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11.18.23 – By: Greg LaRose – Louisiana Illuminator

Three of four proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution were approved Saturday, when voters also decided statewide runoffs for attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state.

The changes to the state charter will clarify the legislature’s options for veto overrides, close out a handful of dormant state funds and provide property tax breaks to first responders. 

The one proposal rejected Saturday would have restricted lawmakers’ access to one of the state’s emergency funds. 

Last month, voters approved four separate amendments. With the seven new changes, Louisiana voters will have updated the document 221 times since its ratification in 1974.

Amendment 1: Veto override adjustments — YES

The change brings clarity to the governor’s veto process and addresses a legal dispute that arose during last year’s legislative sessions.

There has been confusion about when the Louisiana Legislature needs to hold a separate veto override session and when they can vote to reject the governor’s vetoes as part of a lawmaking session already underway.

In 2022, Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a bill that redrew the state’s congressional district boundaries but only included one seat with mostly Black voters. Edwards has repeatedly called for the map to have two majority-Black districts.

Lawmakers had approved this congressional map during a special political redistricting session, but the legislature was in the middle of a new session, held shortly after the redistricting session, when they got the opportunity to overturn the governor’s veto.

Lawmakers and their staff had differing opinions about whether they had to schedule a special, veto override session to overturn Edwards’ decision on the maps, or if they could vote to overturn the veto as part of the regular legislative session that was underway.

In the end, the legislators decided to suspend their regular legislative session and hold a daylong, veto override session to overturn Edwards’ veto

With the approval of Amendment 1, lawmakers no longer have to break from an ongoing session to vote on an override. 

Amendment 2: Unused state accounts — YES

Six special state funds no longer in use will be closed and their balances transferred to the state’s general fund. The obsolete accounts are the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund, the Higher Education Louisiana Partnership Fund, the Millennium Leverage Fund, the Agricultural and Seafood Products Support Fund, the First Use Tax Trust Fund and the Louisiana Investment Fund for Enhancement.

Five of the funds have no money remaining in them. The sixth, the Louisiana Investment Fund for Enhancement, has a balance of $640, according to the Public Affairs Resarch Council (PAR).

Amendment 3: First responder property tax exemption — YES

Approval of this amendment allows local authorities to approve a property tax break for first responders equivalent to the taxes collected on $25,000 of their home’s value.

The reduction will be in addition to the first $75,000 taken out of home values for tax purposes through the state’s homestead exemption.

First responders who qualify for the tax break include: sheriffs, police officers and other law enforcement officers; firefighters, including some who work on a volunteer basis; some emergency medical services workers, dispatchers and operators; and other full-time employees involved with emergency rapid response services. 

Parishes and other local governments are prohibited from trying to make up the revenue lost from first responders’ taxes  through another tax, fee or property reappraisal.

Proponents of Amendment 3 believe it could help address law enforcement personnel shortages. 

Amendment 4: More protection for state savings – NO

This proposal would have placed more restrictions on withdrawals from a key state savings account.

The Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund is one the state’s two main savings accounts, along with the Budget Stabilization Fund, better known as the rainy day fund. 

The Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund is filled when business tax revenues exceed forecasted collections, particularly from the oil and gas industry. Established in 2016, the fund currently has a balance of $2.2 billion, according to PAR

The rainy day fund contains $900 million and receives most of its deposits when the state ends its annual budget cycle with a revenue surplus. By law, legislators and the governor must put funding into the rainy day fund every time they end a fiscal year with extra money.

Both savings accounts can be tapped to deal with budget shortfalls, and Amendment 4 would have made it harder to pull out large sums of money from the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. With its rejection, the legislature can still access the trust fund with a two-thirds vote of both chambers. 

Amendment 4 would have required lawmakers to first tap into the rainy day fund to deal with any budget shortfall before turning to the Revenue Stabilization account. 

Julie O’Donoghue contributed to this report.