You have less than a month until Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 6. For those who like to get a jump on the polls, early voting begins on Oct. 23. Depending on your residence, you’ll be voting on Congress, the Louisiana Secretary of State, school board, city judge, constable—and even mayor and council in some areas. Of course, we all get to vote on more constitutional amendments and a gambling initiative as well.
You can find your sample ballot online. You can also find comprehensive information on candidates via their websites or Facebook pages. And detailed information about the amendments can be found at Parlouisiana.org. We should all be informed and plan to vote.
The Louisiana Public Affairs Research Council’s Guide to the Constitutional Amendments is always helpful explaining complex legal language on the ballot that is often even misleading. As I have said before, we are approaching 200 amendments to our constitution, which seems absurd and makes the case for a new constitutional convention in the near future. I believe this will be an election issue next year.
I share details from the PAR guide and my views and endorsements on amendments here.
Felons in public office – FOR
This prohibits convicted nonpardoned felons from seeking or holding office until five years after they have completed their sentence. Holding office is a privilege. While some will argue they have “paid their debt to society,” these five years will let them establish a record for voters to see.
Unanimous jury verdicts for felony cases – FOR
We are one of only two states that does not require a unanimous jury for a felony. President John Adams said this: “It is the unanimity of the jury that preserves the rights of mankind.” Federal cases require a unanimous jury. Lesser felony offenses still require all six members of a jury to convict. The system of justice operates in 48 other states with this standard, and I believe Louisiana should step out of the past and move forward on Jan. 1, 2019.
Allow local governments to share resources – FOR
We all grew up being taught to share. This would allow basic sharing among local governments or political subdivisions. Consider that a small-town fire district would be able to borrow a bulldozer from the city instead of having to buy one. Makes sense and can save taxpayers money. It all belongs to the people anyway. Current law requires compensation and that a formal agreement be drawn.
Why shouldn’t we work together in local communities and allow for this type of collaboration when needed, assuming rules and responsibilities are all in place, and it is recorded and not abused? This only applies to local governments and would not allow sharing between state entities and local governments.
Diversion of dedicated transportation funding to state police – FOR
The Transportation Trust Fund was established in 1990 with many specific purposes, one of which was “state police for traffic control purposes.” About $700 million thus far has gone to Louisiana State Police. With about $30 billion in needs for roads—including a backlog and new projects—many argue the trust fund needs protection. The Legislature did pass a law to cap the State Police funding from the TTF at $10 million annually.
Many of us have argued against using the constitution to create specific restrictions. But this amendment seems to stem from a lack of trust in the trust fund. And until we have a convention and take a holistic approach and put everything on the table, I predict the public may demand that lawmakers keep putting band-aids in place. I don’t really like this on principle, but I can’t vote against the purpose. We must deal with the real root problem and have a constitution for this century.
Tax exemptions for property in trust – FOR
We know homeowners in Louisiana get their homestead exemption. There are some designated groups whose assessments are frozen: Those over the age of 65, disabled veterans, surviving spouses of military personnel killed in action, spouses of law enforcement killed in line of duty, and so forth. This amendment would simply allow the benefits to apply to their residence if it was put in a trust, such as in instances where grandparents may have chosen to put their home in a trust for grandchildren. But they must continue to live in their home to qualify. Fact is, if they didn’t have the trust, they would continue to get the exemption, which expires upon their death. The passage of this amendment would create no change in impact to the tax base. I want to note that I understand the concern about the state writing laws that impact local property taxes, but that is already in place here. That issue should be debated in a constitutional convention (but that fight is for another day and involves more than this amendment).
Large tax increases on homes – AGAINST
Property is reassessed every four years, or reassessed when sold. This amendment applies to primary residences for which a property assessment jumps up more than 50%. In those instances, the tax collector would be required to phase in the tax increase over four years—25% the first year, 50% the second year and on up to 100% the fourth year. It only applies to dwellings that have a homestead exemption. The phase-in would cease if the home is sold to another owner. The amendment wouldn’t apply to any increase in assessment that is the result of construction or improvement to property.
This type of incident is rare, and it seems unfair to homeowners whose assessments jumped 20%, 30% or 40%. They will be required to pay all of their increase the next year. Louisiana already has a reputation for some questionable property assessments and this may just add to that problem. If your property assessment jumps more than 50%, congratulations: You have hit the jackpot. Cash in or pay the taxes. An important note here: The language on the ballot does not exactly match the content of the legislation. This confusion is just one more reason to vote against it.
Fantasy Sports Contest Act – AGAINST
This item is not an amendment, but rather a statewide initiative that is being voted on in each parish. Voters in each parish will determine if that parish will allow fantasy sports gambling. This is much like video poker was subject to a vote in each parish. Even with the approval, state laws and regulations must be implemented to allow it in Louisiana and establish a plan for taxation. Parishes might also face another vote on taxation as well. This is an expansion of gambling—or gaming—in Louisiana. I know folks already bet on fantasy football and this would just legalize it and tax it. But it would also allow for it on mobile devices, and you can bet minors will figure a way to play despite the law. I believe this creates no value for our communities. We have enough legal gambling.