Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Alexander: Summary of recommendations for 2023 Constitutional Amendments

by BIZ Magazine

There will be four constitutional amendments on the ballot for Oct. 14 election and four more constitutional amendments on the Nov. 18 ballot.  Please know that there are often credible, principled reasons to view such measures differently.  Below are my respectful recommendations.

Constitutional Amendments on October 14th Ballot

 Amendment #1:  Prohibiting Donations to Conduct Elections 

“Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of funds, goods or services from a foreign government or a nongovernmental source to conduct elections and election functions and duties unless the use is authorized by the secretary of state through policies established in accordance with law?”

This Amendment, otherwise known as the “Zuckerbucks” bill in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars Meta Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, spent trying to influence elections in 2020, is an important one.  It is designed to prohibit the use of financial or other donations from outside sources such as a non-governmental source (i.e., Zuckerberg) or a foreign government to administer (i.e., influence) elections in Louisiana.

 Recommendation: Yes.

 Amendment #2:   Protection for Worship in Churches.

“Do you support an amendment to provide that the freedom of worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection?”

This reinforces what the U.S. Supreme Court has already provided for free exercise of religion.  Namely, providing the highest level of constitutional protection for the freedom to worship—specifically in a church or another place of worship—requiring courts to apply the strictest level of judicial review (Strict Scrutiny) to challenges when government bodies restrict access to places of worship.  The current constitutional protections don’t specifically single out houses of worship for this protection, but this does.

Recommendation:  Yes.

Amendment #3:  Surplus Spending on Retirement Debt

“Do you support an amendment to require that a minimum of twenty-five percent (25%) of any money designated as non-recurring state revenue be applied toward the balance of the unfunded accrued liability of the state retirement systems?”

This Amendment would require lawmakers to use 25% of any state surplus to pay retirement debt for the four state retirement systems.  Currently, the requirement is for lawmakers to spend 10% of any state surplus to pay retirement debt for two state retirement systems through 2029.

Recommendation:  No recommendation.  Louisiana has a $17 billion-dollar unfunded accrued liability in pension benefits, but it also has a multi-billion-dollar backlog of deficient roads, bridges, coastal restoration projects and water systems to which state dollars could flow.  Voters should decide what state spending they prioritize regarding this surplus revenue.

Amendment #4:   Property Tax Exemptions for Nonprofit Organizations

“Do you support an amendment to deny a property tax exemption to a non-profit corporation or association that owns residential property in such a state of disrepair that it endangers public health or safety?”

This would allow local government officials to remove a property tax exemption from nonprofit organizations that lease housing (apartments, etc.) and have repeated public health or safety violations.  Otherwise, the current system of property tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations—including for those that have repeated public health and safety violations—would be maintained.

Recommendation:  Yes.

Constitutional Amendments on November 18th Ballot

[Note: I will more fully address these amendments before the Nov. 18th election]

 Amendment #1:   Deadlines to Veto Bills and Rules for Veto Sessions

This would allow lawmakers to try to override a governor’s veto without calling a separate veto session if they are already in a legislative session.  It also adds further details about the deadlines for a governor to veto bills.  Otherwise, lawmakers’ attempts to override a governor’s vetoes would occur in a separate session.

Amendment #2:  Repeal of Inactive Special Funds in the Constitution

This Amendment would remove six inactive funds with zero or near-zero balances from the Louisiana Constitution.  Otherwise, these six inactive funds would remain.

Amendment #3 Property Tax Exemptions for First Responders

This would allow a parish governing authority to give an extra property tax exemption to police, firefighters and certain other first responders who own homes and live in the given parish. 

Amendment #4:  Rule Changes for the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund 

This would tighten the rules on the allowed use of a seven-year-old state trust fund that collects dollars from corporate tax collections and oil and gas production in Louisiana making it more difficult for elected officials to spend this trust fund money. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Royal Alexander is a Shreveport attorney

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