House Bill 800: Why Senators Should Not Sell Louisiana (Or Any Other State) To Big Business

Rally Held At Louisiana Capitol Protesting Stay-At-Home Order And Economic Shutdown

A general view of the Louisiana State Capitol on April 17, 2020, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. | Source: Chris Graythen / Getty

The State Constitution of Louisiana is not perfect; no state constitution is. But that doesn’t mean state constitutions should be tossed aside or arbitrarily opened with no clarity on the rationale for doing so. It takes time to craft a governing document, and it takes time to protect the individual liberties and basic rights of all. But in seeking to host a constitutional convention, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry is undermining democracy and putting Louisianians at risk.

Under House Bill 800, legislators would convene on May 20, write a new state constitution by June 15 and put it on the ballot during the 2024 presidential election. This narrow window would make it hard for Louisianians to understand the process, offer input, or ensure that their rights are protected. The convention itself, and the short timeline for it, would also compromise local governments and institutions.

MORE: Black Voters Scapegoated For Louisiana Electing Suspected White Supremacist Jeff Landry As Governor

For context, the crafters of the United States Constitution took over two years to prepare to develop it. Why do some Louisiana legislators feel they can take on such a herculean task and do so within a few weeks? This is not only unwise, it is unjust.

The push to host a constitutional convention is nothing more than a sleigh of hand to sell what’s left of Louisiana to the highest bidder. It will open doors in our state – and other states – that advocates will be unable to close. For instance, if Louisiana succeeds in hosting a constitutional convention and rewriting the state constitution, it will create a precedent for other states to follow. This creates an on-ramp for conservative legislators to thwart common decency, erode institutions that serve the common good, and end protections vital to our children and communities.

I want to be clear – everything that we enjoy is tied up in our state constitution. The Louisiana Constitution protects critical programs, services and rights. Gov. Landry and those legislators supporting him, have already expressed a desire to remove constitutional protections from critical institutions and entities. Their vehicle for doing so is the proposed constitutional convention, which could jeopardize public services, goods and values such as the Public School Funding Formula (MFP). The MFP is currently protected by the state Constitution, unlike our neighbors in Mississippi. A constitutional convention would gut the funding formula.

To be sure, a constitutional convention would open the floodgates for de-regulation, privatization of goods and services, and the decentralization of government services. Rather than elected leaders being accountable to the people of Louisiana, they would be accountable to rich, private interests. The only entities that stand to benefit from a constitutional convention are those that seek to profit from it.

For instance, independent agencies – such as the Board of Regents and the Public Service Commission – could lose constitutional protections if House Bill 800 passes. Partisanship would soar and the interests of working people and ordinary Louisiana families would be further disregarded.

We need to be asking who is funding and advocating for this monumentally terrible idea.  Additionally, with a recent ruling indicating Louisiana’s maps are not representative of the population, we must ask why Gov. Landry and others are moving so quickly on the convention when the state has yet to have elections with fair maps.

All these things are concerning as is the timing of this convention. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. We should be celebrating progress made over the past six decades, but instead we are fighting to maintain some semblance of our democracy. There is no other way to put it, a constitutional convention would roll back hard-fought gains. And our communities can’t afford to lose much more.

We cannot normalize Louisiana rewriting the state constitution and think there will not be similar efforts to revise other states constitutions and the U.S. Constitution. We cannot rationalize taking power from the people and giving it to wealthy, powerful business interests.

Louisiana citizens are well aware that our state is for sale; what we cannot understand is why elected leaders want to participate in our demise. We value Louisiana; why don’t our legislators? We are the second poorest state in the nation, yet all legislators offer our people is incarceration, poorly funded education systems, food insecurity and high homeowners’ insurance premiums. The people of Louisiana deserve more.

At a minimum, Gov. Landry and his supporters should be transparent with Louisiana. He should also give all people a chance to truly participate in all processes that will affect our institutions.

Ashley Shelton is the founder and president of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.


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The post House Bill 800: Why Senators Should Not Sell Louisiana (Or Any Other State) To Big Business appeared first on NewsOne.

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