On Nov. 6, voters across the state will be asked to decide nine proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution. These proposals were approved by legislators during the 2012 Regular Session, meaning each bill received at least a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. The governor cannot veto proposals for constitutional amendments. Since being implemented in 1974, the Louisiana Constitution has been amended 167 times. “Louisiana has a long history of frequent constitutional changes,” notes the Public Affairs Research Council in its Guide to the 2012 Constitutional Amendments. To view arguments for and against these amendments, visit PAR’s website at http://www.parlouisiana.org/. Read IND Monthly’s positions below.

Our recommendations:

1. Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly — No.

The state gets federal dollars to support a number of health care programs for the elderly, provided the state follows the guidelines for spending spelled out by the feds. The state already cannot use the funds for other purposes (evidenced by the fact that it was forced to pay the feds a $120 million settlement when it tried), which makes this amendment unnecessary.

2. Expansion of Gun Rights — No.

You have to dig deeper into this legislation to see that it has the potential to permit courts to overturn laws banning guns on school campuses and other public places. We think the Council for a Better Louisiana broke it down best: “So what is our specific concern? Basically, it’s that if this amendment passes, one could foresee a situation where a student or someone else charged with carrying a firearm on a college campus could challenge the constitutionality of the gun-free campus restriction, thus leaving it to the courts to decide under a new and much higher standard of scrutiny if our current law is too restrictive. Would that happen? No one knows, but CABL feels strongly, in agreement with our universities, that the combination of guns and still maturing students is not a good mix. Opening the possibility that that might occur is not a risk we wish to take.” Read more from CABL here.

3. Earlier Notice of Public Retirement Bills — Yes.

This amendment extends the notice period for the filing of retirement bills, thereby making the process much more transparent. Under the amendment, bills would have to be filed at least 45 days before the session begins and be advertised three times 60 days in advance in the official state journal. The constitution now requires that retirement bills be filed only 10 days before the start of the legislative session and advertised on two separate occasions at least 30 days prior to that in the official state journal.

4. Exemption from Property Taxes for Spouses of Disabled Veterans — Yes.

Louisiana voters in 2010 approved a constitutional amendment allowing local governments, with the approval of their respective voters, to increase the homestead exemption for totally disabled veterans from $75,000 to $150,000. Surviving spouses are able to retain the higher exemption. Amendment 4 allows the surviving spouses to claim the higher exemption even if a veteran died before the law took effect.

5. Pensions of Felons — No.

Louisiana judges already have the authority to order restitution by felons, thereby forcing them to pay for their crimes. This amendment would allow judges to cut the public’s portion of the pension fund of public officials (the portion the official paid into the fund would not be affected) who abuse the public trust while in office. It applies only to “public corruption crimes,” those in which the employee enriched himself or attempted a personal financial gain for himself or a third party or committed a criminal sexual act with a minor. Other states have such loss of retirement benefits laws on their books, and there is no evidence they serve as a deterrent to crime. More important, however, is the fact that judges already have the power to garnish a public servant’s retirement benefits for fines and restitution.

6. Property Tax Exemption in New Iberia — No.

We’re with The Advocate on this one: “New Iberia officials want to annex some surrounding areas into the city limits. To accommodate landowners affected by the move, New Iberia officials want to grant these landowners a limited exemption from municipal property taxes. Approval of this amendment would allow the city to do that with a two-thirds approval of the city council. Whatever the merits of this amendment, it should be considered as a policy question for all communities in Louisiana, not just New Iberia.”

7. Changing Memberships on Boards and Commissions — Yes.

This amendment is pretty straightforward. Louisiana has six major state boards and in an effort to provide geographic balance across the state, one of the constitutional requirements is that there be at least one member from each congressional district. But because Louisiana is losing a congressional seat this year, we need to give these board flexibility in dealing with a new congressional district map. Notes CABL, which also supports Amendment 7: “This is another instance where strict constitutional language requires a constitutional change when something unforeseen happens like the loss of a congressional district. The more permanent solution might have been to propose an amendment that gave the Legislature the authority to statutorily change the makeup within guidelines if the state lost a congressional district.”

8. Non-Manufacturing Tax Exemption Program — Yes.

Louisiana Economic Development wants to extend the property tax exemption beyond just manufacturing businesses as an incentive to attract new businesses to Louisiana. At this time, certain manufacturing businesses are eligible for a five-year local property tax exemption that can be renewed for another five years. Specifically, LED wants to be able to offer an incentive for data service and distribution centers, corporate headquarters and other non-manufacturing businesses, especially those related to technology and research. If this amendment is approved, it would create a 10-year exemption from local property taxes for the targeted businesses that locate or expand here — with protections and limitations. Among them, according to CABL:

While the businesses could receive a general 10-year exemption, they would still have to pay local property taxes on 10-percent of the fair market value of their property or the first $10 million of assessed value, whichever is greater. That means these businesses would be mostly exempt from property taxes, but local governments would still receive some proceeds from the company.
Though the state will administer the program and ultimately determine which businesses are eligible and granted the exemptions, the local governments in each parish have the final say. The exemption of local taxes cannot be granted unless the parish governing authority, affected local municipalities, the school board, the parish law enforcement district or sheriff and the tax assessor agree. If any one of those entities objects, the exemption cannot be granted.
An eligible business must agree to make at least $25 million in new capital investment and create at least 50 new direct jobs. In addition, most of its sales must be targeted to out-of-state customers.

9. More Notice for Crime Prevention District Bills — Yes.

Already, residents of a neighborhood can agree to create neighborhood crime prevention districts, taxing themselves to fund extra police protection within the neighborhood. But before that happens, a local lawmaker must introduce a bill authorizing them to vote on whether to approve the district. The growing popularity of these districts has resulted in some voters not knowing about them until they see the initiative on the ballot. This amendment strengthens public notice requirements for the process of creating neighborhood crime prevention districts, helping to ensure that voters have enough time to understand the proposal and cast an informed vote.

Tax Renewals

There are six millage renewals on the ballot — schools, airport, drainage, police, fire and public library. We urge you to support these property tax renewals, all of which help to bring vital services to our community. If you live in Youngsville, you will be asked to rededicate half of a 1-cent sales tax that currently funds the Police Department (which has a surplus of $1.6 million). Rededicating the sales tax would send the other half of that penny to police and fire protection and infrastructure improvements for the next two years.

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