Wednesday, November 16, 2022

December 10, 2022 Constitutional Amendments Overview

Source: Public Domain

There's another election right around the corner and this time there are 3 Constitutional Amendments on the ballot for Louisiana voters. Each time this happens I try to provide a "plain English" explanation of the amendments because they are often written in "legalize" which essentially means they are written by lawyers, for lawyers. I'm not knocking that because it's very important for the language to be correct. But sometimes it makes them difficult to understand by the layperson.

Thankfully that is not the case with the three amendments before us on the December 10, 2022 ballot. They really are fairly easy to understand. What's harder to understand is the motive behind the amendments! There's always a backstory, which is also important to understanding the amendments and why you should vote for or against them. So here's my best attempt at explaining the amendments and why you might vote for or against them:

  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would ban people who are not US citizens from registering to vote or casting ballots in Louisiana elections. While that seems to be a good idea, the LA Constitution already requires a person to be at least 18 years old and a citizen of Louisiana in order to register to vote and to cast a ballot. Plus, the election code requires people applying to register to vote to attest they are US citizens. So this really seems to be a redundancy. Apparently this is a knee-jerk reaction to the fact the some municipalities in other states have allowed non-US citizens to vote in local elections. But that loophole does not exist in LA as municipalities do not have the legal authority to change the rules to allow non-citizens to vote. (I'm voting NO because I believe this is a needless change that only seeks to stir up emotions and gain political points.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 2 would require that the governor's appointees to the State Civil Service Commission be confirmed by the LA Senate. Backstory: 6 of the 7 members of the State Civil Service Commission are appointed by the Governor. (The 7th is elected by the states classified employees themselves.) The governor receives 3 recommendations from six different private universities (including Louisiana Christian University). He then selects one from each region of the state, making sure there is at least one representative from each of the 6 congressional districts. This amendment would require that his appointees go through a Senate confirmation process, which would slow down the process and introduce politics into what should be an apolitical process. (I'm voting NO because I think this just gums up the works.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 3 would require that the governor's appointees to the State Police Commission be confirmed by the LA Senate. Pretty much the same backstory as the previous amendment with recommendations coming from six private universities, including LCU, and the 7th being elected by the classified state police officers. I find it interesting that both of these amendments seek to limit the governor's discretion so it makes me wonder if these two are more about disagreements between the current legislature and governor than about policy. I trust the presidents of the various universities (Centenary, Dillard, LCU, Loyola, Tulane, and Xavier) to put forth good candidates that are above reproach, and I don't think we need to insert additional politics into the process. (I'm voting NO because I think this just gums up the works.)
Well, there you have it! I don't expect you to agree with me on everything. I've often found that the elections often don't go the way of my recommendations - and I'm ok with that! My goal is to try to explain things as simply as I can in hopes that folks will at least be more informed on the amendments and not skip over them. I HIGHLY recommend the PAR Louisiana guide to the amendments which gives a wonderfully balanced approach to explaining them (although they use a lot more words than I do! LOL!).

Don't forget there are several other very important runoff elections on the ballot, including:
  • Alexandria City Council, District 2: Gary Johnson or Roosevelt Johnson
  • School Board District G: Keith Breazeale or Wally Fall
  • Forest Hill Chief of Police: Glynn Dixon or Jay Molinary
  • Lecompte Alderman: Top 2 among Alex Baker, Michael Busch, Butch Butler and Nancy Phillips
Early voting is Nov 26-Dec 3 (excluding Sunday, Nov 27) from 8:30AM-6PM and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Dec 6 from Louisiana's Voter Portal or your Registrar of Voters Office. (Absentee ballots must be received by 4:30PM on Dec 9 and election day is Dec 10 from 7AM-8PM. Don't forget to VOTE!!!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Nov 8, 2022 Constitutional Amendments Overview


Source: Public Domain

I've become a rather irregular blogger, apparently. Over the past 3-4 years I've only been posting my thoughts on the Louisiana Constitutional Amendments that appear on our ballots each year. I do not claim to be an expert on the amendments at all. I simply read the various resources available and try to make an informed decision. And since I am both a pastor and an elected official, I often get asked to share my perspective - and thus this blog post. (BTW, it's ok to disagree with me. I disagree with myself sometimes! LOL!)

This year there are ELEVEN proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution, eight on the November ballot and three on the December runoff ballot. And, as usual, they can be a bit cumbersome. Below I am providing a very brief overview of the eight that will appear on the November 8 ballot, along with my personal recommendation. Early voting runs Oct 25-Nov 1 from 8:30AM-6:00PM daily, excluding Sunday, at the Rapides Parish Courthouse or at Kees Park Community Center in Pineville.

