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Monday, April 8th, 2024

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 There has been a lot of chatter in recent months about the need to rewrite Louisiana’s Constitution. And for good reason. This original slim document has now blossomed into the nation’s seventh longest state charter with over 83,000 words. The United States constitution, written in 1787, only has 4543 words.

Former state legislator Ron Faucheux said it well in a recent column: “Constitutions are not plumber’s manuals that dictate every detail. Instead, a Louisiana constitution should be limited to general principles that outlines the rights of the state citizens and provide basic framework for the scope and operation of government.”

Louisiana’s current constitution was written 50 years ago. I happen to know about it quite well. As a state senator at that time, I was a co- author of the legislation to create a constitutional convention, and I was a delegate at the convention that wrote the state’s current document. I can tell you for personal experience. You do not want to rush into any effort for a rewrite or revision. And a rush seem to be taking place for such an effort at the state capital right now.

A call for a new constitution in the Bayou State is nothing new. When some obscure candidate for governor back in 1987 published his plan for Louisiana’s future called the Brown papers, one of his initial proposals was to rewrite the state’s constitution. That was 37 years ago. Unfortunately the current document has been  filled with 214 amendments.

Delegates back then concluded that a constitution should be flexible enough to allow for changing times. A responsible legislature should have the tools to deal with current emergencies, catastrophes, new innovative programs that needed state funding, and have the ability to curtail or eliminate programs that had outlived their usefulness. What was important in 1974 may be irrelevant in 2024.

But the process was not rushed. Delegates met for one year, often five days a week.  We looked back at past Louisiana constitutions, and reviewed documents from states all over America. What took place was a slow, deliberative process that developed into a workable document that should have worked well for years. And there was lots of input from average citizens who wanted to voice their opinion.

Former governor Buddy Roemer and I co- chaired the finance committee of CC 73. (the name  for the 1973 convention.).  After the workday was over, we often gathered up members of our committee, met at a local pizza joint, and talked for hours about forming a short, practical and workable section of a new constitution that Louisiana voters would find acceptable.

But year after year since then, one special interest group after  another  lobbied legislators to offer amendments that  opened up our present constitution  with provisions that often tie the hands of future governors and legislatures. So there seems to be general agreement that it is time to make major revisions in the present Louisiana Constitution. The question is how we go about it.

The governor wants to tackle a rewrite by calling the legislature  into another  special session to quickly make numerous changes.  But there has been little consideration for public input.  In addition, many legislators are just plain worn down. Since the governor took office less than four months ago, there has  been three special sessions plus this current regular session. Part-time legislators in many instances run businesses back home that need attention.

Louisiana’s new governor wants to hit the ground running and has a loaded agenda for change. That’s fine for legislators to consider.  But when a knew basic document is proposed that affects the lives of every citizen, it is important that a deliberative process take place.  There certainly should be plenty of time for a cross-section of organizations and average Louisiana citizens to give their input. The governing train is speeding out of the station. It’s time to slow things down.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his weekly podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.






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