Constitutional Convention is needed

The 2018 regular legislative session closed last week not with a bang but a whimper.

An unrealistic budget certain to draw a gubernatorial veto resulted in just that.

We shall see what the special session holds.

A matter was left unresolved that cannot be permitted to remain that way.

HB-500 would have provided the framework for calling a limited constitutional convention geared toward plugging the holes in Louisiana’s constitution that stand in the way of lawmakers putting together an effective budget that does not rob from the poor or stymie higher education efforts.

Members of the local delegation who co-authored the bill are Beryl Amedee, Jerry “Truck” Gisclair, Tanner Magee and Jerome Zeringue, and they should be commended for this effort.

Perhaps, when discussion on this topic renews, it shall not involve a limited convention, but one that examines the entire state constitution.

The current Louisiana Constitution is the ninth in the history of the state. It was approved on April 20, 1974, and adopted on January 1, 1975. Since then it has been amended 300 times.

In the words of Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, “it has ceased to be a framework for governing and become an instrument for legislating items that more appropriately belong in statute” and we agree fully.

The constitution contains too many dedicated items, much of that to the detriment of healthcare and education.

Talk has emerged over the years of the need for a constitutional renovation, but the issue never picked up enough steam. During this session it did, and came very close, even if a limited way.

One of the most outspoken opponents of authorizing a convention is Rep. Jay Morris (R) of Monroe.

He is among a core group of fiercely conservative lawmakers whose agenda has hurt rather than helped Louisiana’s ability to come to a reasonable accommodation on its budget this year. He is among those lawmakers who would wield the scalpel with which Louisiana cuts off its nose to spite her face.

“So what do they want?” Morris asks of constitutional convention supporters. “Our homestead exemption? Our education funding? The prohibition against donations of public property? To eliminate the two-thirds vote required to raise taxes? Some suspect an effort to shift the tax burden to the middle class and simultaneously preserve tax breaks for special interests. We need some answers as to what these proponents of a new constitution actually want. Until we get some truthful answers, the public should demand a “no” vote on HB 500.”

There is reason to be suspicious of what a new constitution would contain. Therefore, he and other opponents say, the issue should be avoided altogether.

We advise a different approach.

There should be no need to know what a new constitution might contain until delegates to a constitutional convention are chosen, seated and have an opportunity to discuss how the new document should look and feel. This would be a time for new ideas to be submitted and challenged, for new arguments to address old questions of debate. It should be a time when Louisiana does some requisite soul-searching and inventorying. Then and only then can solutions be crafted, or at least the types of solutions that would steer the state onto a proper course for the remainder of the 21st Century.

Through proper and responsible re-working of our constitution, Louisiana can make its fiscal policies synch better with the larger world in which we live. Examination of how we do certain things and why, particularly looking at how we differ from successful models in other states, is of itself worth the look.

The linking of local government to the state — and therefore the creation and furthering of dependence upon the state — bears a sharp examination. Policies that limit the ability of the state legislature to effectively govern enshrined in the constitution need a look as well. Flexibility is preferred. But flexibility is not what we have.

It is doubtful that a call for a convention can materialize in a special session where the focus is strictly on finance.

Even if that is the case, there is no time like the present for men and women who truly believe in Louisiana’s future to begin the process of seeing to it that the next time it is able, the legislature will overcome the hurdles it couldn’t climb this time.

Our future and the future of our children depends on it.