As is customary in Louisiana, voters will be asked to vote yae or nae Nov. 6 on constitutional amendments for the ever-growing legal document that provides the framework for our state.
Voters will also be the decision-makers on a provision to legalize sports betting in the Bayou State – such outlets as FanDuel and DraftKings, for instance, are currently illegal.
Below is a breakdown of the six amendments, plus the sports betting proposal, and The News’ take on such.
Amendment No. 1 – Felons and holding public office
In 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down an amendment, passed in 1998, that stated felons could seek public office 15 years after their sentence was completed.
With the change, the Supreme Court established a precedent that “time served” meant just that – their prison sentence, as punishment, was met and they had earned a re-introduction to society with all the bells and whistles.
The amendment on the ballot would re-establish a year requirement, set at five, for convicted felons to wait before they can run and hold public office.
The five-year requirement would not apply to felons who are pardoned.
Louisiana’s Constitution has already grown to a level that is second-to-none – and the race isn’t even close – so why add an amendment whose cousin has already been struck down by the Supreme Court?
This reeks of “protection of voters from themselves.” If we don’t believe in the prison system and its ability to reform, should we not focus on that particular piece of the Louisiana system?
Or do we simply not trust voters to keep felons out of office?
This is a no.
Amendment No. 2 – Unanimous jury
In 1898, Louisiana required 9 out of 12 jurors to agree on a verdict for any felony that was not capital murder – the latter still requires a unanimous jury.
In 1974, the number of required jurors increased to 10 for a conviction. This amendment would require a unanimous jury for all felony trials, and it’s important to note that only two states currently do not require a unanimous jury designation – Oregon and Louisiana.
The argument in favor of keeping a non-unanimous designation is efficiency and an attempt to avoid hung juries. However, jury members are selected at random for most cases so, again, a vote against this proposition would essentially be admitting that our justice system in Louisiana is, and should be, skewed.
On the other hand, a yes vote pushes the state more in line with the rest of the country, and makes sure that if someone is going to go away for many years of their life – they do so on the full confidence of a group of their peers.
Besides, either side can always appeal.
This is a yes.
Amendment No. 3 – Inter-governmental donation
Under current law, unless the governor declares a certain situation a “State of Emergency,” intergovernmental donations and loans are prohibited by law.
Instead, both parties must find an agreement that is mutually beneficial, either in the form of a lease or trade.
This comes down to an academic discussion on tax dollars and their use.
Technically, taxpayers foot the bill for resources purchased by the tax entity, they impart their trust to the representatives of that entity to make sound purchases.
Currently, in order to protect against unsound purchases, the tax entity must ask for something in return to protect taxpayers’ money.
Because, by the very nature of giving it away, they probably made a poor choice as they didn’t need the resource.
If the new amendment specified the donation as something that would otherwise be declared surplus and sent to the state’s warehouses, that would make more sense as “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
But, that language does not exist, instead opening the door for potential misuse of tax entity resources.
Perhaps you trust your representatives, which is perfectly fine, but there’s no reason for them to be able to transfer taxpayers’ property to anyone for nothing in return.
This is a no.
Amendment No. 4 – State Police use of transportation funds
This one is real simple – the state has already had its fair share of issues mixing and mingling money from different funds for cross purposes, leaving wonderful unfunded liabilities in retirement plans and certain road projects.
This amendment keeps money in the Transportation Trust Fund focused on infrastructure improvements – and nothing else.
So long as the state budget continues to lock money up for specific purposes, there’s no doubt that capital should be locked up for one of our worst issues, roads.
If the State Police need more money, it needs to lobby for it like everyone else.
This is a yes.
Amendment No. 5 - Property in trust and tax exemptions
What do you know about succession law? Some families will place a home in a trust that transfers property to an heir, however the original owners continue to live in the home until they pass.
This has tax benefits both of the property variety and in death.
For property taxes, homestead exemption remains in place and this amendment would extend those exemptions to several categories, including special exemptions (frozen property taxes at 65), and a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of first responders and active duty military.
This is all about personal preference on where you as a voter draw the line on tax exemptions.
Frankly, the number of people who would qualify for this is negligible, not to mention Louisiana has the lowest property tax rates in the country. This is simply an extension of the feel-good legislation passed regarding first responders and their widows.
If homestead exemption is already passed on to property in trust, the rest of these exemptions matter very little.
Vote on your laurels here – feel good or take a stand on exemptions, but the financial effect will be negligible.
Amendment No. 6 – Phased property tax increases
This is just lazy, and we as Louisianians need to push for less lazy writing.
Fifty percent is an arbitrary number and, while achievable in any reassessment year and problematic for homeowners living paycheck to paycheck, what about the neighbor two doors down who’s at 46 percent valuation increase?
Do you have to know the assessor to be included in the 50 percent bracket?
If anything, it should be tiered at 20 percent to 30 percent (two years), 31 percent to 40 percent (three years), and 41 percent to 50 percent (four years).
The purpose of the law is understandable, and in Livingston Parish this will begin to happen as new neighborhoods and remodeled homes raise property values. However, it does not fairly and accurately cover the issue of property value increase.
Make them re-write it – this is a no.
Daily Fantasy Sports
Currently, Daily Fantasy Sports apps are illegal in Louisiana because they are considered sports betting. The argument to keep them from operating in Louisiana is that gambling is addicting and can be devastating to families and lives.
And yet, we have casinos.
There’s no reason to have one without the other, especially in a state where new tax revenue is paramount to help with crumbling infrastructure and growing entitlement needs.