By the way, I get most of my information from the excellent non-partisan 21-page guide put out by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which goes into great lengths to explain each one and give the pros and cons for each one without taking a side. I also draw on the 12-page guide from the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) which does offer their recommendations. Based on that research, here's my brief take on the 8 constitutional amendments that will appear on our ballot on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2022, (and I'll provide a later post on the 3 constitutional amendments that will appear on the Dec 10, 2022):

  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would allow seven different state-controlled trust funds to invest up to 65% of their funds in the stock market. Currently these 7 funds have different caps, from 0% to 35% (or 50% with 2/3 vote from lawmakers) and are largely limited to investing in low-earning instruments like government bonds, CDs, etc. (I'm voting YES because these long term trust funds need long term tools to ensure they keep up with inflation.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 2 would increase the local property tax exemption for veterans with a service-connected disability greater than 50% as verified by the VA. Currently local parishes can call for a vote to double the exemption from $75,000 to $150,000. This amendment does not call for a local vote and would give 100% exemption for 100% service-connected disabilities, $120,000 exemption for 70-99% service-connected disabilities, and $100,000 exemption for 50-69% service connected disabilities. (I'm voting YES because the sacrifices of our men and women disabled in the service of our country should be recognized and rewarded.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 3 would allow civil service employees to support political campaigns of immediate family members. Currently civil service (classified) employees are prohibited from almost all involvement in the political process, primarily based on Louisiana's sordid past of political corruption. (I'm voting NO because the definition of "immediate family member" is too broad (21 different classifications) and this could erode the public's trust in the political system. It is also opposed by most civil service organizations.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 4 would allow local water systems to waive charges for excess water use not caused by the customer. Currently the state constitution says that if the water went through the meter the customer must pay for it (outside of specific circumstances). This amendment would allow local water systems to waive the excess fees if the usage was caused by damage to the water lines outside the control of the customer - for example, flooding, ice storms, etc. (I'm voting YES because it is unfair to force a customer to pay for something outside of his/her control.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 5 would allow local taxing districts more time to decide whether to "roll forward" millages (property taxes) after assessment years. Property values must be reassessed at least every 4 years by the local tax assessor. When the district-wide assessment increases property values local governments either adjust their taxes down to generate the same revenue as previously or "roll forward" the millage to generate more revenue. (I'm voting YES because this is the only way local governments can keep up with inflation Otherwise new taxes would need to be enacted.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 6 would limit increases in property taxes to no more than 10% per year in Orleans Parish. Property values in Orleans Parish have been soaring, sometimes over 50% in the post-Katrina build-back. This has created a burden on taxpayers who have seen their property taxes increase correspondingly. This amendment would phase in property tax increases to no more than 10% per year. Although the situation appears to be unique to Orleans Parish due to post-Katrina issues, because it is a property tax issue, it has to be addressed through the constitution. (I'm voting YES because this is a reasonable approach to a unique situation.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 7 places limits on the definition of "involuntary servitude."  Currently the LA Constitution states that "slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except in the latter case as a punishment for a crime." The new language reads “Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, (but this) does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.” While the wording seems similar, the author of the amendment says the wording was changed after he introduced it and now is overly ambiguous and he now opposes passage of it. (I'm voting NO because the author himself opposes it.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 8 would remove the requirement that those receiving a freeze on their property tax assessments have to annually recertify their income status. Individuals with 100% disabilities who also have an annual tax income of under $100,000 can have their property taxes "frozen" at the current levels, provide that they provide an annual recertification of their income. This amendment would make their frozen property tax assessment permanently without any recertification of income.  (I'm voting NO because the steps to receive this benefit are not overly onerous and provide for checks and balances in the property tax system.)
Well, there you have it! Whether you agree with me or not, hopefully my explanation helps you understand the four amendments you'll be asked to vote on this weekend. By the way, there are quite a few other races on the ballot, including US Senate, US House and Public Service Commission, plus a whole host of local races in Rapides Parish (Police Jury and School Board), plus Alexandria, Ball, Boyce, Forest Hill, Glenmora, Lecompte, McNary, and Woodworth.  You can find your sample ballot by going to the GeauxVote website.

I hope this is helpful! I would love to hear your thoughts on the amendments, even if you disagree with me! And whether we agree or not, don't forget to vote!!!