Amendment 1 sets up felon waiting period

The American Press

Louisiana voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that said convicted felons could not hold public office for 15 years after completing a sentence. However, the Louisiana Supreme court ruled in 2016 the amendment was null and void because of a technicality.

Proposed Amendment No. 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot is designed to correct the mistake in the 1998 amendment, but only requires the convicted felon from holding office for five years, unless he or she is pardoned. The American Press supports the amendment.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, sponsored the legislation creating the amendment. Senators approved it 36-0, but it came up 6 votes short of the 70 (two-thirds) required in the House. It cleared the House a day later with a 70-24 vote.

Former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, D-Marrero, filed the suit on which the Supreme Court based its 2016 decision. Shepherd had pleaded guilty in 2008 to federal felony charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and served two years in prison.

Shepherd wanted to run for the House District 87 seat in 2015, but was disqualified based on the 1998 amendment. Although the 2016 verdict was in his favor, it came after the 2015 statewide and legislative elections.

Arguments for and against the six proposed constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot are discussed in the “PAR Guide to the 2018 Constitutional Amendments.” It can be found at www.parlouisiana.org.

Supporters of the amendment believe those in public office need to be held to a higher standard and prove over the five years that they have readjusted to society. They said the amendment reaffirms what voters wanted in 1998.

Opponents believe convicted felons should be able to run for or be appointed to public office once they have completed their sentence. They said the fitness of someone to serve in public office should be decided by the voters and there is no such prohibition for seeking a federal office.

The Advocate said after the 2016 high court ruling the decision suggested a properly written law with the same purpose would pass constitutional muster, and it resulted in lawmakers approving proposed Amendment 1.

The American Press recommends a yes vote on Amendment 1.

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Lindsay Gaar represents city at Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.