Sunday, May 26, 2024

Louisiana governor, lawmakers want changes to state constitution

by BIZ Magazine

(The Center Square) — Gov. Jeff Landry and a free market nonprofit are proposing what Landry terms a “reorganization” of Louisiana’s overly complex constitution.

The first-term Republican governor wants lawmakers to tackle constitutional changes in next year’s fiscal session. He also said legislative leaders are united in the need to call a constitutional convention.

“This is all about giving the Legislature the tools to address the problems that we know are coming and the opportunity to make the changes that the people not only are demanding, but are anxiously waiting for,” Landry said at a Thursday news conference.

Landry said the changes mainly focus on what lawmakers can do in a time of fiscal shortfall. He said the goal is to attract residents of Democratic-run states “where they tax too much and there’s no liberty” and better opportunities for their families. He also said the present constitution is a barrier to wholesale reform of the state’s tax code.

“We’ve allowed special interests to riddle the constitution up,” Landry said, spotlighting the document’s 216 amendments. Those amendments put together are nearly as long as the original document.

One of those fiscal issues that handcuffs appropriators is K-12 education funding. The state has a funding formula called the Minimum Foundation Program. Because of an amendment to the constitution, lawmakers only can vote to approve or deny the calculation of the program and lack the power to amend it.

In 2024, K-12 spending constitutes 33% of the state’s $11.8 billion general fund budget.

The governor has the ability to reduce the appropriations with a two-thirds consent of both the House and Senate.

The nonprofit Pelican Institute for Public Policy, in a report called A Principled Pathway to a Model Louisiana Constitution, says the existing 1974 constitution has more than doubled in size due to the amendment process. The constitution logs in at 72,000 words, the fourth largest nationwide and three times longer than the average constitution.

Pelican recommends that a new state constitution:

  • Protect fundamental rights. The existing constitution has no state bill of rights.
  • Enact a framework for government.
  • Give policymakers the fiscal flexibility to respond to current events.
  • Should be written in an easily accessible format that allows citizens to understand it and also has room for interpretation by the judiciary.
  • Omit unnecessary details that the report says can “handcuff future generations.”

“Our current constitution, which has been amended more than 200 times since it was adopted in 1974, which means those special interests have worked hard to stake out their ‘pieces of the pie,’ leaving less for regular folks across the state,” said Daniel Erspamer, the CEO for the Pelican Institute, in a release. “The moment to accomplish this goal is now. Before it’s too late and the status quo special interest swamp grips our government even harder. Their fear mongering is getting louder and louder.”

Another recommendation by Pelican is that “constitutional dedications,” which are funding requirements for various programs such as K-12 education, be eliminated to allow lawmakers to manage all parts of the budget.

The report also says that consideration should be made for taking some elected administrative positions and transitioning them to a gubernatorial appointment.

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