Jim Beam column:Constitution plans changing

Published 6:36 am Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Writing a new Louisiana state constitution has always been a risky proposition. However, what had been a reluctant state Senate this year appears to have changed its mind.

The Advocate in a news report about this being the Legislature’s last full session week said senators plan to create a select committee to take testimony during June and July. It would then recommend changes to a constitutional convention that would begin on Aug. 1.

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, has apparently had a change of heart since mid-May when he expressed senators’ concerns about the constitutional convention. The Louisiana Illuminator on May 15 reported that Henry said the governor and other convention supporters had refused to provide details about what types of changes they would make to the constitution.

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The news agency reported that Henry said his colleagues weren’t comfortable with Landry unilaterally picking his own delegates to participate in the process.

House Bill 800 that sets up the convention passed the House 75-27 on May 7 and it has been in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee since then.

Delegates to the convention would be the 144 members of the House and Senate and 27 appointees of Republican Gov. Jeff Landry.

The governor’s appointees include individuals with strong connections to Landry and two of his mega-donors — businessmen Lane Grigsby and Boysie Bollinger, one of the last surviving delegates from the 1973 constitutional convention delegates.

Grigsby headed Landry’s constitutional convention transition team and he wants to open up K-12 education funding that is protected by the current constitution in the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP). Landry wants to create education savings accounts (school choice) that will need funding.

The homestead exemption and supplemental pay for the state’s first responders are also protected in the constitution. Landry and others have said all of those areas would continue to be protected with amendments, but that is apparently not the case.

Henry shot that protection down when LaPolitics Weekly reported he said, “My appreciation is that you cannot have a limited constitutional convention. I think it becomes more of a gentleman’s agreement, but obviously those aren’t legally binding.”

Grigsby was quoted at the same time. He said, “The amendments don’t add anything to the argument. They just give some people more comfort in terms of being able to vote for having a convention … They’re going to make the rules in  committee.”

Bollinger said, “Nothing’s off the table once we start meeting as a convention. That’s my opinion; I’m not a lawyer.”

State Sen. Franklin  Foil, R-Baton Rouge, serves on Landry’s transition council for constitutional reform. He and former state Rep. Neil Abramson of New Orleans introduced many of the 44 bills filed over the last 24 years that were aimed  at writing a new constitution. None of them made it.

Foil during a 2017 interview said, “But when you start pushing it (change), the interests protected in the constitution are opposed and the votes for it fade away.

Guy Cormier, executive director of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, has expressed concerns people always have. He told LaPolitics Weekly, “Our fear is that we have little or no participation in the process, and we have a bunch of folks who have never been in our shoes rewriting a very important document that we have to live with for years to come.”

Kevin Chesnut of Metairie in an April letter to The Advocate expressed the sentiments of many Louisiana citizens about Landry’s big rush to write a new constitution.

“Although overdue for an update, a document that took many months to develop in 1974, and 50 years to evolve to its present state, demands more than just a few weeks of deliberation,” Chesnut said.

“The Legislature is designed to function as an independent branch of state government, not as a branch office of the governor’s mansion,” he said.

Maylee Samuels of Baton Rouge in a Monday letter to the newspaper said, “If things continue down the same path, we are going to soon need to rename our state ‘Landriana.’ Gov. Jeff Landry’s attempts to consolidate power and control in the office of the governor are just unwise and foolish.”

Voters definitely have reservations about the governor’s plans to write a new constitution.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.


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