Changes to La. constitution should be considered carefully
by ALLISON CRYER
This November voters will be asked to decide the fate of nine proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution approved this spring by legislators during the 2012 Regular Session.
Each amendment received at least two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature and depends a majority vote in the statewide election for final passage. The governor cannot veto proposals for constitutional amendments. It is up to the voters to make the final decision, and changes to the state’s fundamental law should not be taken lightly.
A constitution contains the essential elements of government organization, the basic principles of governmental powers and the enumeration of citizen rights, according to the Public Affairs Research council (PAR).
A constitution is meant to have permanence. Typically, constitutional amendments are proposed to authorize new programs, ensure that reforms are not easily undone by future legislation or seek protections for special interests. But many fear that as more detail is placed in the Constitution, more amendments may be required when conditions change or problems arise with earlier provisions.
In Louisiana, changes to the constitution have been quite common over history. Since its implementation in 1974, the Louisiana Constitution, the ninth in the state’s history, has been amended 167 times.
Don’t get me wrong; amendments are necessary. Laws can become outdated, unfair and may need updating. Amendments to the state’s constitution should not be created for a specific situation, but more as a guiding principle.
Because a law backed by a constitutional amendment is much harder to change than statuary law, many special interest groups will try to convince lawmakers to protect their programs from future legislative interference. That is why our state has so many revenue dedications and trust fund provisions.
In recent years, the Legislature has tried to make proposed amendments easier to understand by requiring that the ballot language be written in a “clear, concise and unbiased” manner and that it be phrased in the form of a question. In addition, the legislature is responsible for ensuring that each proposed amendment necessitates voter approval.
But the voters must do their part as well. Before heading to the polls on Nov. 6, voters should try to get a clear understanding of what will happen if the proposed amendment is approved or rejected. PAR has a useful checklist you can print out and bring with you to the polls. They also have detailed information about each amendment so that you can conveniently research each one before making your decision.
While the presidential race has garnered the most media attention lately, the proposed constitutional amendments to our state’s constitution will have an effect on all Louisianians for years to come and should be taken just as seriously.
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