On a hot New Orleans summer day, Mr. Willie and I wait outside the historic Circle Foods grocery store, eager to register voters for the upcoming election on November 6.
To my disappointment, most people we talk to refuse to register to vote—on principle. Some explain they want to stay out of politics, while others claim their vote doesn’t matter. Many simply walk away as soon as they hear the “V” word.
While I empathize with their lack of confidence in the presidential election process—with its gerrymandering and the electoral college—I cannot accept that our votes in local elections “don’t matter” or are “just politics.” Last year, for example, my City Councilperson won by merely 112 votes!
This year, we have several constitutional amendments Louisiana voters will get to decide on, directly. Here’s a quick overview of the questions on the ballot:
1. Prohibit felons from running for public office
In 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that convicted felons can run for public office due to a failed amendment to a bill in 1997. A new bill requires people with a felony record to wait eight years before can running for office—a compromised reduction from the originally proposed 15 years.
Many other states restrict people from running for office if they have a felony on their record. However, Ban The Box advocates say that once someone has paid their time, they deserve a second chance.
America is a Nation of second chances. Promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals who have paid their debt to society makes communities safer…
— President Barack Obama in a 2016 memo
Recently, the Common App—used by many universities—announced that it will stop asking about students’ criminal records.
It will be up to Louisiana voters to determine if the arguments made by Ban The Box advocates and the Common App extend to running for public office.
Appears on the ballot as CA NO. 1 (ACT 719 — SB 31) “Prohibit felon from public office”. Voting “YES” creates new restrictions on felons running for office.
2. End non-unanimous juries
Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that have non-unanimous juries, meaning that a person could be sentenced to life at Angola even though one or two jurors think they’re innocent. In any other state, that would be a hung jury and the defendant would walk free.
John Legend has been vocal about Louisiana’s need to strike down this Jim Crow-era law. Indeed, the law was created in 1898 at a constitutional convention whose mission was to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.”
The amendment has widespread support from Republicans and Democrats:
“I along with our governing body believe that in criminal cases, the verdict of the jury should be unanimous.”
— Andrew Bautsch, executive director of the Louisiana GOP
Appears on the ballot as CA NO. 2 (ACT 722 — SB 243) Unanimous jury for noncapital felonies. Voting “YES” means that the existing law is removed.
3. Permit donations from political subdivisions
This constitutional amendment would allow a city to loan resources—specifically, “equipment and personnel”—to another city.
It would also allow librarians to sell books 🤷. The original bill author seems to be the only person to say much at all about the amendment.
There doesn’t appear to be any downside, except perhaps that taxpayers would want their tax dollars to stay in their community.
Given the amount of aid Louisiana received from other governments following Katrina and the 2005 levee failures, it seems reasonable that we would legalize this practice within the state.
Appears on the ballot as CA NO. 3 (ACT 717 — SB 263) Permit donations from political subdivisions. Voting “YES” would mean cities can borrow things from each other.
4. Transportation Trust Fund
Apparently, some of our state road dollars have been going to pay cops. Voters have the ability to ban this transfer of funds by amending the Transportation Trust Fund’s rules in the state constitution.
“Our roads, bridges and ports are critical economic drivers in our state… If we want to be competitive and produce more jobs for Louisianans, we must face our infrastructure problem with the urgency and funding mechanisms required.”
— Governor John Bel Edwards in 2015
Appears on the ballot as CA NO. 4 (ACT 720 — SB 59) Transportation Trust Fund. Voting “YES” would prevent road project funds from being used to pay police.
5. Extend eligibility for tax exemptions
This would amend an apparently existing tax exemption to apply to disabled veterans and spouses of deceased veterans. I haven’t been able to track down exactly what these tax exemptions entail.
Appears on the ballot as CA NO. 5 (ACT 721 — SB 163) Extend eligibility for tax exemptions. Voting “YES” would make disabled veterans and surviving spouses eligible for special tax assessment.
6. Phase increase of property taxes over 4 years
This change to the state constitution would restrict cities from increasing a specific property’s tax bill by over 50% in one year. Such an increase would need to be phased over four years.
This isn’t a new idea:
Many cities have rent control—sometimes restricting increases to nearly as low as inflation—so why not have property tax control?
Appears on the ballot as CA NO. 6 (ACT 718 — SB 164) — Reappraisal of residential property. A “YES” vote would force cities to phase 50%+ tax increases over four years.
Parish-Wide: Authorize Fantasy Sports Contests
Each Parish will have the opportunity to legalize fantasy sports betting. Proponents argue that fantasy sports are a game of skill, not luck—and should not be regulated as gambling.
Appears on the ballot as PW Fantasy Sports — Act 322, 2018. A “YES” vote would legalize fantasy sports betting.