The election on November 6, 2018 has numerous items on the ballot, but this posting is strictly in regard to the state amendments to our constitution. A vote “for” or “against” these amendments may be confusing, so the Chamber of Commerce has provided information below about the amendments. Again, voting will be November 6, 2018 and early voting will be October 23 through October 30, except for Sunday.
First, this information is provided by Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR). PAR doesn’t take a position on amendments, but they do provide an easily understood translation of the amendment.
Amendment No. 1: Prohibit felon from public office.
A vote FOR (yes) would constitutionally prohibit convicted non-pardoned felons from seeking or holding public office until five years after completion of sentence. A vote AGAINST (no) would continue to allow convicted felons to qualify to hold office after serving a sentence.
Supporters of this amendment argue convicted felons should not be serving in office. Those in public office need to be held to a high standard and the political system should not be eager to invite corrupt individuals into the ranks of leadership and influence. This law would not prevent felons from ever holding office, just for five years after they complete a sentence.
Opponents believe convicted felons who have completed their sentence have paid their debt to society and should be allowed to seek office and reintegrate into society without undue delay. Whether a felony conviction makes someone unsuitable for office should be an issue for the voters to decide. There is no prohibition for felons seeking a federal office; there is no need for this in Louisiana, either.
Amendment No. 2: Unanimous jury for noncapital felonies.
A vote FOR (yes) would require unanimous jury decisions for verdicts in noncapital felony cases for offenses committed after 2018. A vote AGAINST (no) would maintain that at least 10 of 12 jurors must agree for verdicts in noncapital felony cases.
Supporters argue the federal court system and all other states but Oregon require unanimous verdicts in felony cases. The reason appears rooted in the state’s racist past. Recent research suggests that even today the law has a disparate impact on minorities. A vote in favor of this amendment would improve Louisiana’s image and signal to the rest of the nation and the world that the state is continually striving to become a more modern society with stronger and fairer values and culture.
Opponents believe the racial motive behind the origin of this law is something we can all agree that Louisiana got wrong. While there is no way to validate the racial component of the current law, we should recognize the ways that this law has been beneficial. Having a lower verdict threshold reduces the likelihood of a hung jury. In a unanimous system even if 11 jurors think one way, a single juror can create a mistrial. This type of inefficiency and ineffectiveness is exactly what delegates had in mind when this law was revisited in the 1973-74 constitutional convention. The current law is more efficient as it prevents hung juries and saves time and taxpayer money on potential retrials.
Amendment No. 3: Permit donations from political subdivisions.
A vote FOR (yes) would allow donations of the use of public equipment and personnel from one political subdivision to another under the Constitution. A vote AGAINST (no) would continue to require that local governments receive comparable value for any donation provided to another governmental entity.
Supporters argue donations between governments provide for great efficiency. For example, if a fire district needs to borrow a bulldozer from a city, it can save the cost of purchasing a bulldozer. The constitutional prohibition against donations is an important law that prevents governments from just giving away taxpayer dollars. But it was not meant to stop local governments from sharing resources and coping with urgent needs.
Opponents argue the amendment is not needed. Where one entity has an unmet need, and another entity could satisfy it, the agencies could enter into a written cooperative endeavor agreement for renting or leasing needed personnel and equipment. Our constitution clearly allows for cooperative endeavor agreements between public bodies as long as there is a public purpose and comparable values are exchanged.
Amendment No. 4: Diversions of dedicated transportation funding to state police.
A vote FOR (yes) would remove the authority to use money in the Transportation Trust Fund by state police for traffic control purposes. A vote AGAINST (no) would continue to allow a portion of the Transportation Trust Fund to be used by state police for traffic control purposes.
Supporters argue that almost everyone agrees Louisiana needs better infrastructure. The state has a greater than $14 billion backlog of needs on its existing surface roads system and even more for other modes of transportation. This is in addition to the $15 billion worth of mega-projects that would increase the size and scope of the system. This amendment will provide more confidence to taxpayers by guaranteeing that tax dollars will be used on infrastructure projects and not diverted to pay for the operating costs of the state police. This amendment would raise confidence in the state of transportation funding process. For those concerned about the best use of revenue from potential future fuel tax increases, this amendment would provide more comfort that the money actually would be spent on construction and maintenance.
