Constitutional convention vote comes up short
Lawmakers hit brick wall trying to tackle budget, tax reform
BATON ROUGE — The House came up shy of the votes needed Tuesday to approve legislation calling for a limited state constitutional convention. The 50-45 vote on House Bill 456, by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, makes it possible for the bill to come up for reconsideration.
Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; James Armes, D-Leesville; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; and Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, voted for the bill. Reps. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek; and Frank Howard, R-Many, were against.
Only budget and fiscal matters could be considered by convention delegates under the bill. Abramson said the delegates would have to swear an oath to abide by the restrictions.
Abramson said constitutional amendments now have to make the changes needed and that they haven’t gone anywhere.
Legislators have refused to tackle budget and tax reform recommendations made by a task force that worked for a year to come up with detailed reform plans.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, earlier Tuesday tried to get House approval for a number of constitutional amendments aimed at reforming the tax system. One of his bills got 60 votes — 10 short of the 70, or two-thirds, needed — and he put the other measures back on the calendar.
Ivey said lawmakers came to the session to solve problems. It hasn’t happened, he said, and it won’t be done in a special session.
Abramson said his measure is a process to get to solutions for budget and tax reform. Another legislative session will be held before the convention meets and it could consider the solutions suggested before the constitution is changed.
Piecemeal solutions haven’t worked, he said. A major problem: $4 billion in state revenues are constitutionally dedicated to local governments. Abramson said local governments are restricted by state law and need more authority to make revenue decisions.
The process for the proposed convention is the same one used in 1973 to come up with the 1974 state constitution, Abramson said.
The legislation calls for a 27-member committee to determine whether a convention is needed. The 27 would be appointed by the governor; president of the Senate; the speaker of the House; and by groups representing judicial, business, good government and labor interests. State political associations representing local officials and higher education interests would also have appointments.
The committee would have to be appointed by Aug. 1 and complete its study and submit its recommendations to the Legislature by Feb. 26. The recommendations could be considered at that spring’s legislative session.
Any convention would be composed of 132 delegates — 105 elected from the state’s representative districts and the 27 who served on the evaluation committee.
The convention would have to complete its work by May 30, 2019. It would be limited to making changes dealing with state and local finance, raising revenue and allocation, and expenditure of funds.
Delegates would be elected on Nov. 6, 2018. If necessary, runoffs would be Dec. 8, 2018.
The convention wouldn’t be able to cause indebtedness, reduce elected officials’ term of office or permit removal of the state capital from Baton Rouge.
The proposed changes would be submitted to voters on Oct. 12, 2019, and would require a majority vote. If approved, the changes would take effect at midnight on Dec. 31, 2019.
Reps. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, Sam Jones, D-Franklin, and Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, opposed the bill. Jones and Smith said “dark money” could come in and hijack the convention. Jones mentioned Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group opposed to all taxes. Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, spoke in support of the bill. He has been advocating this process for years.