In The News › 10 Constitutional Amendments are on Nov. 2 ballot

Oct 20, 2010

Source: 2theadvocate.com

Filed under: On the Ballot

10 Constitutional Amendments are on Nov. 2 ballot

Early voting in East Baton Rouge Parish

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
By Michelle Millhollon
2theadvocate.com

Early voting runs Oct. 19 through Tuesday, Oct. 26, (except Sunday, Oct. 24) from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The locations are:
• Governmental Building, 222 St. Louis St., Room 201
• Court Plaza Building, 10500 Coursey Blvd., Room 203
• Motor Vehicle Building in Baker, 2250 Main St.
• Secretary of State Archives Building, 3851 Essen Lane.

Amid the clamor over the U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor races, Roland Dartez is quietly pushing the merits of a constitutional amendment impacting how much money the state must share with parishes on mineral tax collections.

“We’re just looking for a fair share,” said Dartez, who represents parishes across the state as executive director of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana.

Early voting opened Tuesday for a Nov. 2 ballot that is crammed with political races and 10 constitutional amendments.

The amendments include complex changes to property taxes, retirement systems and the courts in the constitution that Louisiana adopted in 1974. In nearly four decades, voters have approved 155 changes and rejected 68 proposed amendments.

One of the amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot is in response to the firestorm that erupted when legislators tried to double their pay a few years ago. Another proposed change is designed to help Hurricane Katrina victims who still are struggling to rebuild. Yet another amendment is so intricate that it is questionable how many voters actually will understand the implications of their vote.

Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said most of the amendments are technical and “get pretty far down in the weeds of government.”

PAR is a Baton Rouge-based public policy research organization that has researched each amendment on the ballot. The analysis is available at http://www.la-par.org/.

The amendment being pushed by Dartez and the Police Jury Association is a second stab at making a change that voters rejected two years ago.

Proposed Amendment No. 2 would allow parishes to keep more of the severance tax the state collects on natural resources produced in their areas. Currently, there is an $850,000 cap on the amount of severance tax revenue that a parish can receive from the state. The amendment would lift the ceiling to $1.85 million the first year and $2.85 million in the years after that. Half of the extra revenue that parishes receive through the amendment would have to be spent on roads and bridges.

The amendment also would carve out up to $10 million a year for the conservation of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Dartez blames the failure of the amendment in 2008 on the high gas prices that were in place at the time. He said voters mistakenly thought the amendment would increase gas taxes.

He said the amendment would impact 28 parishes, including eventually generating an additional $1.7 million a year for East Baton Rouge Parish.

State Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston and the amendment’s sponsor, said the severance tax distribution has been tinkered with a couple of times over the years and been rejected once.

“It failed the last time. It passed the time before that. So we’re one and one right now,” he said.

Gallot said he attempted to clean up the ballot language to make the issue clearer for voters.

“What this does is give the producing parishes a greater portion,” he said.

Also on the ballot:

Amendment 1

The first amendment on the ballot deals with salary increases for state officials —something that became a hot topic in 2008 when legislators tried to double their pay.

The amendment would prohibit pay raises for lawmakers, statewide elected officials and Public Service Commission members from becoming effective before the next term in office. In other words, an instant pay raise would no longer be allowed.

Brandt said the proposed change is probably the one that will resonate the most with voters. “(It’s) the only one that voters would really be interested in,” he said.

Two years ago, recall petitions against seven legislators and the governor were pushed when lawmakers doubled their pay. At first, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would let the raises stand. Following the public outcry, he changed his mind and vetoed the increases.

State Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, said he proposed the constitutional amendment because of the public outrage over the legislative pay raises.

Amendment 3

Under this proposal, parishes could hold elections to double the homestead exemption for disabled veterans and their spouses. The veteran’s service-connected disability rating would have to be 100 percent in order to qualify. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the change would cause local revenue to fall by $2 million.

Currently, the homestead exemption in Louisiana exempts the first $7,500 of a property’s assessed value from taxes. The amendment would create the possibility of the first $15,000 of a property’s assessed value being exempt from taxes for some veterans. To qualify, veterans’ homes would have to be worth more than $75,000.

Amendment 4

This amendment targets taxing authorities whose members were not entirely elected by voters. The change would limit their ability to raise millage rates to a maximum 2.5 percent increase over the previous year’s collections. Excluded from the limitation would be taxing authorities that are special fire protection or fire department districts or ports, port harbor and terminal districts.

According to PAR, the amendment would impact “recreation, lighting, garbage, sewer, drainage, library and hospital districts” as well as “authorities that serve special populations and industries such as councils on aging.”

Amendment 5

The amendment extends by up to five years a special assessment level for homeowners who are unable to occupy their residences within five years of a disaster.

The initial extension would be for two years. The assessor then would be able to grant three additional one-year extensions.

The proposal was authored by lawmakers who represent districts impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Amendment 6

Changes in benefit provisions that would increase costs of retirements for public employees – called actuarial costs – would require a two-thirds approval of the Legislature. Today such changes need only a majority vote of lawmakers.

PAR noted that the amendment’s impact would reach beyond the four state and nine statewide retirement systems. Over the long run, the amendment could curtail pension expenses, PAR stated.

Amendment 7

In what is recognized as one of most complex amendments on the ballot. The amendment would do a couple of things, including tinkering with the rules on auctions involving taxpayers’ property. Notably, it would allow tax collectors to seize and sell moveable property for interest, penalties and costs as well as for delinquent taxes.

According to PAR, the changes would benefit tax collectors and tax sale purchasers.

The Bureau of Governmental Research said the amendment would “promote redevelopment of property by making it easier for bidders to assume outright ownership of properties with unpaid taxes.”

Amendment 8

The proposal would prevent property that was expropriated amid public health or safety concerns from having to first be offered back to the original property owner when it is sold or leased. The change would apply to property held for not more than 30 years.

Amendment 9

This amendment aims to change the way appeals of decisions on workers’ compensation claims are handled. Currently, appeals in civil matters are considered by a panel of judges. When one appellate court judge dissents in a civil matter that is to be modified or reversed, the case must be reargued before a panel of at least five judges. The amendment would make those rules also apply to appeals in workers’ compensation cases, which initially are handled by administrative hearing officers.

Amendment 10

Currently, defendants in criminal cases can waive their right to a jury trial except in death penalty cases. But the constitution places no time limits on that decision. Amendment 10, if a majority of voters agree, would force defendants to declare at least 45 days prior to their trial that they want a judge to determine their fate. Also the amendment would state the waiver would be irrevocable. Juries still would make determinations in death penalty cases.

During the legislative session, proponents characterized the amendment as a victims’ right issue that would prevent defendants from waiving a jury trial when they think the judge would go easier on them than a jury.

Oct 20, 2010

Source: 2theadvocate.com

Filed under: On the Ballot

Fair Use Notice

This site occasionally reprints copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We make such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues and to highlight the accomplishments of our affiliates. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is available without profit. For more information go to: US CODE: Title 17,107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.