Home Association and the Louisiana Hospital Association are pooling dollars for a media campaign that promotes the propositions as good for Louisiana’s growing elderly population. A campaign message states “Protect Our Seniors — Vote Yes Amendments 1 & 2.”
Louisiana Nursing Home Association Executive Director Joe Donchess said the state senior population is expected to grow 40 percent over the next 16 years. He said a stable funding source is needed for nursing homes.
“There’s a strong argument to be made. The administration and the Legislature really needs to look closely at meeting the increasing needs of the elderly in future years, and we are trusting that the voters will assist,” he said.
Donchess said other health care industry segments, which are fearful of cuts, can come up with dollars through provider fees to generate extra federal dollars. He said constitutional protection is needed because nursing home dollars have been taken for other health care services in the past.
Because of that, the association started looking for a way hospitals could help provide funding “for this vulnerable population — Medicaid and uninsured.” He said other states have similar initiatives to provide stable and predictable hospital funding.
“When you put the two together, the hospitals and the nursing homes, if those are to pass, you are really locking up a lot of the budget with constitutional protections,” Erwin said, adding that it would restrict legislators from moving money around to pay bills.
“It’s a special deal for nursing homes that will negatively affect people who want to stay in their own home,” said Andrew Muhl, advocacy director for AARP Louisiana. “It protects nursing homes from any cuts, thereby placing more burden on home and community care — those who receive disability services as well as seniors.”
Scott said PAR has identified four other propositions with “significant statewide impact”: Amendments 3 and 10, which deal with eradication of blighted property; Amendment 5, eliminating the mandatory retirement age for judges; and Amendment 11, creating a 21st department of state government.
One change would allow local government to use a private firm to assist in the collection of delinquent property taxes and the selling of property whose owners are tax-delinquent. Another would shorten from three years to 18 months the length of time in which owners of vacant, blighted or abandoned property can redeem it after a tax sale. Orleans already has the 18-month period.
Another proposition, Amendment 13, would provide an exception to the constitutional ban on donation or sale of public property at less than fair market value so the New Orleans City Council can sell property in the Lower 9th Ward to qualified purchasers for $100 per parcel. Proponents are promoting the idea as a way of bringing the property back into use. But opponents, such as the Bureau of Governmental Research, said a “clear strategy” is needed for neighborhood redevelopment but the proposition is not the right way to go. BGR said the redevelopment is a “decidedly local issue.”
Currently, the constitution limits the number of state departments to 20. A proposition, pushed by state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, would increase it to 21 to make way for a Department of Elderly Affairs. Services offered by state agencies across state government would be consolidated, which proponents say will provide cost savings, better coordination and perhaps the ability to garner additional federal funds. Opponents counter that a new department is not needed and what Harrison hopes to accomplish can be done by executive order or statutory consolidations.