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Voters to take up four proposed constitutional amendments as early voting opens

4 months 3 weeks 3 days ago Friday, September 29 2023 Sep 29, 2023 September 29, 2023 11:00 AM September 29, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

Voters statewide will consider four proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution over the coming weeks, while East Baton Rouge voters will also vote on whether to continue funding for emergency medical services.

Here's a look at the ballot issues, and how they came to be:

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1: Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of funds, goods, or services from a foreign government or a nongovernmental source to conduct elections and election functions and duties unless the use is authorized by the secretary of state through policies established in accordance with law? (Adds Article XI, Section 6)

Background: Louisiana law allows charitable foundations, and others, to donate money and equipment to the Secretary of State's office to help it conduct elections. According to the Louisiana Budget Project, this proposal grew from the lies and misinformation spread after the 2020 presidential election.

Since that race, 25 states have adopted laws targeting all non-governmental sources of funding to conduct elections. Louisiana would be the 26th.

Of the 25 states to adopt restrictions, which cover money from private groups and foreign countries, 21 were passed in states in which Republicans controlled the governor’s office and the Legislature. The other four, with split control of state governments, were Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Many supporters pointed to donations made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife to organizations that gave grants to election officials around the country to address pandemic-related voting issues.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin urged parishes to seek the funds, but Attorney General Jeff Landry warned the money aided areas that tend to vote for Democrats.

All other states in the South have passed such restrictions, except North Carolina.

In Louisiana this year, three Democrats crossed over to help Republicans reach the 70 votes necessary to pass the proposed constitutional amendment. The proposal passed the House without discussion. The Senate reached the minimum 27 votes necessary in a strict party-line vote.

Earlier attempts to ban grants were vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Taking the proposal directly to voters bypasses the governor’s office.

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Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2: Do you support an amendment to provide that the freedom of worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection? (Adds Const. Article XII, Section 17)

Background: During the pandemic, governors of 43 states issued “stay-at-home” orders – 24 Democratic governors and 19 Republicans. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards initially limited public gatherings to 50 people, then lowered the limit to 10 as conditions worsened.

The closure order also applied to churches, synagogues and mosques. 

A Central church pastor was charged with six misdemeanors after holding services in violation of the order. While the U.S. and state constitutions already guarantee a right to worship, proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 would guarantee a right to gather as a group to worship.

The Louisiana Budget Project said it isn't clear the amendment is needed, as Louisiana's Supreme Court has already sided with the religious organizations. 

Arkansas and Texas voters have considered similar provisions since the pandemic. Arkansas voters rejected their proposal, while Texas approved the one there.

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Proposed Constitutional Amendment 3: Do you support an amendment to require that a minimum of twenty-five percent of any money designated as nonrecurring state revenue be applied toward the balance of the unfunded accrued liability of the state retirement systems? (Amends Article VII, Section 10(D)(2)(b)(ii) and (iii))

Background: In 2011, Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment directing that 5 percent of the state’s nonrecurring revenue be dedicated to the unfunded liabilities of the state retirement systems, an amount that increased to 10 percent in 2015.

The new proposal would dedicate 25 percent to the unfunded liabilities, which totaled $17 billion last summer.

The Louisiana Budget Project says the state is on track to eliminate much of its retirement debt by 2029 and that Louisiana has other needs too, including road repairs, coastal restoration and natural disasters.

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Proposed Constitutional Amendment 4: Do you support an amendment to deny a property tax exemption to a nonprofit corporation or association that owns residential property in such a state of disrepair that it endangers public health or safety? (Amends Article VII, Section 21(B))

Background: A Tennessee nonprofit was found last year to have operated a number of housing complexes in the New Orleans area that did not have suitable living conditions for its tenants. Nonprofits enjoy a wide range of property tax exemptions in Louisiana, which would disappear if their properties are found to be in dangerous condition.

The Louisiana Budget Project says the amendment would have little impact on Orleans Parish revenues, as 4,400 parcels worth nearly $4 billion are tax-exempt.

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In East Baton Rouge Parish only: Shall the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana (the "Parish"), under the provisions of Article VI, Section 30 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, as amended, and other constitutional and statutory authority, be authorized to renew the levy and collection of an ad valorem tax of 3.13 mills on the dollar of assessed valuation on all property subject to taxation within the boundaries of the Parish (the "Tax") (an estimated $16,000,000 is reasonably expected to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year), in each calendar year, for a period of ten (10) years, commencing in the year 2025 to and including the year 2034, the proceeds of said Tax (after paying the reasonable and necessary expenses of collecting and administering the Tax, if any) to provide funds to the Department of Emergency Medical Services of the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana to be used entirely and exclusively to pay the operation and maintenance costs and expenses of providing emergency medical services within the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana?

Background: This is a renewal of an existing tax for emergency medical services. A decade ago, 81 percent of voters approved it.

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