Louisiana think tank to hold state constitutional convention forum
The U.S. Constitution, including its 27 amendments, contains 7,591 words and has provided the nation’s basic legal framework for more than 200 years.
Louisiana’s constitution, adopted in 1974, contains more than 13,000 words just about state spending and has been amended 306 times.
“We don’t really have a state constitution anymore,” said Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. “We have a set of laws that are given constitutional authority.”
On Aug. 20, the Pelican Institute will host a “constitutional convention forum” in Baton Rouge. The forum will start with the premise that a constitutional convention is needed, then go into how it might be structured and what it could accomplish.
Holding a constitutional convention has been discussed and rejected by lawmakers several times in recent years. A resolution that would have set up a commission to study the issue advanced out of the state House of Representatives this year but died in the Senate without a vote.
The next term will bring a new mix of legislators, some of whom may feel differently than their predecessors. Launching a constitutional convention requires the approval of two-thirds of the members of both the state House and Senate, and the results would go before the voters for approval.
The Pelican Institute advocates for free market policy positions. But as far as the constitution is concerned, Erspamer says, specific policies are secondary to having a structure that allows the policy debates to happen in the right forum, be it the legislature, local governments or among voters.
Under the current system, where so much spending is dedicated by statute or the constitution, legislators only have discretion over about 11 percent of the budget, he says.
“We have elected officials who are not able to go and represent the priorities of their constituents,” Erspamer said. “Legislators from decades ago have predetermined how that money is going to be spent.”
One panel at the forum will focus on “overcoming Huey Long’s legacy” and re-balancing the relationship between the state and local governments. More prosperous and efficient states tend to have less state spending on local concerns and more independence for local governments, Erspamer argues.
The agenda and list of speakers is available on the Pelican Institute’s website.