I was a little surprised to see that the Council for a Better Louisiana is recommending “yes” votes on all six constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. I gave Barry Erwin, CABL’s longtime leader, a call, and he confirmed that the group’s positive take on this year’s crop of ballot questions is indeed unusual.
CABL, along with other advocates for intelligently designed government, takes the general position that Louisiana amends its constitution far too frequently, that it keeps adding restrictions and requirements that could just as well be designated by law, and that “we don’t need to be adding things to the constitution because we have to much in there already,” as Erwin put it.
This year, though, many of the questions voters will decide amount to policy changes rather than technical matters that sometimes crop up, he said. And I’d add this: All in all, voters will face a somewhat more interesting list of choices than usual.
Amendment No. 1 may ring a bell for anyone who’s followed the career of Derrick Shepherd, the former state senator from Jefferson Parish who went to prison for money laundering. Since he’s been out, Shepherd has made various attempts to get back in the game, including signing up to run for a legislative seat in 2015. The problem was that, back in 1998, voters had approved a constitutional amendment barring convicted felons from running for office for 15 years after their sentence was completed.
But Shepherd and his lawyers identified a loophole: It turned out that the wording on that 1998 ballot wasn’t what lawmakers had approved. So even though Shepherd was disqualified from running that time around, the courts later threw out the provision, leaving no such prohibition in place.
Amendment No. 1 would basically reinstate it — correctly this time — but with the cooling down period reduced from 15 years to five.
While these constitutional amendments can fly under the radar, the opposite is happening with Amendment No. 2. It would require criminal jury convictions to be unanimous, instead of allowing just 10 of 12 jurors to send a defendant away for crimes as serious as murder.
Constitutional amendments nearly always elicit yawns, but this November’s ballot is shaping up as an exception. In fact, the second ballot que…
Louisiana is just one of two states that don’t require unanimous verdicts, which is one argument for change. Even more powerful arguments, ranging from the current arrangement’s racist origins and racially imbalanced effect to concern over government overreach, have stirred remarkable interest from both the left and the right. Pretty much the only major figure who’s come out against the change is Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Amendment No. 3 is a common-sense measure that would make it easier for local governments, particularly small jurisdictions, to share equipment or personnel without compensation, the idea being that this is a good way to stretch scarce government funds. It’s apparently common practice already, but a 2016 legislative audit of Denham Springs highlighted the official restrictions that the amendment seeks to change.
Amendment No. 4 would make it harder for the state to divert gas tax revenue away from maintenance and construction of bridges and roads. Currently, Transportation Trust Fund money can be used for traffic control by the State Police. The amendment would eliminate that as a permissible use.
Amendment No. 5 is one of those measures that cleans up an earlier change. Voters have already opted to give special property tax treatments for certain groups, including the elderly, disabled veterans, and surviving spouses of military members killed in action. This amendment would extend those protections to homes placed in a trust, as long as the original residents still live there.
Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to ban the use of state road and bridge funds to finance traffic control by Louisiana State Police.
And Amendment No. 6 would give a break to homeowners whose property assessments jump by more than 50 percent. It would phase in the corresponding property tax hikes over four years, rather than imposing the full increase at once. This is mainly aimed at New Orleans’ hot real estate market, where property values in some neighborhoods have soared in recent years.
More information on all these measures is available from CABL and from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which also publishes a guide but does not make recommendations.
It’s not too long a list, as these things go, and one that isn’t likely to cause most voters’ eyes to glaze over. That, in itself, makes this a better crop of ballot questions.