About Those 14(!) Constitutional Amendments…

I’ve been asked to put out an official Hayride guide to the hedge maze that is the section of this year’s ballot containing the 14 constitutional amendments brought to the voters tomorrow. Jeff Sadow had a pretty good one a month ago, and PAR Louisiana has an even-handed one as well. This one is going to be simpler and bloodier than either of those.

First, let me say this: 14 constitutional amendments on one ballot is a shocking, disgusting display of legislative incompetence and cowardice, and it’s an indictment of miserable leadership – by Republicans in particular – in the state legislature that they’ve inflicted this many on the voters in one shot.

If you have to send more than four amendments to the voters per election cycle, you are doing a pathetic job of legislating. The voters elect you to office to handle these issues, not to be burdened with doing your job when we’re in the process of figuring out which politicians to whom we’ll give the keys to the car for the next two, four or six years.

Fourteen constitutional amendments on a ballot full of hopefuls for the Senate, Congress, judgeships, school boards and so forth is a recipe for colossal lines at the polls and time wasted during a work day.

As such, the default position on the amendments should be a “No” vote. The majority of them constitute bad policy aimed at giving away free stuff to constituency groups, and several more seek to ensconce things in the constitution that ought to be in statutory law. They’re an abuse of the constitutional process so that some legislator somewhere can either (1) aggrandize himself or (2) get his colleagues to punt on a difficult vote on policy by saying “Why don’t we send this to the voters?”

You ought to be furious about the 14 amendments. You ought to drown these SOB’s in a flood of “No” votes as a result.

But if you want the specifics of what you’ll likely be rejecting, here’s what follows:

Amendment 1: Act No. 439 House Bill No. 533, Regular Session, 2013, By Representatives Kleckley and Leger and  Senators Johns, Mills, and Tarver

Do you support an amendment to authorize the legislature to create the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund, for the payment of Medicaid reimbursement to the health care provider groups paying fees  into the fund? (Adds Article VII, Section 10.14)

No, you don’t want to support this. Basically, the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund is a scam Louisiana and a lot of other states are running on the federal government by which a fee is assessed to hospitals and nursing homes by the state for the privilege of providing services to Medicaid recipients, and though the magic of federal matching funds they get that money back and then some. That’s already in place, but what this does is raise the fee, so Uncle Sam kicks more money back, and then dedicates all the money into the slush fund to pay the hospitals. But get this – not only does it make that change, which further impoverishes Louisiana’s general fund budget (thus stealing money from higher education), it also guarantees the hospitals and nursing homes they’ll never take a cut in medicaid reimbursement.

Naturally, the hospitals are running ads on TV with old people touting this amendment as their saving grace. They ought to be running ads with pirates looting a Spanish galleon instead.

Vote no.

Amendment 2: Act No. 438 House Bill No. 532, Regular Session, 2013, By Representatives Kleckley, Adams, Armes, Barrow, Berthelot, Billiot, Wesley Bishop, Brossett, Brown, Burrell, Carmody, Carter, Chaney, Cox, Cromer, Dixon, Dove, Guillory, Harrison, Hoffmann, Hunter, Katrina Jackson, James, Jefferson, Leger, Lorusso, Montoucet, Moreno, Ortego, Pylant, Reynolds, Smith, St. Germain, Thibaut, Thierry, Alfred  Williams, and Patrick Williams and Senators Johns, Crowe, Long, Mills, Tarver, and Thompson

Do you support an amendment to create the Hospital Stabilization Fund to stabilize and protect Medicaid reimbursements for health care services by depositing assessments paid by hospitals, as authorized by the legislature, into a fund to support Louisiana hospital reimbursement? (Adds Article VII, Section 10.13)

Vote no on this, if for no other reason than that this bill could have simply been passed by the legislature without forcing you to have to get involved. But also vote no on this, because dedicating more of the state’s money and making more sacred cows only further ruins the budget process we all know is broken. Ultimately, if all the money is dedicated and there is thus no downward pressure on spending by the sacred cows (because those dedications almost always provide an over-generous funding source), the only way to fund the non-sacred cows is to raise your taxes. We’re already hearing that from the worst of our leges.

