Voter Guide: An explanation of the constitutional amendments the state’s voters will decide upon

Published 6:53 am Sunday, November 6, 2022

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Louisiana residents will be voting on eight constitutional amendments. In order to vote in alignment with one’s values, it is vital that private citizens are well informed on the pros and cons of each amendment.

In an effort to provide the public with a clear understanding of what they are voting for, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) , the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) and the Louisiana Budget Project (LBP)  hosted a webinar explaining each amendment in detail on Friday, Oct. 14.

PAR hosted the webinar for a neutral position, while CABL and LBP disclosed their positions.

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Amendment 1

Do you support an amendment to increase to 65% the cap on the amount of monies in certain state funds that may be invested in stocks?

If this amendment passes, 7 of Louisiana’s trust funds would be allowed to invest more into the stock market. Currently, Louisiana has approximately $3.2 billion throughout the 7 trust funds included in Amendment 1.

Currently, the trust funds can only be invested up to 35%. If the amendment passes, the funds will be able to be invested up to 65%.

Barry Erwin, President and CEO of CABL, stated that CABL has announced a position of support for this amendment. “The investments that we have been getting off of those things through these very short term types of things have not yielded the benefits and returns that we have seen in the past,” he said.

Jan Moller, Executive Director of the LBP, stated that they have no official stance on this amendment. However, he did present the cons of the approval of Amendment 1. “ I think with any investments in the stock market, there’s a potential for greater returns than you get with more conservative investments, but there’s also greater risk that comes with it,” he explained.

Amendment 2

Do you support an amendment to expand certain property tax exemptions for property on which the homestead exemption is claimed for certain veterans with disabilities?

Currently, 100% disabled and unemployable can receive up to $150,000 in property tax exemption with local approval. With the passing of amendment 2, disabled and unemployable veterans will have a total exemption on property tax parish-wide.

This amendment would also expand exemptions for veterans who are not fully disabled and unemployable. Those with 70% to 90% service-connected disability could receive up to $120,000 in exemption, while those with 50% to 69% disability would receive up to $100,000 in exemption.

Both CABL and LBP chose to remain neutral in regards to Amendment 2. While they both stated their support and appreciation for veterans, they expressed concerns of economic risks that arise from revenue erosion.

According to Moller, Louisiana has comparably low property taxes when measured against other states, which have led to high sales taxes. “Anytime you take more property taxes off of the table, you risk losing revenue… and you put more pressure on local governments to raise the sales tax,” he said.

“This continual erosion… over time it really does add up,” said Erwin.

Amendment 3

Do you support an amendment to allow classified civil service employees to support the election to public office of members of their own families?

This non-fiscal amendment would allow civil service employees, sans registrars of voters employees and employees in the elections division, to openly support their immediate family members that are running for a political office. If passed, 51,000 civil servants would be allowed to appear in political ads and attend events. They would not be able to provide monetary donations.

Both organizations expressed opposition to this amendment, stating that these restrictions were originally put into place to protect civil students.

“We think this is a door that’s been closed for a long time and we don’t need to open it,” said Erwin. “These things were put into the constitution for the protection of civil service employees.”

Moller cited the social and political expectations of civil servants. “ We expect them to be above and outside partisan politics,” he said. “This isn’t the end of the world if it passes, but I think it starts to erode those divisions and that separation that we’ve had for good reasons going back more than 80 years.”

Amendment 4

Do you support an amendment to allow local governments to waive water charges that are the result of damage to the water system not cause by the customer?

With the passing of this amendment, local governments – water districts, municipalities or other political subdivisions – will be allowed to waive water charges that are not the result of consumer actions.

This amendment was proposed after high water charges that were accrued after storm damages.

Moller presented the positives of this amendment. “This seems like common sense to me, frankly, because we are talking about something that is not the customer’s fault,” he stated. “I understand why the constitutional language is there, but I don’t think that they anticipated every outgrowth when they put that language in there in 1974.”

Erwin expressed CABL’s opposition, stating that passing the amendment would blur the lines of what is or is not the conumer’s fault to a problematic degree. “I think that the problem is how do you draw the line of ‘It’s not my fault?” he said. “Part of the problem is, these local water boards are going to be inundated with these same kinds of requests.”

Amendment 5

Do you support an amendment to allow the levying of a lower milage rate by a local taxing authority while maintaining the authority’s ability to adjust to the current authorized millage rate?

The amendment would allow tax authorities to roll forward their millage rates up to the maximum until that authorized millage charge expires, rather than until the property’s next reevaluation cycle, giving them more flexibility.  Expiration dates vary, but in general, mileage rates apply for periods longer than the four-year rating cycle

Erwin is in support of this amendment. “The constitution basically wants you to roll back those taxes so you’re not having property taxes inflate,” he explained. “It allows the local government to keep that same taxing authority at the millage rate even though it’s not levying it at that point.”

