State Constitutional Amendments

Amendment 1

“Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of funds, goods, or services from a foreign government or a nongovernmental source to conduct elections and election functions and duties unless the use is authorized by the secretary of state through policies established in accordance with law?”

According to the Public Affairs Research Council Louisiana, “The issue of outside money became a point of dispute in the 2020 election cycle when a nonprofit organization funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg offered grants to help states and municipalities run their elections during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, elections were more costly because of the need for protective equipment, increased use of absentee balloting and extra hours added at early voting sites. More than two dozen local election officials across Louisiana initially sought the grant money but pulled their applications after others raised legal and ethical concerns. Election officials haven’t publicly suggested they’ve had instances of foreign governments proposing donations to administer the state’s elections.” Both the Secretary of State (who oversees elections) and the Attorney General (the one who has financial ties to people involved in the Jan. 6th plot) have legally interpreted the need for a provision to either allow or prevent election officials from receiving contributions of any kind. From PAR: “Two prior attempts to enact a state law prohibiting the use of private funds to pay certain election expenses were vetoed by the governor in 2020 and 2021. A constitutional amendment bypasses the governor’s desk.”

Some Republicans questioned Zuckerberg's motivation in providing the grants, claiming instead that he made the grants as a means of surreptitiously supporting Democratic candidates. They responded with legislation like that which put this proposed amendment on the ballot. The Louisiana Budget Project analysis adds that “this proposed constitutional change grew from the lies and misinformation about election security that erupted after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.”

A “yes” vote would ban the use of donations from a nongovernmental source or a foreign government for holding elections. A “no” vote would continue to allow election officials the discretion to accept contributions from nonprofits for conducting elections.

Amendment 2

“Do you support an amendment to provide that the freedom of worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection?”

This amendment may seem confusing considering the protections under the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, the provision for “the highest order of protection” is the real kicker of this amendment. From the early days of the pandemic, Gov. Edwards put into place limits on mass gatherings including church worship. A pastor in Louisiana went out of his way to not only challenge the safety mitigations, but was intentionally aggressive, leading to his arrest and subsequent lawsuit alleging his right to worship was being denied. During the LA Supreme Court decision, the charges were dismissed against the pastor on the grounds of the “strict scrutiny” standard that was given to freedom of worship in a church in a 2010 state law similarly phrased, but the state Supreme Court and lower courts were not in consensus on the right to gather in a house of worship as opposed to the practice of worshiping, such as online or outside.

A “yes” vote would require courts to apply the strictest level of judicial review to challenges when government bodies make restrictions on physically worshiping within a place of worship, preventing mitigation standards for public health. A “no” vote would continue the status quo legal framework and leave open the possible interpretation of allowing government bodies to limit how many people may physically gather in a place of worship.

Amendment 3

“Do you support an amendment to require that a minimum of twenty-five percent of any money designated as nonrecurring state revenue be applied toward the balance of the unfunded accrued liability of the state retirement systems?”

The four major retirement systems for state employees, police, teachers and school employees have a $17 billion gap for how much they have to pay out benefits and the assets available to make payouts, also known as an unfunded accrued liability or retirement debt. According to the Public Affairs Research Council Louisiana, the state employment retirement program (LASERS) has only 66% of the money needed to meet the long-term benefits for retirees in 2022, and the teacher’s retirement program (TRSL) has 74%. Currently, LA law states that the legislature must use at least 10% of any state budget surplus to go towards retirement debt, and though they aren’t obligated to use more of the budget to cover that debt, they have the option to do so. This amendment would increase the minimum required percentage from 10% to 25%. The state currently has a surplus of $727 million leftover from the 2021-22 fiscal year and $925 million in this year's excess general fund.

A “yes” vote would require the legislature to spend at least 25% of any budget surplus on retirement debt. A “no” vote would keep the 10% minimum and potentially leave thousands of retired teachers and state employees without the necessary long-term retirement benefits.

Amendment 4

“Do you support an amendment to deny a property tax exemption to a nonprofit corporation or association that owns residential property in such a state of disrepair that it endangers public health or safety?”

Currently in Louisiana, nonprofits and churches are exempt from property taxes, including properties that are not used for the core functions of the organization, such as annexes and houses. Others will have property that they actively rent out to tenants while avoiding paying property taxes, even if the property is in disrepair or a threat to public safety. This amendment attempts to address churches and nonprofits that act as slumlords whose properties have three or more code enforcement violations for the following: “Structural instability due to deterioration Injurious or toxic ventilation; Contaminated or inoperable water supply; Holes, breaks, rotting materials or mold in walls; Roof defects that admit rain; Unsecured overhang extensions in danger of collapse; Hazardous electrical system; Improper connection of fuel-burning appliances or equipment; Inactive or inoperable fire detection system; Unsecured or contaminated swimming pool”.

A real solution to the proposed problem would be removing property tax exemption status from nonprofits and churches entirely, but alas, here we are.

A “yes” vote would allow the local authorities of tax exemptions to remove property tax exemption status on a leased property owned by a non-profit or church if the property has at least three citations for violations. A “no” vote would allow nonprofits and churches to continue to not pay taxes on deteriorating properties being rented out to tenants.