Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Committee Waiting on Constitutional Convention Vote Before Considering Amendments to Current Constitution

by BIZ Magazine

By Elizabeth White | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—Republicans on a House committee refused Wednesday to pass proposed constitutional amendments, preferring to wait for a constitutional convention sought by Gov. Jeff Landry. 

Nine constitutional amendments were on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee’s agenda, but only two passed. The other seven were deferred due to member concerns over how they would be implemented if the Legislature authorized a limited constitutional convention in late May and early June. 

House Bills 48 and 49 were the only two constitutional amendments that advanced. Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, sponsored both, and they stemmed from the chaotic way that major budget decisions were made in the last half hour of last year’s legislative session.

HB 48 would require that House-Senate conference committee reports for bills appropriating money be posted 48 hours before they are voted on. It passed through the committee 9-6. 

HB 49 would allow the Legislature to extend a session in two-day increments for up to six days if requirements outlined in HB 48 are not met. The committee passed it unanimously. 

Bacala assured the panel that if there is a constitutional convention, he will not advance either bill. 

Bacala’s bills were the first to be heard at the meeting, and they prompted concerns about constitutional amendments conflicting with a possible convention to arise. 

“I absolutely agree with you, but I’m not going to support a constitutional amendment simply because we are probably going into a constitutional convention,” Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, said. 

House Bill 273, by Rep. Rodney Schamerhorn, R-Hornbeck, calls for a constitutional amendment that would impose term limits on some local governing authorities. Schamerhorn voluntarily deferred the bill after members expressed their support for the amendment but said they would not vote for it given the possibility of the convention. 

“I fully support what you’re doing; the timing is just horrible,” Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur, said. “I hate that this is the circumstances. But I’m also going to have to not support putting another constitutional amendment on the ballot in the fall.”

Rep. Kyle Green, D-Marrero, sponsored five constitutional amendments, including House Bill 157, which would create term limits for statewide elected officials. After it was defeated 9-7, Green deferred consideration of his other bills. 

“Mr. Vice Chairman, seeing the writing on the wall, I’m not going to belabor or waste any more of the members’ time,” Green said. 

Throughout the hearing, multiple members of the committee took issue with their fellow members refusing to vote in favor of or hear out the proposed constitutional amendments given the possibility of a convention. 

“We need to be debating these bills on the merits of the bill itself, not on the fact that we might have a constitutional convention,” Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said. 

Marcelle also said that she had asked if the proposal for a constitutional convention would limit debate and was told that it would not. 

Testimony also continued on House Bill 800, the bill that would authorize the limited constitutional convention. Members and critics continuing to take issue with the May-June timeline presented for the convention since it would overlap with the legislative session.

The committee is expected to vote on the bill next Tuesday. 

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