Constitutional reform needed, but risky

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.
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 from personal experience that you do not want to rush into any effort for revision. And a rush seems 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.
Our new governor wants to tackle a rewrite by calling the legislature into another special session and quickly make numerous changes. This is very much the opposite of what needs to happen. Rushing the rewrite of the fundamental document upon which our state laws are based seems frought with peril.
It is important that a deliberative process take place. It is important that the public and the various organizations and institutions that represent us have a chance to provide input. That’s doesn’t seem to be our governor’s plan. The governing train is speeding out of the station with only the governor and legislature on board. The people of Louisiana are being left behind.

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Thomas FieldsThomas “Tuffy” Fields is an author and regular contributor to The Gazette. He can …

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