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Constitutional convention could be on tap for Louisiana


(The Center Square) – As legislation winds through the process to rewrite Louisiana’s constitution, a convention could convene as soon as May 30.

The proposal passed 75-27 in the House on May 7 and has been referred to the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs. House Bill 800 would allow for a limited constitution rewrite.

If signed into law by first-term Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, potential committee hearings could happen in June and July with an Aug. 1 deadline for the committee to present reports to the convention.

Under the proposal by Rep. Gerald Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, the convention would have a deadline of Aug. 15 to submit a draft of the new constitution to the governor, with an election following on Nov. 5 to let voters decide on the new document.

The convention would have 171 delegates, with the majority (39 senators and 105 House members) coming from the Legislature and the remaining 27 appointed by the governor.

Beaullieu said one of the keys to lawmakers working on the issue is the leadership of Landry. He made a constitutional overhaul a key plank of his campaign. He also says a constitutional convention is important because of the half-billion dollars budget shortfall that lawmakers will face next year as a temporary 0.45-cent sales tax expires.

“Having a governor who is in support of it (constitutional convention) is very important and that’s an important time to do it when you have someone at the top that’s really pushing it,” Beaullieu said on a webinar hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

A rewrite would allow convention delegates to determine what should stay in the constitution and what should be transitioned to statute instead, with a priority on eliminating duplications and outdated language. The convention would also be able to add new requirements for the adoption of constitutional amendments.

Jim Tucker, an advocate of a constitutional convention and the former Republican House Speaker from 2008 to 2012, says that due to the 1974 constitution, fiscal policy can be a rollercoaster in Louisiana.

“We’ve had very little economic growth and really it’s at a point now where the constitution has so much tied up in it that without getting it fixed, we are going to be unable to move forward and have this state at this point catch up to our other Southern peers so I feel very very strongly that that this is the way we have to go,” Tucker said on the webinar. “To Governor Landry’s credit, he’s been the first governor that I’ve served with that’s willing to take up this baton and trying to move it forward.”

Tucker also said that one of the issues with the state’s constitution is a lack of flexibility for lawmakers. An amendment would likely be necessary to create veteran or drug courts, which are special courts designed to help specific populations especially those with addiction issues.

The convention will avoid a whole host of issues, including individual rights, the state’s K-12 funding formula known as the Minimum Foundation Program and other issues such as the state’s defined benefit pension system and district attorneys and sheriffs.

Changes are needed to the state’s constitution, which has been amended an incredible 216 times, with the amendments alone almost as wordy as the original document.

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.