Amid budget woes, La. lawmakers mull constitutional convention

Amid budget woes, La. lawmakers mull constitutional convention
Louisiana Constitutional Convention in 1973 (Source: Louisiana State Archives)
Louisiana Constitutional Convention in 1973 (Source: Louisiana State Archives)
Louisiana Constitutional Convention in 1973 (Source: Louisiana State Archives)
Lawmakers are considering another constitutional convention (Source: WAFB)
Lawmakers are considering another constitutional convention (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After five special sessions, Louisiana continues to budge along from budget crisis to budget crisis. Now, some lawmakers are pushing to go a step further by rewriting the state's constitution.

The current constitution has been around since the 1970s. In 1973, 132 delegates from across Louisiana gathered in Baton Rouge to craft the state's new guiding document. "Our job is to draw a road map for the people of this state and not to construct an automobile," said E.L. "Bubba" Henry, opening the convention.

Forty-five years later, some lawmakers say the "roadmap" has lead them right into rush-hour traffic.

Over the course of that period, the state constitution has been amended 189 times, with several amendments dedicating taxpayer dollars to certain funds and programs. Some lawmakers argue that too money has become tied up as a result of those amendments, making balancing the budget extra difficult.

"It's become very cumbersome, with a lot of dedicated funding sources and other things that lock our hands," said Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge.

But a convention comes with many questions. How many delegates will there be? How will they be selected? Will everyone's voices be heard?

Some worry about special interests getting too much say. Others are concerned opening up the constitution for a rewrite could put important programs at risk of losing protected funding.

"It very much could be good for the people of this state, but it's only good for the people of this state if we have a clear vision of what we would be tackling," warned Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

The push for a constitutional convention has been growing in recent years as the money problems have dragged on. However, whether this will be the year lawmakers pull the lever remains unclear. Calling a convention requires a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and the House, and that's no small feat.

"We're all afraid of change, I think that's the nature of the beast," said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall.

On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill calling for a limited constitutional convention, focused largely on financial matters. It now heads to the full House for consideration.

Another bill, creating a study committee to look at the idea of a constitutional convention, is also on the move at the state capitol. It could be an easier lift for lawmakers.

Copyright 2018 WAFB. All rights reserved.