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April 16, 2018

Capitol Views: Constitutional convention bill still on tap in House

Now that the Appropriations Committee has forwarded most but not all of the state budget bills to the full House for consideration—a regular session mile marker that happened this afternoon—the panel can finally turn its attention to non-budget bills. And that most certainly applies to the leading legislation in the lower chamber to call a limited constitutional convention, as authored by the Ways and Means Committee chairman.

Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said the Appropriations Committee will likely hear House Bill 500 next week. Barring any surprises, the budget-drafting committee will likely advance Abramson’s bill to the House floor—at which point a few amendments may be floated by the author and his colleagues. In a recent interview with LaPolitics, Abramson said he is exploring changes to the proposed convention’s structure. For example, the process spelled out in his bill may become less reliant on an advisory committee’s recommendations, which the bill as originally drafted would create.

Spiking that provision in the bill also just so happens to be one of the handful of suggestions offered to lawmakers last week by Constitutional Coalition 2020. It’s a group of business and community organizations advocating for a convention via a separate policy campaign. Businessman and donor Lane Grigsby founded the coalition, which now has roughly 30 stakeholders and partners, including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Blueprint Louisiana, Greater New Orleans Inc. and Pelican Institute.

In the letter CC2020 sent to lawmakers last week, coalition members expressed a shared concern about the prescriptive language, budgeting barriers and structural hurdles that are in the current state Constitution. “For decades, we have tried and failed to use the political and legislative mechanisms in place to address our core, systemic problems,” Grigsby said in a statement, adding that a convention is among the last avenues available for correcting such issues.

The coalition favors electing the majority of delegates, rather than appointing them, and it’s encouraging new ideas for election boundaries. “For example, one idea is for the election of three delegates for each Senate district boundary,” the coalition members wrote in their letter to lawmakers. House districts have long been the standard for election lines, and it’s what Abramson is using in his bill—for now. That’s another provision in the chairman’s bill to put your amendment watchlist.

While CC2020, as a coalition, hasn’t yet directly addressed Abramson’s bill, others are stepping up to help give it an extra push. Count Dr. Phillip Rozeman as part of that bunch. He’s the immediate past chairman of Blueprint Louisiana, which is a CC2020 member, endorsed Abramson’s bill last week in a Shreveport Times op-ed.

In somewhat related news, the Council For A Better Louisiana came out in support last week of calling a limited convention—without identifying any specific legislation—that would focus only on Article VI, Parts II and III (local government finance, levee districts and regional flood protection authorities); Article VII (state revenues and finances); and portions of Article VIII (higher education and K-12 funding). Furthermore, it supports electing delegates and has identified three policy goals a convention should achieve:

  • “Comprehensive fiscal reform that modernizes our fiscal policies and makes Louisiana more competitive with our neighboring states.”
  • “Policies that lessen the dependence of local government on the state and in turn give local authorities more autonomy to take care of their own local and regional needs.”
  • “Removal of provisions which limit the Legislature’s flexibility to deal with the normal processes of governing and with that a general clean-up of items that should more appropriately be placed in statutes.”

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