Louisiana needs a new constitution or a rewrite of the 1974 document, but many experts on the subject believe more time needs to be spent on how the changes should take place. A constitutional convention drew up the current document, but it's too early to decide whether that is the best course of action at this time.
The Public Affairs Research Council has released the first of two "Louisiana Constitutional Reform" documents. "Getting the Foundation Right" is Part I. PAR is a private, nonprofit, non-partisan public policy research organization.
The first part is about constitutional principles like the purpose and function of a constitution and more specific subject-matter guidelines regarding what an ideal constitution should contain. Part II will be an in-depth analysis and recommendations.
Legislators have tried in recent years to convene a convention, but haven't come close to the two-thirds vote required. Voter approval would also be needed.
Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, tried to establish a Constitutional Convention Study Commission at this year's fiscal session. It would have done much of what PAR is doing. Foil's concurrent resolution cleared the House 83-12, but died in the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs.
PAR uses the U.S. Constitution as an example of what a constitution should be. Adopted in 1789, it is a concise, 7,500-word document that outlines broad, basic principles of authority and governance. It has been amended only 27 times.
The 1974 Louisiana constitution has been amended 195 times and 99 of those have to do with revenue and finance matters. It is three times the length of the average state constitution (26,000 words) and nearly 10 times longer than the U.S. Constitution. At 72,000 words, it is the fourth longest constitution in the country. Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma have longer ones.
PAR said the constitution's revenue and tax provisions should be revised to foster a more decentralized government that gives more power to local governments. Louisiana's constitution also contains too many protected funds that limit the Legislature's ability to respond to ever changing financial needs.
PAR President Robert Travis Scott said those are issues for future debate. He told The Advocate the conversation now needs to focus on what a new constitution would look like should voters decide a new one is necessary.
Scott is correct when he says the present constitution gets in the way of addressing issues, like education and poverty, that hold Louisiana back. We look forward to PAR's analysis and recommendations in Part II of its study.