Election Day is now only three weeks away. In addition to the presidential race and contests for Congress, a host of local and statewide referenda are on the Nov. 6 ballot. In the coming weeks, we will make recommendations in most of the local races. This week, we offer our recommendations on the nine proposed amendments to Louisiana's constitution. Over the years, our state constitution has been amended more than 150 times, bolstering claims that it is cluttered with too many details — many of which need to be tweaked to keep up with the times. So it is this year.
Amendment 1 — Medicaid Trust for the Elderly. Louisiana established this trust fund in 2000, and all the funds deposited into it came from the feds. The proposed amendment would bar lawmakers and governors from "raiding" the fund to spend on other purposes. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 1.
Amendment 2 — "Expanding" Gun Rights. Louisiana already protects gun rights vigorously. Amendment 2 would expand gun rights by, among other things, imposing the highest legal standard of review (known as "strict scrutiny") to any laws that restrict gun ownership or possession. We support responsible gun ownership and our state's hunting traditions, but this proposal is fraught with unintended yet quite foreseeable consequences. For example, a student who wants to carry a gun on a college campus could challenge the law banning guns in a college classroom — and the courts could side with the student under a "strict scrutiny" standard. On a more fundamental level, no one is threatening to take away anyone's guns in Louisiana. Amendment 2 "solves" problems that don't exist, but it could create problems that we really don't need. We urge our readers to vote AGAINST Amendment 2.
Amendment 3 — Public Notice of Retirement Bills. This proposal would require additional public notice of the filing of retirement bills by lawmakers. It's a minor tweak in the law that, because it's in the constitution, requires voter approval. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 3.
Amendment 4 — Property Tax Exemption for Spouses of Disabled Veterans. Voters already approved an amendment allowing individual parishes to double the $75,000 homestead exemption for veterans with a total disability that was service related. Surviving spouses can continue to enjoy the higher exemption once it's granted. Amendment 4 would allow surviving spouses to claim the higher exemption even if a veteran died before the law took effect. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 4.
Amendment 5 — Forfeiture of Retirement for Convicted Public Employees. State law already allows seizure of portions of a convicted public official's retirement under certain circumstances. Amendment 5 would give the courts greater authority to include forfeiture of all public contributions to a crooked public servant's retirement package if the public official is convicted of crimes related to his or her public office. The amendment affects only those hired, rehired or elected on or after Jan. 1, 2013. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 5.
Amendment 6 — New Iberia Property Tax Exemption. The state constitution lays down the rules on property tax exemptions, even though property taxes are local in nature. If a parish or city wants to grant a special exemption, it requires a constitutional change. It's awkward for voters statewide to have to vote on such local matters. Nonetheless, we recommend voting FOR Amendment 6.
Amendment 7 — Membership on Boards and Commissions. Membership on some state boards and commissions is set forth in the Louisiana constitution — and tied to Louisiana's congressional districts, which in recent decades have steadily decreased in number. That requires changing the constitution every 10 years to reflect those decreases. Amendment 7 addresses the latest diminution in Louisiana's congressional clout as relates to state boards and commissions. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 7.
Amendment 8 — Local Property Tax Exemption for Non-Manufacturing Businesses. This amendment would allow the state Board of Commerce and Industry to grant local property tax exemption contracts to certain non-manufacturing businesses in parishes that choose to participate in the exemption program. Proponents bill it as the top economic development issue on the ballot. Currently, only "manufacturing" businesses qualify for such exemptions. Amendment 8 would expand the list of eligible companies, with certain limitations. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 8.
Amendment 9 — Crime Prevention Districts. This amendment would require more notice to voters about bills that create local crime prevention districts, including whether and how much such districts could impose "parcel fees" within a proposed district. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 9.