Rewrite Louisiana’s constitution? Or amend existing law? Debate heating up ahead of October primary

Rewrite Louisiana’s constitution? Or amend existing law? Debate heating up ahead of October primary
Many are debating whether Louisiana's constitution should be amended, or scrapped and rewritten altogether. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As Louisiana’s constitution nears its 45th birthday, lawmakers are again talking about shredding the document. It’s a debate that has become louder after repeated fiscal crises in Louisiana: tear up the 1974 constitution and start over, or amend it?

Debate over La. constitution heats up ahead of October election

“What we have now constricts legislators to priorities from 50 years ago rather than voters’ priorities today,” Pelican Institute CEO Daniel Erspamer said. “We want to put meat on the bones for this conversation.”

The Pelican Institute, a right-leaning political policy group, hosted dozens of lawmakers, business leaders, and political thinkers Tuesday, Aug. 20 for a forum to discuss a possible constitutional convention.

“Our state constitution spends 13,000 words just on how to spend money, compared to the federal constitution – a total of 7,500 words,” Erspamer said. "It’s not working for us now and it’s time to rethink how we’re doing it.”

That idea has faced serious opposition in the state’s legislature, though it appears to be growing more popular. It’s unclear who would write a new constitution, and detractors argue a convention is a sort of cop-out that would allow the legislature to escape the hard, politically unpopular work of drafting and executing reform.

But Erspamer points to repeated stalemates on tax reform inside the state capitol as evidence that a constitutional convention is among the only ways to “fix” the bedrock law he says is broken.

When they raised sales taxes in 2015, lawmakers promised to reform the state’s complicated tax code. Instead, lawmakers extended a portion of that sales tax to cover a fiscal cliff in 2018 after failing to pass tax reform in 2017.

“I would love a situation where the legislature would step up and actually take on the hard tasks," Erspamer said. “The status quo forces control that legislature, control the capitol. I’m just not sure the big things can happen.”

The entire legislature is up for re-election in the fall, and many candidates are running on constitutional reform via convention, including gubernatorial candidate, Eddie Rispone. New faces in the legislature could breathe life into the concept that’s stalled in years past.

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