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Half of 10 proposed amendments merit approval

Out of over-eagerness and/or because it’s a bloated document, the Legislature has made it time again to contemplate numerous changes to the Louisiana Constitution, after voters approved two of them in October. Several deserve passage.

#1 would prevent legislators from giving themselves pay raises during their current terms. One could argue the political process can take care of this, as it did in 2008 when heavy public opposition to a more-than-doubling drew a gubernatorial veto. But if we are to consider the Constitution as a recitation of basic core principles by which to organize government, limit its power, and to enumerate the rights of the people, a fundamental rule should be that officials cannot enrich themselves while in office. The amendment is consistent with this belief.

#2 would allow more severance tax revenues to be retained by parishes that earn them; the current cap means some must forward the bulk of theirs to the state even as the activity to produce oil and gas resources places greater infrastructure and regulatory demand on parishes. The amendment would put half of the new additional funds towards roads projects. Even if increased economic activity brings other revenue benefits, it’s unlikely in most cases that they compensate for increase capital needs, so an affirmative vote is in order to shift these funds from the state to local governments.

#3 would allow totally disabled veterans whose homes are valued up to $150,000 to pay no parish property taxes (the case already for homes valued less than $75,000 for all) and exempt that much for higher-valued houses, subject to a successful local option vote. While it seems an appropriate benefit to make housing more affordable to those who sacrificed substantially for their country, its incompleteness in that it does not include all totally disabled individuals may reduce the chances for the latter getting a similar deal in the future. It’s better to come back with an amendment including all for consistency sake and then debate the merits, so passing this one might close the debate prematurely.

#4 would restrict the ability of some local governments whose governing authorities are appointed from raising property taxes take by rolling forward millages. This makes sense that unelected officials should not take advantage of rising assessment values to drive more revenues to their activities without having to prove to affected individuals through elections that the increased spending is warranted. While imperfect because not all appointee authorities would be subject to this, it’s better than nothing.

#5 would allow special assessment exemptions for taxes to continue for another five years for those victimized by the hurricane disasters of 2005. Whether it would be good policy to continue the exemption for a handful of people, it’s something that could be done statutorily to create more flexibility in handling this minor situation, so this is not needed in the Constitution.

#6 would increase Legislature control to encompass all public pension systems in the state and if their actuarially costs increase a two-thirds, not majority as of now, vote by it would required to proceed. While continuing to give the Legislature more control over an area it must fund is one approach, better would be to refashion all systems into defined contribution rather than defined benefit systems. Rejecting this amendment would be a way to prod that process along.

#7 would make it easier for government to collect taxes on delinquent property to favor the taxpayer, but at the same time could make it more difficult for the owners to redeem and get the property back as happens most of the time. While complicated, there is a chance it would collect more money owed and probably would increase default rates at least initially, but over the long run could discourage buying of property that cannot be afforded with his additional disincentive, thus meriting an affirmative vote.

#8 would loosen expropriation laws for property presumably presenting a threat to public safety and health by not having to offer it for resale. This goes too far in taking away a necessary safeguard from spurious government action to gather up and resell property perhaps to favored interests and/or to line government coffers.

#9 would impose an additional step in appeals to workers’ compensation hearings. There seems to be little reason that outcomes would be any fairer by adding a hearing of five judges at the expense of a more cumbersome process, so this deserves a negative vote.

#10 would allow for criminal defendants to waive their right to a jury trial in non-capital cases no less than 45 days before the start of the trial, as opposed to the current situation that has no limit and suggests it may happen even after the trial has started. Clarity is essential for maximal organizational performance and this amendment seems to bring that to judicial administration.

Half up, half down; go for it.

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