Wednesday, July 24, 2024

More details released for Gov. Jeff Landry’s plan to rewrite Louisiana Constitution

by BIZ Magazine

BY: JULIE O’DONOGHUE – Louisiana Illuminator

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry wants to hold a convention to rewrite the state constitution between May 20 and July 15.

Legislators and Gov. Jeff Landry’s handpicked delegates would meet between May 20 and July 15 to rewrite Louisiana’s Constitution, under a preliminary plan made public Wednesday.

With the governor’s blessing, Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, submitted House Bill 800 that outlines the process for overhauling the current constitution adopted 50 years ago in Edwin Edwards’ first term as governor.

Beaullieu’s proposal has to get approval from two-thirds of each legislative chamber before the convention can convene. Landry doesn’t appear to have the votes yet to do so, particularly in the Louisiana Senate.

If it passes, the plan calls for 171 delegates, made up of 144 state lawmakers and 27 other people Landry would select, to run the constitution-writing process. The convention would take place in the House of Representatives’ chamber, and possibly other places in the city of Baton Rouge if they run out of space at the state Capitol.

Private donors would be allowed to pay for the convention’s activities, though they would be required to disclose their names and the amount of their donations. Public funding could also be used, according to the bill.

Voters would still have to approve any new constitution the convention delegates write. Should they finish their proposal, it would be on the November ballot and could go into effect in 2025.

The bill calls for the constitutional convention to start two weeks before the Legislature’s current law-making session ends on June 3, which could create scheduling difficulties for lawmakers.

It’s not clear when they would find the time to rewrite the foundational governing document of the state during their busiest time of year. Legislators are typically still voting on dozens of bills each day and putting together the state budget for the next fiscal year in late May and early June.

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said he wasn’t willing to speed up the Senate’s work to adjourn the regular session early to go into a constitutional convention.

“I’m not interested in rushing through the process” of the regular legislative session, Henry said in an interview Wednesday. “[All the lawmakers] need to understand what’s in the budget, and we are going to need until June 3 to do that.”

Henry also said he was “1,000% sure” senators would not be willing to stay in Baton Rouge beyond June 3 for a constitutional convention, let alone until the middle of July.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time to accomplish what Landry wants done.

Beaullieu suggested lawmakers could fit in the constitution convention by suspending the regular session to focus on it for a couple of weeks. The legislators could also try to hold their regular session and the constitutional convention simultaneously.

“I think we can have a constitutional convention in two weeks,” he said.

Landry is expected to ask delegates to slim down the current constitution by removing sections and placing them regular state law. Any substantive language would not be eliminated from overall state law outright, nor would any new language be added during the rewriting process.

But items removed from the constitution and put into state statute would then be easier to repeal or change.

Provisions in the Louisiana Constitution enjoy more protections. Changes to them require a two-thirds vote from the Legislature and approval from voters in a statewide election. Statutes, by comparison, can be undone or amended with a simple majority vote from the state House and Senate.
Legislators are still asking the governor for more information about what he wants to accomplish. Before voting in favor of a convention, they have said they need to know more about what Landry intends to remove from the constitution.

“We need more clarity on what the new constitution is going to look like,” Henry said. “What’s the goal here?”

The governor has not provided the details of what he specifically wants to change, though areas that deal with budget, taxes and civil service will likely be targeted.

Beaullieu said there is no draft constitution to share with skeptical lawmakers yet, but legislative leaders are looking at forming a working group to figure out what areas of the document would be the focus of a convention.

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