BATON ROUGE — The House Appropriations Committee Monday unanimously approved a bill that gets the ball rolling for Louisiana’s first constitutional convention in 43 years.
Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, testified for Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, who is sponsoring House Bill 456. It establishes the convention, a meeting of 132 elected delegates who meet at the Capitol for six months to rehash Louisiana’s constitution, particularly concerning how the state receives and spends its money.
Ron Sapia of LaFourche Parish, a proponent of the convention, compared it to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, the state’s way of aiding Louisiana students to attend college. He said the state makes an investment in the hope of reaping returns in the future.
Sapia noted the current constitution is 42 years old, drafted in 1973, and has been amended 186 times — not including rejected proposed amendments.
“It’s something the public wants us to do,” said committee member Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, after the committee moved the bill. He acknowledged it will be long and expensive, but thinks it is the right step forward.
Under HB456, the Legislature initially must create a 27-member committee, comprised of affiliates from different state associations to meet in September and determine whether a constitutional convention is even needed.
If determined that it is, the committee would provide a written plan. The proposed convention would then need two-thirds approval of the 2018 Legislature.
If those thresholds are passed, the convention would meet in January 2019. It would comprise the committee members and 105 other delegates elected from each House district — 132 delegates total. A new constitution would be complete the following May.
The convention would offer proposals on government revenue and spending, e.g. and which areas should remain off-limits from cuts.
The convention is limited in what it can propose. Changes that can be placed on the table include raising revenues for state and local government, higher education and retirement. It also can propose changes to spending.
Talk of a convention has been aflutter since January, when Gov. John Bel Edwards suggested one may be needed if he and the lawmakers cannot resolve the state’s ongoing fiscal problems.
Since then, the Legislature has met for its third special session in twelve months in attempt to fill its budget deficit. Keeping with recent tradition, the budget hole has been temporarily plugged, but not resolved. Lawmakers begrudgingly anticipate a fourth special session after this year’s regular session ends on June 8.
The state currently relies on temporary tax hikes, which were implemented to buy the governor and lawmakers more time to come up with a better, long-term solution. The temporary taxes sunset to expire in a little more than a year.
Anyone can run to be one of the 105 House district delegates, as long as they represent that district. Any changes proposed during the convention are subject to a popular referendum.