House bill calls for constitutional convention

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana will be on its way to its next constitutional convention to adjust the Louisiana Constitution where it deals with fiscal matters if a bill approved in the House Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday makes it through the House and Senate.

“We can all agree on one thing: The current system is broken. Regardless of what the fix is, we all agree that we need to fix it,” Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said. “This provides a mechanism to do it.”

House Bill 456 would first establish an Evaluation and Drafting Committee, comprised of 27 appointed members from various stake-holding groups, including business, labor and good government groups to propose changes for the convention to approve or discard.

The convention would be comprised of 105 delegates elected from current House districts and 27 appointed delegates from the special interest groups who would be selected based on those represented at the last constitutional convention 44 years ago.

Abramson said he was open to editing that list as the Legislature saw fit.

Abramson stressed the committee was not like other task forces, charged with coming up with a single plan. Instead the committee would bring up several ideas to be debated during the session.

“The idea is not to go in there with a predetermined mindset,” Abramson said. “(This) gives the delegates the opportunity to decide what’s right for Louisiana, whatever that is.”

Currently, the Louisiana Constitution has 186 amendments, and 50 more have been proposed during this legislative session.

Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, said many feel that it’s time to “hit the reset button” for taking another look at the Constitution. But he cautioned that legislators should keep their expectations in check.

“If you came back and revisited this, how much would our priorities really change?” Scott said.

Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said there would be an influx of special interests into delegate elections.

“My concern is all these people saying we need a new constitution, and no one saying what it should look like,” Morris said. “Opening it up may be something people don’t like at all. Be careful what you wish for.”

Abramson said he has brought the same bill before the Legislature “for the last 10 years.” The measure has had varied success in committees, but has never been debated on the Senate floor.

This year, however, it seemed that more legislators were open to the idea. Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who was against the measure in the past, but changed his outlook after witnessing the Legislature fail to pass comprehensive reform for the past decade.

“Originally, I was not in favor of this,” Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said. “But having given it more thought, this isn’t a substitute for legislative effort, but a back- up plan if we just can’t get it done.”

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