Moller also stood in agreement. “This is really about giving local governments a little bit more time to plan, a little more flexibility instead of feeling the pressure to roll forward their millages everytime property assessment go up.”

The arguments against this amendment are concerned about giving municipalities too much flexibility, according to PAR’s Guide to the 2022 Constitutional Amendments: “Taxing districts have enough time under the current system to make budgetary decisions about whether they need the full millage rate authorized for them. They shouldn’t be allowed to roll forward millage rates for years on end, a situation that would increase property tax payment uncertainty for homeowners and businesses.”

Amendment 6

Do you support an amendment to limit the amount of an increase in the assessed value of residential property subject to the homestead exemption in Orleans Parish following reappraisal at the percent of the property’s assessed value in the previous year?

Currently, the state requires a 4-year phase-in of tax liability for property subject to the homestead exemption if a reappraisal increases assessment by 50%. In Louisiana, the Homestead Exemption exempts the first $75,000 of market value on the primary residence of a property owner.

If this amendment were to pass, qualifying residential properties in Orleans parish will limit the increase of the assessed value to 10% over the previous year, leading to an increase in property tax liability in homes subject to the Homestead exemption in Orleans parish.

This amendment only applies to Orleans Parish, as owning a home in New Orleans is becoming unaffordable. “That is an area in the state where property values have gone up the fastest,” said Moller.

He explained that homeowners whose property values have greatly increased are facing unmanageable property taxes. “This would sort of cushion the increase.”

He stated that the downside is that the passing of this amendment would lead to less tax revenue in the parish.

Erwin stated that CABL was torn on taking a stance, as the intention behind the amendment is morally sound. “It’s certainly good in trying to keep housing affordable for the people that need it, but part of the issue is it doesn’t just affect low to moderate income families… really affects the whole entire parish.”

Amendment 7

Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of involuntary servitude except as it applies to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice?

If Constitutional Amendment 7 passes, it would alter the language of the amendment that currently prohibits slavery and indentrued servitude, but allowing indentured servitude as a “punishment for crime.”

It currently reads “Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except in the latter case as punishment for crime.” As amended, the section that states “except in the latter case as punishment for crime,” would be eliminated, and the statement “Subparagraph (1) of the Paragraph does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice,” would be added.

There are questions regarding the effectiveness of this change.

CABL stands in opposition to the amendment. Erwin did, however, commend the motivations of the language change. “What they are trying to do… is try and remove some of the vestiges of slavery and that era that might still be around in our constitutions,” he explained. “For a lot of folks, slavery and indentured servitude are the same thing. They are synonymous, especially when you go back historically.”

Erwin stated their opposition stems from the fogginess of the language. “You could argue that you’re going from saying that slavery is prohibited… to saying both of them are ok in limited circumstances.”

The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Edmund Jordan (D) now stands in opposition to the amendment due to this confusion. Melinda Deslatte, PAR Research Director, confirmed that he intends to reintroduce the amendment with clearer language in the upcoming legislative session.

Moller stated that many of those who are still in support of this amendment are motivated by the original intent and concern over the national interpretations of the State’s morality. “Nobody doubts the sincerity or the intent of Representative Jordan with this amendment,” he said. “I think we can safely say this isn’t going to change anything, whether it passes or fails, I think it’s symbolic in nature… There is a lot of concern among groups that works on civil rights… that if this were to fail, that it would send a message to the country that Louisiana is endorsing slavery.”

Amendment 8

Do you support an amendment to remove the requirement that homeowners who are permanently totally disable must annually recertify their income to keep their special assessment level on their residences for property tax purposes?

The passing of Amendment 8 would remove the current requirement that forces permanently and totally disabled homeowners and their spouses to annually recertify that their income is under $100,000 to qualify for a property tax freeze.

Currently, those that are over 65 qualify for the same property tax freeze and are not required to annually recertify with the assessor. The passing of the amendment would give permanently and totally disabled and their spouses the same privilege, which supporters believe this population deserves.

CABL is in opposition. “It’s about accountability,” he said. “We are giving a valuable tax break to a limited group of taxpayers, and all that we are asking for them is to certify that their incomes have not gone above the amount that is required,” said Erwin.

Moller stated that LBP does not have an official stance, but agreed with Erwin’s statements. “It’s not a very high bar to recertify your income,” said Moller. “Local governments around this state are strapped for money… Those services are funded by sales and property taxes.”