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Constitutional Recommendations

Most of all, we urge all our readers to go to the polls and vote next Saturday, Sept. 30.

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Next Saturday, Sept. 30, is Election Day in Louisiana -- the first since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. On the ballot are two statewide special elections, a host of local races and 13 proposed constitutional amendments. This week, we offer our recommendations on the constitutional amendments. Most of all, we urge all our readers to go to the polls and vote next Saturday, Sept. 30.

Amendments 1 & 2 -- FOR. The first two amendments are closely related. They change the name of the Wetland Restoration and Coastal Fund to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund and dedicate federal royalty revenues to coastal conservation and restoration, as well as hurricane protection. Amendment 2 dedicates revenue from a potential sale of the state's interest in the so-called tobacco settlement to the fund. We support both amendments.

Amendment 3 -- FOR. This proposition creates two regional flood-protection authorities in southeast Louisiana by consolidating some of the local levee boards. The original idea was to create just one levee board for all of southeast Louisiana, but that idea proved politically impossible despite massive public pressure in support of it. If passed, this proposition would still require clarifying legislation to protect and preserve cherished green space and land-use covenants along the New Orleans lakefront, but those matters should be easily addressed in the next legislative session. The most important elements of this reform provide higher professional and ethical standards for levee board membership and take local legislators out of the appointment process. More work remains to be done, but this is an important first step. We urge our readers to vote for Amendment 3.

Amendments 4, 5 & 6 -- AGAINST. All three of these proposed amendments deal with expropriation of private land by government. Louisiana has a long history of protecting the rights of individual property owners. Amendment 4 would weaken those protections by reducing the amount that the state must pay when it takes private property for public use. Amendment 5 ostensibly bars the state from taking property for "economic development" purposes, but its language is shoddy and its "protections" belong in Louisiana's statutes, not in the constitution. Amendment 6 is another proposal that purports to protect property owners by forcing the state to offer expropriated property back to its original owners -- under certain circumstances and subject to certain limitations. Again, the language is cumbersome and not needed in the constitution. If a problem truly exists, it can be solved statutorily. We recommend voting against Amendments 4, 5 and 6.

Amendment 7 -- FOR. Louisiana's constitution currently prohibits investing public dollars in the stock market, with some exceptions. Those exceptions include the Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund, or "8g" fund, and the tobacco settlement's Millennium Trust Fund. Amendment 7 would allow up to 35 percent of the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly to be invested in stocks -- a proportion similar to the other funds. Stocks historically perform better than fixed-rate funds in the long term, and capping the fund's participation in the stock market is a prudent move. We support Amendment 7.

Amendment 8 -- FOR. This proposal would continue homestead exemptions and special senior citizen assessment levels on properties damaged or made uninhabitable by catastrophic natural disasters. Such disasters would have to be declared by the governor, and homeowners who receive this benefit can claim only one homestead exemption at a time -- and they must move back into their damaged homes within five years. We recommend voting for Amendment 8.

Amendment 9 -- AGAINST. Legislators have a habit of requiring local governments and school boards to do certain things and then not giving them the money to do it. This amendment aims to prevent that from happening to school boards. We like the idea, but the language of this proposal is poorly crafted, has too many loopholes and ambiguities, and may not accomplish its stated purpose. We recommend voting against Amendment 9.

Amendment 10 -- FOR. Just as Amendment 7 would allow the Medicaid Trust Fund to invest up to 35 percent of its portfolio in stocks, this proposition would authorize certain endowed college and university funds to invest up to 35 percent of their portfolios in equities. We support Amendment 10.

Amendment 11 -- FOR. This proposed amendment would extend the homestead exemption to properties placed in revocable trusts. The constitution already allows homestead exemptions for properties in irrevocable trusts, but not for property in revocable trusts. The change would apply the exemption to both -- as long as the person establishing the trust continues to occupy the home. The proposal limits each homeowner to one exemption and is therefore prudent. We support Amendment 11.

Amendment 12 -- FOR. The amendment provides a means of filling a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor and makes it consistent with the law for filling vacancies in other statewide offices, other than governor. In the case of the lieutenant governor, the governor would nominate someone who must be confirmed by both the House and Senate. If more than one year remains in the lieutenant governor's term, the person so chosen would serve only until a special election allows voters to fill the vacancy.

Amendment 13 -- FOR. The proposal raises the qualifications for persons eligible to run for judge in Louisiana by increasing the number of years attorneys must have practiced law before running for judge -- from five years to eight in the case of district court judges, and from five years to 10 in the case of appellate judges and Supreme Court justices. We recommend voting for Amendment 13.

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