Opponents argue traffic control is a needed and legitimate use of transportation funds. Traffic patrols help with public safety by reducing accidents. These accidents slow traffic flow. While no TTF funds are currently being used to support state police, it is easy to imagine a time when it could be needed in the future such as after a downturn in the economy. We should be removing restrictions on how state funds can be spent, not adding them. The Constitution currently limits appropriations to state police, ports, parishes and flood control to 20% of the TTF. This is a reasonable limit that still gives the Legislature flexibility in the future years. Some opponents of a fuel tax increase view this amendment as an unfortunate stepping stone toward higher taxes.
Amendment No. 5: Tax exemptions for property in trust.
A vote FOR (yes) would extend eligibility for certain special property tax treatments to property held in trust. A vote AGAINST (no) would keep eligibility for certain special property tax treatment restricted to the owner of the property.
Supporters argue Louisiana voters have made it clear that they want groups such as the disabled and the elderly to receive special tax treatment. These exemptions should apply to property in trust, just like the homestead exemption already does. There is no good policy reason to discriminate against those trying to provide for a smooth succession for their family.
Opponents argue while the various property tax exemptions help worthy groups, it asks the question of when does the state draw the line for property tax exemptions. Although this expansion of these exemptions to trusts is relatively minor loss of revenue from the local government standpoint, the combination of this and other special homestead exemptions has a cumulative impact on the local tax base.
Amendment No. 6: Large tax increases on homes.
A vote FOR (yes) would require a four-year phase-in of tax liability for homes subject to the homestead exemption when a reappraisal increases assessments by more than 50%. A vote AGAINST (no) would continue to require all homeowners to pay taxes owed on the same basis according to the assessed values.
Supporters argue through no fault of their own, some property owners can receive large increases in their property tax bill. This might be because the surrounding neighborhood has gone up in value or because some neighbors are using their homes for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb. While such large increases might be rare, they do happen. This amendment gives owners time to adjust to the higher payments and eases the sticker shock of a large reassessment. Although the resulting revenue gain to local governments might be a little less with this new system, the amendment helps those experiencing a sudden boost in the value of their property.
Opponents argue this amendment is unfair to homeowners with assessment increases of less than 50% and further compounds a fundamental problem and inequity in the property tax methods of Louisiana. Under the proposed system, a homeowner with a 40% increase in assessment would be paying approximately 8% more in taxes over four years than a homeowner with an increase of just over 50%. In fact, for homes valued at more than $75,000, a 31% assessment increase would result in about the same amount of tax over four years as a 50% assessment increase. The result is an inequitable system that burdens some homeowners more than others and potentially shortchanges the local governments and schools that depend on fair and reliable tax collections. The amendment also provides an unnecessary cushion for property owners using their homes for short-term rentals. The amendment will complicate the role of the tax collector, who would have to distinguish different taxing methods depending on whether an assessment increase is based on a sale, improvement or simply a higher value.
Ballot Item: The Louisiana Fantasy Sports Contests Act.
A vote FOR (yes) would permit online fantasy sports betting contests in the voter’s parish. A vote AGAINST (no) would not allow online fantasy sports betting contests in the voter’s parish.
Supporters argue that people already bet on fantasy football and similar games. This vote would just legalize it and allow the state and local governments to regulate and tax it. Although the games probably would not generate a lot of government revenue, any amount would help the state budget. This change would help fantasy sports participants because currently they do not have legal recourse in Louisiana if they believe they are treated unfairly by a contest. Except for truly serious problems such as sponsorship of harmful criminal activity, government should not tell citizens what they can and cannot do with their money.
Opponents argue that this is an expansion of gambling in Louisiana. Proponents may call it a sports fantasy contest, but this activity is in facts sports betting. That means an expansion of all the ills that come with “gaming”, which is just the legal fiction developed in Louisiana to allow gambling. According to a recent analysis, Louisiana is the 5th most gambling addictive state. This problem harms our youth. A study done by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette stated that over 40% of school age children from 6th to 12th grade had participated in some form of gambling. Government should not encourage citizens to gamble and then force the taxpayers to pay for the financial and family problems it causes. The Fantasy Sports Contests Act not only authorizes participation by desk and notebook computers, but also by any “mobile device” in any location in a parish voting to authorize such gaming. Minors will find ways around technology aimed at blocking them. We already have a problem and we should not vote to make it worse.