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House Speaker Pro Tempore seeks Louisiana constitutional convention to address budget matters

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By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Louisiana House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee is calling for a limited constitutional convention to amend language regarding tax structure, dedicated revenues and fiscal restraints on local governments.

Magee, R-Houma, filed House Bill 259 ahead of the regular legislative session, which starts March 14, to call for a constitutional convention in August aimed at giving lawmakers in the General Assembly more latitude with budget issues.

“It has been more than 42 years since the Constitution of Louisiana became effective at midnight on December 31, 1971, and during these years the document which constitutes the state’s basic law has been amended some 203 times,” HB 259 reads.

The bill points to constitutional changes needed to address issues with the state’s tax structure, how state revenues are allocated for health care and higher education and fiscal restraints on local governments “that dramatically limit their authority to meet fiscal and budgetary demands,” among others.

“The constitution today contains many provisions that restrict the legislature in effectively addressing state and constituent needs, and the document also includes extensive provisions that are so detailed as to be statutory rather than constitutional in nature and, as a result, require further constitutional amendment when any change is needed,” HB 259 reads.

“A serious analysis and revision of the state constitution is needed if the state is to conduct a genuine examination of the state’s critical needs, to undertake an in-depth consideration of reform proposals, and to craft provisions that allow for flexibility and innovation in legislative solutions to problems of the present and the future.”

The bill lays out the process of selecting 120 delegates for the convention by July 15 and sets Aug. 1 as the date to convene.

Under HB 259, the speaker of the House would appoint five delegates from each of Louisiana’s six congressional districts, as would the Senate president, governor and chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court “after consultation with the associate justices.”

The bill would require every delegate to be at least 18 years old and a resident of Louisiana, and each would be required to live in the congressional district for which they are selected.

HB 259 also stipulates a continuance of any legal case for attorneys selected to participate and provides a process for filling vacancies for death or inability or unwillingness of those selected to serve.

“The convention shall have authority to frame a new constitution for the state which shall be submitted to the electors of the state for their approval or rejection,” the bill reads.

The legislation limits revisions to specific articles of the constitution regarding local government, revenue and finance, elements of education, public officials and employees and certain sections of Article XII’s general provisions.

The bill also would permit the convention to hire staff and create a budget, accept public and private money for its work and develop a 27-member advisory group. The advisory group would consist of representatives from think tanks, business organizations, state universities, law enforcement, legal organizations, state courts and the state’s three branches of government.

HB 259 would prohibit advisory members from voting at the convention, and it would prohibit compensation of delegates.

The bill would task the convention with completing its work “not later than July 1, 2023,” and if approved by voters during the 2023 gubernatorial election, the changes would become effective at midnight on Dec. 31, 2023.

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