Amendment 3: Act No. 871 House Bill No. 488, Regular Session, 2014, By Representative Berthelot

Do you support an amendment allowing an authorized agent of a tax collector to assist in the tax sale process, including the sale of property for delinquent taxes and that the fee charged by the authorized agent be included within the costs that the collector can recover in the tax sale? (Amends Article VII, Section 25(A)(1) and (E))

As amendments go, this isn’t absolutely horrible policy. What this does is help the “war on blight” by allowing local jurisdictions to hire outside, private-sector operators to help with property tax collections and move tax sales along. And if you trust your local jurisdiction to do those things without the mayor or parish president to hire his brother-in-law to wet his beak, fine.

Which is the rub. There are local jurisdictions in the state which would probably benefit from the freedom to use outside contractors, due to a lack of resources to have tax collection operations fully staffed – but more often than not those are the exact jurisdictions you probably wouldn’t trust to do outside contracting without fraud and abuse.

We’re going to vote no on this, but if you want to vote yes we won’t be upset with you. We might snicker at how gullible you are, but that’s just because we’re mean.

Amendment 4: Act No. 873 House Bill No. 628, Regular Session, 2014, By Representative St. Germain and Senator  Thompson

Do you support an amendment to authorize the investment of public funds to capitalize a state infrastructure bank and the loan, pledge, guarantee, or donation of public funds by a state infrastructure bank for eligible transportation projects? (Amends Article VII, Section 14(B))

They haven’t even created this state infrastructure bank, and yet they’re asking you to fund it. You don’t even know how that bank is going to be structured, because the bills to structure it haven’t been passed.

This is a ridiculous amendment, and the fact it wasn’t killed in the legislature is alarming. Please do the leges’ jobs and vote it down.

Amendment 5: Act No. 875 House Bill No. 96, Regular Session, 2014, By Representative Edwards and Senator Lafleur

Do you support an amendment to remove the constitutional requirement that a judge retire upon attaining the age of seventy or, if his seventieth birthday occurs during his term, that he retire upon completion of that term? (Amends Article V, Section 23)

You already voted to impose a judicial retirement age, because you know that judges who enjoy comfortable sinecures on the bench never retire – and the older they get, the more bizarre their rulings can get. That you’re being bothered with this again is another example of legislative cowardice. This is on the ballot because John Bel Edwards and Eric Lafleur had judges who don’t want to retire come to them and ask them to bring a bill to save their sinecures, and they brought the bill to do just that, and nobody wanted to make the judges mad.

Please kill this thing. The old judges can go play golf. Give somebody else a chance.

Amendment 6:Act No. 870 House Bill No. 111, Regular Session, 2014, By Representative Leger

Do you support an amendment to authorize the governing authority of Orleans Parish to increase the annual millage rate levied for fire and police protection, to require that the revenue from the fire and police millages be used for fire and police protection service enhancements, and to require that any increase be approved by the voters of Orleans Parish? (Amends Article VI, Section 26(E))

Orleans already has the highest general and special millage caps of any parish in the state, and Leger wants to give the City Council a chance to raise taxes. And since most of the leges from Orleans Parish are ideologically opposed to giving a damn about property owners, they managed to buffalo their colleagues into saying “sure, if you guys can get this passed knock yourself out.”

But when New Orleans screws up its economy by raising more taxes, it will affect all of the suburban parishes which don’t have the power to affect tax policy in New Orleans. Some might benefit by people moving to, say, Jefferson to escape punitive Orleans Parish taxes, but when the politicians in Orleans drive business and capital out of their parish it’s just as likely to flee to Texas as it is across the lake.

It’s a shame the voters across Louisiana have to step in and protect taxpayers in Orleans Parish from their own politicians, but that’s what we’ll have to do here. Vote no.

Amendment 7: Act No. 433 Senate Bill No. 96, Regular Session, 2013, By Senator Adley

Do you support an amendment to provide that the homesteads of veterans with a service-connected disability rating of one hundred percent unemployability or totally disabled by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and their surviving spouses, shall be exempt from ad valorem taxation for up to one hundred fifty thousand dollars, and that a parishwide vote shall not be required to implement this change in qualification for the exemption? (Amends Article VII, Section 21(K)(1) and (3))

It’s good politics for Adley to bring this amendment. After all, who could be against giving veterans a tax break? And if you want to vote yes, you can do so and feel good about it.

There. See? We’re actually OK with one of these amendments.

Amendment 8: Act No. 434 Senate Bill No. 128, Regular Session, 2013, By Senator Allain and Representatives Abramson, Barras, Berthelot, Billiot, Stuart Bishop, Broadwater, Henry Burns, Tim Burns, Burrell,  Carmody, Champagne, Cox, Dove, Franklin, Garofalo, Gisclair, Guinn, Harrison, Henry, Hensgens, Hill, Jones, Lambert, Nancy Landry, Lopinto, Montoucet, Jim Morris, Reynolds, Schexnayder, St. Germain,  Thibaut and Whitney

Do you support an amendment to establish the Artificial Reef Development Fund in the state treasury by depositing in to the fund monies that have been received by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in the form of grants, donations, or other assistance to provide funding for programs dedicated to managing an artificial reef system, the wild seafood certification program, and inshore fisheries habitat enhancement projects? (Adds Article VII, Section 10.11)

No, no, no. We don’t need any more dedicated funds. If these leges are so desirous of building artificial reefs, which is a noble cause to be sure, then let them prioritze that in the budget.

Amendment 9: Act No. 432 Senate Bill No. 56, Regular Session, 2013, By Senator Morrell and Representatives Barrow, Ritchie and Thibaut

Do you support an amendment to exclude owners who are permanently totally disabled from the requirement that they annually certify to the assessor the amount of their adjusted gross income in order to receive the Special Assessment Level on their residences for property tax purposes? (Amends Article VII, Section 18(G)(1)(a)(iv))

Notice who authored this, and then think about how much easier it would be to defraud the government if you take away a safeguard against fraud.

And then vote no. It doesn’t make you a hater of disabled people.

Amendment 10: Act No. 436 House Bill No. 256, Regular Session, 2013, By Representative Patrick Williams and Senator Johns

Do you support an amendment providing for an eighteen-month redemption period in any parish other than Orleans, for vacant property sold at tax sale which is blighted or abandoned? (Effective January 1, 2015) (Adds Article VII, Section 25(B)(3))

Hell, no.

Orleans Parish got an 18-month redemption period, instead of a three-year period, for blighted property specifically because there was so much of it after Katrina and that property needed to be put back into commerce. That was an emergency measure as a disaster response. What it ought not to have been is a camel’s nose under the tent allowing every other parish to get in on denying people property rights.

Amendment 11: Act No 874 House Bill No. 341, Regular Session, 2014, By Representatives Harrison, Cox, Kleckley, and Willmott and Senators Alario, Amedee, Broome, Brown, Chabert, Donahue, Dorsey-Colomb, Erdey, Heitmeier, Johns, Kostelka, Long, Martiny, Mills, Morrell, Morrish, Murray, Nevers, Perry, Riser, Gary Smith, John Smith, Thompson, Walsworth, Ward, and White

Do you support an amendment to change the maximum number of departments in the executive branch of state government from twenty to twenty-one? (Amends Article IV, Section 1(B))

What they want is to create a State Department of Elderly Affairs. There is no particular need for another cabinet department. Vote no.

Amendment 12: Act No. 437 House Bill No. 426, Regular Session, 2013, By Representative Armes

Do you support an amendment to require that two members of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission be electors from parishes located north of the parishes of Beauregard, Allen, Evangeline, Avoyelles, and Pointe Coupee? (Amends Article IX, Section 7(A))

You’re having your time wasted being asked to decide this frivolous question. Remember that, and also remember that voting “No” is the only revenge you can exact, this year, on the leges who are wasting your time on it.

Amendment 13: Act No. 872 House Bill No. 489, Regular Session, 2014, By Representative Wesley Bishop

Do you support an amendment to authorize the governing authority of the city of New Orleans to sell at a price fixed by the legislature property located in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city of New Orleans? (Amends Article VII, Section (14)(B))

The legislature is asking you to give it the power to set real estate prices in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Vote No.

Amendment 14: Act No. 435 House Bill No. 131, Regular Session, 2013, By Representative James

Do you support an amendment to provide that legislation relative to tax rebates, tax incentives, and tax abatements may not be introduced or considered by the legislature in a regular session held in an even-numbered year? (Amends Article III, Section 2(A)(3)(b) and (4)(b)(introductory paragraph))

Every other year at the legislature there is a “fiscal” session, at which the focus is supposed to be matters involving revenue and spending. That’s why in “fiscal” sessions you’re only allowed five “non-fiscal” bills. This would strengthen that by making “fiscal” bills a no-go in a non-“fiscal” year.

Vote for this if you care. Vote no on this if you’re irritated that the legislature can’t police its own members to keep fiscal bills to fiscal sessions and they’re asking you to sort it out for them.

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