Special Session 4 092520

The chairs in the Louisiana House chamber where representatives of special interests usually sit during assemblies needed to be roped off to meet the social distancing and gathering restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An experiment years ago tried to figure out how many objects the human eye could count at a glance. Once past about five, researchers found, the mind translated the image as “many.”

We have "many" on the Nov. 3 ballot.

As voters try to get their mail ballots in early, or at least decide on what they want to vote for on early voting days beginning Oct. 16, they have groaned at the prospect of deciphering no less than seven constitutional amendments.

“You can throw the global economy into chaos and unleash pandemic commotion across the land, but you can’t stop the Louisiana Legislature from passing constitutional amendments,” the Public Affairs Research Council reported drily.

Only one amendment, allowing easier access during big emergencies to “rainy day” funds, is at all related to the crises at hand.

The result is a bit of a challenge for voters, right now, and also a potential milestone, if enough pass, to see the 200th amendment to the 1974 Louisiana Constitution.

This newspaper will offer its editorial board’s view of the various amendments as usual. PAR and the Council for a Better Louisiana, among other groups, offer handy guides to the sometimes complex issues behind the ballot language.

But the confluence of amendment-happy legislators and gigantic state crises has a connection: the virtual absence of meaningful political debate in the State Capitol this year.

The public is absent, in part because of coronavirus restrictions and in part because a newly elected Legislature is increasingly run by party caucuses.

Yes, in many committees, chairmen of hearings will promise that public comments be read into the record. In fact, many observers have seen at the capitol that these promises are observed more in the breach than the observance.

“The degree of legislative debate on this latest set of proposals was as sparse as ever witnessed,” PAR comments. “Some of the amendments saw no testimony in opposition during the committee hearings.”

The result was that “some of these proposed changes for the state’s foundational document were crafted with little or no critical discussion.”

As voters know, there are “many” amendments. But there are amendments about amendments in many years, adjusting issues that — as PAR, CABL and many other groups have observed for a long time — should not be a part of the constitution, but should reside in the regular law books.

Government-by-amendment has never worked particularly well. It’s even worse when effective public comment only came when different types of businesses were at odds over legislation; then lobbyists dueled among themselves.

For the people, that forgotten tribe in the 2020 sessions, were bystanders, but they have a chance to intervene at the ballot box — late in the process.

Our Views: The Legislature's unwisely long agenda in a time of vast uncertainties