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Voting on 14 constitutional amendments

By Rolfe McCollister

Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Oct 13, 2014

In just a few weeks we will be going to the polls to vote on a number of races and 14 constitutional amendments. In this column I will share my views on the amendments, explaining which I endorse and will vote for. As I said in my last column, the Public Affairs Research Council notes we have amended our constitution 175 times since 1974, and now we must vote on 14 more. Many of these could be handled by statute, but often the Legislature wants to avoid a governor’s veto or wants to get a measure put into the constitution so it is very hard to overturn later. That is an abuse of the constitution, and voters should not allow it.

Most of the time, the amendments “sound good,” and many have a noble purpose. But at the same time, some changes should not be part of the constitution. I will oppose those on principle and on the basis of common sense. In fact, Amendment No. 7 is included this year to fix a problem with a 2010 amendment that was passed. One flaw was previously detected, so another amendment was passed in 2012 to correct it. And then another flaw was discovered, so now there is a second fix you have to vote on in 2014. It is sometimes simply insane what we do with our state constitution, and as you will note below, I say NO more often than YES.

My thanks to PAR for its guide to the amendments. It lays out the facts. You can find the complete guide at parlouisiana.org.

If legislators are going to avoid doing their job of debating and creating laws and instead put numerous issues on the ballot to let the voters do their job for them, maybe we should reduce their pay by 1% for each amendment. That’s a 14% reduction for this year. (I bet that rule would trim down the amendments.)

So here are my recommendations on changes to the constitution:

[…]

Amendment No. 13: NO

Orleans Lower Ninth Ward vacant property. This amendment may sound good and may be well-intentioned, but it seems the execution was flawed. This would allow lots in the Lower Ninth Ward to be purchased by certain groups (but not developers) for $100 (though recent appraisals have been around $3,600), and not all buyers would be required to build.

The Bureau of Governmental Research in New Orleans looked very closely at this issue, the amendment and the companion legislation, which voters don’t see. BGR is against this amendment and explains, “Given the extremely high vacancy rate in certain sections of the Lower Ninth Ward, a clear strategy for the future is warranted.

However, the proposed amendment would open the way for the Legislature to usurp control from the city and [the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority] over the decidedly local issue of neighborhood redevelopment. The companion legislation is also seriously flawed. It lacks adequate safeguards to ensure that property is redeveloped.

The sale price set forth in the legislation is arbitrary and would cause NORA to lose money on each sale. Finally, allowing state lawmakers to order local government entities to sell property under terms set by the Legislature sets a bad precedent that could be expanded to other jurisdictions.”

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