Thursday, April 18, 2024

Louisiana voters approve four amendments to state constitution

by BIZ Magazine
Voted printed papers on white surface

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

Saturday’s statewide ballot included four proposed changes to the Louisiana Constitution, a charter that’s been amended 209 times since its adoption in 1974. With results not yet official, voters have given overwhelming approval to all of the proposals.

Amendment 1

The amendment prohibits the use of private donations to conduct elections, though the ballot language framed the proposal as a way to stop foreign countries from corrupting local election officials. Its genesis is an unsubstantiated election conspiracy theory that prompted Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and other conservatives to block parish election officials from receiving charitable donations to pay for tents, signs, hand sanitizer and other items needed for the 2020 elections, the first held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Election officials in other states received the same grants, which came from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life. CTCL raised the money through large donations from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Knight Foundation, Google and other American companies and organizations.

Amendment 2

This proposal is a response to the emergency order Gov. John Bel Edwards enacted during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic to restrict public gatherings, including in-person worship services. One far-right Pentecostal pastor was notoriously defiant — Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Central. 

After openly defying the governor’s orders, Spell received six misdemeanor citations that were later dismissed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which ruled the executive orders were an unconstitutional “infringement of the fundamental right of the free exercise of religion.”

The court didn’t outright deny the governor’s authority to order shutdowns during times of emergency but said such orders must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest. Justices ruled that Edwards’ orders weren’t narrowly tailored.

Amendment 2 essentially echoes the state Supreme Court ruling, although it might have no impact on current law. The phrase “highest order of protection” in the ballot language isn’t entirely clear, and it’s possible future justices could interpret it to mean the state may never, in any circumstances, restrict religious services.

Amendment 3

This amendment allows the legislature to use a larger percentage of surplus dollars to reduce pension debt for the teachers and state workers retirement systems. 

The state constitution requires that at least 10% surplus dollars be used to pay down debt in the retirement systems. Amendment 3 raises that minimum percentage to 25%.

Louisiana owes roughly $17 billion in debt for four retirement systems and is on track to pay it off by 2029.

Amendment 4

Louisiana’s constitution previously exempted nonprofit organizations from having to pay property taxes. The approval of Amendment 4 gives local governments the right to revoke that exemption from individual organizations if their properties are cited for at least three serious code violations within a 12-month period.

The proposal aims to address chronic issues in New Orleans, where some residents live in apartments with partially collapsed roofs, water damage, and moldy walls. However, its provisions can be applied statewide. 

Voters will consider four more amendments in the Nov. 18 general election.

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