BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Another election year, another crowded ballot for Louisiana voters who are expected to decipher a list of complex proposals to amend the state constitution.
Since it was rewritten in the mid-1970s, the Louisiana Constitution has been amended 167 times, with 239 amendments proposed. In some years, voters have had to sift through 15 or more constitutional changes on one ballot — if they bothered to read that far down the list.
It's a symptom of a cluttered document that rather than providing the guiding and organizational principles for government has instead become full of detailed policy better left to state statute.
"A constitution is meant to have permanence," the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, or PAR, which has tracked constitutional changes for decades, said in one of its annual reviews of proposed amendments.
The organization added, "The concept of the constitution as a relatively permanent statement of basic law fades with the adoption of many amendments."
Complaints are lodged year after year in the Legislature about the intricacy of the constitution, which has become a symptom of distrust in government and manipulation of the legislative process. Louisiana makes more regular constitutional changes than most other states, according to PAR.
Items are locked into the constitution to make them more difficult to undo, since an amendment requires two-thirds support of the House and Senate and backing from voters.
Funding plans have been put into the constitution as Louisianians suspicious of the intentions of politicians pushed for certain streams of money to be protected and dedicated to specific tasks, like the earmarking of lottery revenue for education.
Special interest groups seek to get constitutional protection for their programs to make them less vulnerable to legislative meddling.
Meanwhile, lawmakers seeking to score easy political points over the years have sought to include language in the constitution, like a protection of the "freedom to hunt, fish and trap," a freedom unlikely to ever be under attack in the Sportsman's Paradise.
Often, issues put before voters in constitutional amendments are arcane, highly-specialized or only applicable to one municipality. And in a problematic twist, as more gets written into the constitution, that could require even more amendment proposals for voters as situations change or problems develop with the provisions added.
In recent years, voters have been asked to decide issues of retirement investments, changes to the dates of legislative sessions, job protections for certain state workers, bidding rules for tax sale auctions, legal rules for worker's compensation claims cases and the mechanics of tax sales for property in New Orleans.
Statistics over years of elections have shown that people often skip making decisions on constitutional amendments when in the voting booth, with fewer votes cast the farther down the ballot an amendment is.
The situation is unlikely to change anytime soon, since it would take a constitutional convention to fully revamp the state's guiding document. That's a lengthy endeavor that lawmakers have shown little interest in pursuing when their colleagues have proposed the idea.
The Nov. 6 ballot proposes a hefty list of questions for voters on gun rights, pension revocation, property tax breaks and more. Nine amendments are proposed to the Louisiana Constitution.
In the most attention-grabbing item, voters will decide whether to set a tougher standard for restricting the use of weapons and whether to remove a provision that gives the Legislature explicit authority to limit concealed handguns.
Other amendments would: allow a judge to strip a public official's retirement benefits starting next year if the person was convicted of a felony related to his office; extend an existing property tax break for disabled veterans to their spouses; change the way crime prevention districts can be enacted around the state; and require more advance filing for bills involving public employee retirement.
People would be advised to do their homework before they get to the voting booth.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.Tags: