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Louisiana Legislature Not Set on Details for Rewriting Constitution

State lawmakers are determined to host a convention to rewrite the state’s constitution, but they have not agreed on which aspects they want to address or who should be in attendance.

Legislative leaders seem bent on convening a convention to rewrite Louisiana's constitution, but they haven't settled a number of crucial questions.

Such as: How many delegates should there be?

How do you mix in Gov. Jeff Landry's demand that he be allowed to name 27 delegates?

And once lawmakers settle on who will vote on the items of the new constitution, and how, what will be the overall goal or vision for deciding on the new rules to govern the state?

For now, lawmakers are repeating the view of Republican mega-donor Lane Grigsby — who appears to be the prime mover behind creating a new constitution — that the new charter must be streamlined from the current one. It was approved by voters in 1974 when Edwin Edwards was governor and virtually all legislators were Democrats.

The streamlining would happen, they say, by taking items from the constitution and putting them into "statute." This would allow lawmakers to change those items in the future without needing a vote of the people, which is how they change them now.

Here's another key question: Will lawmakers remove from the constitution the Minimum Foundation Program, which sets how much the state spends on K-12 schools each year? Taking the MFP out of the constitution would make it easier to cut public education spending — which could be attractive to Republican lawmakers to help pay for potentially expensive Education Savings Accounts.

"Everything is part of the conversation," House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R- Eunice, said when asked Thursday whether the MFP could lose its constitutional protection.

DeVillier and Senate President Cameron Henry, R- Metairie, have agreed that a bill to rewrite the constitution would originate in the House and that Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R- New Iberia, would sponsor the legislation.

Under legislative rules, Beaullieu has until April 2 to file his bill.

DeVillier said he wants to create a subcommittee of legislators to recommend the final shape of the bill, adding that what it would contain "is on everyone's mind."

DeVillier noted that lawmakers currently have limited choices when they grapple with spending choices because they can make decisions each year on only $3 billion in spending, or about one-fourth of the general operating budget. The rest of the spending is protected by the constitution, as are $7 billion in tax breaks approved by voters over the years.

Many legislative officials have said they would want to limit the debate at a convention to certain areas of the constitution.

But as Henry noted, "Once you're in a constitutional convention, you open up the entire constitution."

(c)2024 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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