WEEKLY: Amendment Bills Reach 6-Year Low

The number of proposed constitutional amendments introduced by state legislators during regular sessions has hit a six-year low, just as momentum is building for another constitutional convention.

For the 2018 regular session members of the House and Senate dropped 40 constitutional amendments into the hopper. That’s the lowest number on record since the 2011 regular session, which hosted 31 constitutional amendments. Within this timeframe, the interest in amendment bills displayed by lawmakers peaked during the final year of the last term, in 2015, when there were 67 such instruments introduced for debate.

Preservers of the current Constitution that was drafted in 1974 welcome this trend with open arms, but readers of the lay of the land want to see a couple more years worth of data before labeling it as a trend or any kind of sea change approach to policymaking.

As for what might pass this year, one constitutional amendment has already failed in a floor vote, two have been withdrawn from consideration and two are technically constitutional convention bills, which have a tough road ahead.

There are  also 18 amendment bills that have already been considered on the committee level, meaning they were either turned back or put on hold. None of them, however, have exited their originating chamber, which doesn’t bode well for the authors, given the condensed timeline of the regular session.

Another nine instruments are still pending an initial committee hearing from either Appropriations (all regarding fund revenue), Ways and Means (for property tax changes and a local gas tax) or House Administration of Criminal Justice (for unanimous juries for felonies).

If you’re looking for future legislative votes on constitutional amendments, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by next week’s agendas. In fact, there are a half dozen bills pending action Monday before the full Senate and the Appropriations Committee. While that doesn’t mean they’ll definitely receive votes, the measures are at least on deck. Here’s the overview:

— SB 278 by Sen. Dan Claitor, to remove the mandatory retirement age for judges, is on the Senate floor

— SB 242 by Sen. JP Morrell, to limit the bills that can be filed in regular sessions during even-numbered years, is on the Senate floor

— SB 31 by Sen. Conrad Appel, creating barriers for convinced felons to run for office, is on the Senate floor

— SB 148 by Morrell, requiring local government approval for the industrial property tax exemption, is on the Senate floor

— HB 540 by Speaker Taylor Barras, altering the expenditure limit calculation, is pending a hearing in the Appropriations Committee

— HB 309 by Rep. Gary Carter, to open the Rainy Day Fund to declared disasters, is pending a hearing in the Appropriations Committee

Looking a little further ahead, the full House has scheduled for Wednesday a hearing on Rep. Katrina Jackson’s HB 203, which removes age restrictions for public office and employment. That includes junking the mandatory retirement age for judges. Next Friday, April 27, the House has also slated Sen. Dale Erdey’s SB 263, which would allow political subdivisions to loan out equipment and personnel to each other, under certain guidelines.

This story was originally published in LaPOLITICS Weekly on April 19, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

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