Since then, voters have been making piecemeal changes to the constitution, doubling the length of the charter over time by approving 123 proposed amendments. It's a fickle process; the Legislature usually approves amendments in a hurried fashion, with little thought to costs or ramifications. Then the public is forced to decide on highly complex issues ' one of the many reasons dozens of ballot initiatives have failed over the years.
"Louisiana constitutional history is the unstable backbone of its unstable political culture," wrote LSU professor Wayne Parent in his most recent book.
Possible changes to the constitution are endless if Louisiana entered into a convention. Based on the state's perpetual budget problems and its dire need for money, delegates could decide to tinker with income tax rates or remove the two-thirds required vote for a fee to pass the Legislature. On the flipside, as a sweetener to help the entire proposal pass voter approval, delegates might also increase the homestead exemption, thus cutting property taxes.
Â They might even decide to address the growing controversy over south Louisiana's levee boards by consolidating them under one agency ' the 1973 convention merged about 100 boards into 20 executive departments. In New Orleans, where population numbers are questionable, positions and offices special to the parish might be cut to reflect fewer residents.
More than a million people were reportedly dislodged after the twisted sisters hit south Louisiana, which could significantly decrease the state's population and demographics. A provocative question has cropped up: Does a constitution drafted more than 30 years ago still apply to the state that exists today?
Elliott Stonecipher, a Shreveport-based political analyst and demographer, says resident outmigration was already increasing prior to the hurricanes. The state had a net loss of more than 75,000 people from 1995 to 2000, according to census figures. But the physical and psychological damage inflicted by the hurricanes could push tens of thousands ' and possibly more ' people out of the state permanently, reminiscent of the aftermath of the 1927 floods.
"We were already going to be third or fourth worse, as far as population, but now we are solidly last," says Stonecipher. "We have to configure ourselves for an entirely new reality. We are no longer the same state, and that trend has been happening for years. We should have had a constitutional convention 10 or 15 years ago."
Just in New Orleans, he says, there has been an annual outmigration of about 3,700 people. The Crescent City saw its population peak in 1960 with about 628,000 residents, but it's diminished over the years as Hurricanes Hilda, Betsy and Camille came to visit. Now Louisiana is faced with a challenge it should have recognized years ago, says Stonecipher.
He believes the current goals of the administration ' downsizing government, rebuilding New Orleans, reorganizing the tax structure ' can best be accomplished through a constitutional convention. The current formula will not get the job done, he says.
"Every special session is just a rearranging of the deck chairs," Stonecipher says. "All you can do is go in and prolong the agony. At some point, you have to blow the whistle on yourself. Katrina may be an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, but the sentence was 45 years long. We slept through the alarm clock."
Barry Erwin, president of a Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit that monitors the activities of state government, says there's some merit to the argument. But for Louisiana to successfully execute a convention, there needs to be strong leadership from the top. If it's not there, then the state risks opening a Pandora's Box of policy changes.
"Our constitution is now more dated than it was before the storms," Erwin says. "It creates levels and layers of government that we don't need anymore, and in particular in New Orleans. If we're going to be a smaller state with fewer resources, we need to peel back these layers of government bureaucracy. And to do that, you just can't change the laws, you have to change the constitution."
Others who have been there and done that, however, find even the notion a waste of time. They argue there are more immediate needs to address and any necessary constitutional changes can be carried out piecemeal through constitutional amendments.
C.B. Forgotston, Jr., a New Orleans attorney and senior staff member from the 1973 constitutional convention, says most of the state's challenges right now are budgetary and do not require altering the constitution ' they can be done statutorily. Even sweeping changes to the charter can be accomplished in a session through a constitutional amendment, he adds, if voters grant ultimate approval.
"There is nothing inherent in this constitution that legislators with guts can't fix in one session," Forgotston says. "[Constitutional] articles can be addressed in one fell swoop through constitutional amendments. That is the safest way to do it."
And there's always the fear that lawmakers will get into a convention and change things on the sly. Forgotston remembers the 1973 gathering as a "battle royal" over provisions and protections. "I would never want to go through that again," he says.
Butch Speer, the clerk of the House of Representatives who served as a student worker in the 1973 convention shortly after he began his career in state government, says there is little need for a constitutional convention right now. For starters, the state is still grieving and has yet to accept the fact that massive changes will be needed, he says.
Additionally, it's questionable whether the state can afford a constitutional convention ' the per diem for delegates in 1973 was $50 per day for an entire year.
"It wouldn't be a cheap proposition," Speer says. "It couldn't be accomplished in a short period of time, either. We would need several months to write a proposal. Then we'd have to elect delegates. Just deciding who would go would be a complicated and time-consuming process."
The Legislature has not been receptive to constitutional conventions in recent years; most proposals have failed to garner enough votes to make it through the process. Sen. Jay Dardenne, a Baton Rouge Republican, says there has been some chatter about it, but it has yet to gain any real momentum.
Dardenne calls a convention unnecessary at this time, especially in light of the policy changes required in coming months and years. He also questions whether there is true leadership present to guide the state through such a process. But he says it's an option that should be closely monitored.
"Looking ahead to the future, the best way to safeguard these coming changes could be with the constitution," Dardenne says. "It's all just premature right now. But it will be an ongoing topic as we draw closer to election time, and it's a very legitimate topic for discussion."
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.