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Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, center, answers questions during hearings in the Senate Judiciary A Committee on HB425 which would allow a vote on a Constitutional Amendment that stipulates that no provision of the constitution protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion Tuesday May 7, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Jackson is flanked by Dorinda Bordlee, with the Bioethics Defense Fund, left, and Benjamin Clapper, executive director Louisiana Right to Life, right. The red paperwork stacked up are some of the 8,665 petitions from Louisiana citizens that are in favor of HB425.

The Louisiana Senate doesn’t want Louisiana residents to vote on whether to raise the minimum wage.

It basically said so this week, when state Sen. Troy Carter tabled a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether the base wage in the state should rise from the long-stalled federal level of $7.25 an hour to $9. Carter acknowledged that his vote count was woefully short of the super majority needed to get the measure out of the chamber — and send it to an even more skeptical House — as he returned it to the calendar to languish.

The Senate does, though, want Louisiana residents to have a voice in whether the state Constitution should explicitly say that it does not guarantee a right to abortion, which could become relevant should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

It said so by a resounding 31-4 vote on the same day that Carter pulled his minimum wage bill. The House has already approved a similar measure, and all signs point to the two chambers working out small differences and placing the question on the fall ballot (This is not the much-discussed fetal heartbeat bill, which will be the subject of a future column, and unlike that measure, it does not require a signature from Gov. John Bel Edwards).

So how to explain the different attitudes toward letting the people decide? Could it be that, for lawmakers, there’s no actual principle at stake other than getting the outcome they want?

It’s not at all difficult to predict what would happen if voters were allowed to rule on the minimum wage.

An LSU poll from earlier this year found that 81% of Louisianans interviewed backed a wage of $8.50 an hour, which was Edwards’ preference before he upped it to $9, and that even Republicans backed the idea by a wide margin. And nearly six in 10 said they’d back a $15 minimum wage, which is much more than Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, was seeking. The experience of other states is also telling. Pretty much everywhere minimum wage increases have appeared on the ballot — and that includes other conservative states — they’ve passed. And many of those proposals were more generous than Carter’s.

This is an idea that Edwards ran on in 2015 and has tried to push through the Legislature each year, only to run into roadblocks from business-aligned Republicans and partisans who didn’t want to give a Democratic governor a win. The strategy behind re-crafting the proposal as a constitutional amendment was to make it harder for opponents to vote it down. But of course, by pulling the measure, Carter and his allies allowed their adversaries to kill it without having to take a potentially unpopular vote.

The calculation was different on the abortion measure, sponsored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe. Here lawmakers believe they’re line with majority sentiment in socially conservative Louisiana, and polling data backs that up. A 2016 LSU survey found that roughly 55% of the people polled think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.

It’s always possible that proposals that don’t include rape and incest exceptions could change the dynamic, and so could the realistic possibility of Roe vs. Wade’s demise at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it’s too soon to tell if that might happen. Still, it’s telling that, while a handful of Democrats in the Legislature openly favor abortion rights, others such as Jackson are happy to join with conservative Republicans on the issue.

There’s a reason the Legislature gets to determine which questions their constituents can decide. Unlike many other states, Louisiana has no mechanism for putting a question on the statewide ballot other than by getting lawmakers to pass a proposed constitutional amendment.

There’s been some talk in recent years of changing that, of allowing citizen-led initiatives, but the idea has never gotten any traction. Among the objections that critics raise is concern that the process could be hijacked by special interests. That’s true, it could be.

On the other hand, all it takes is a good look at what’s happened with the minimum wage battle to see that, on some issues, it already has been.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.