Louisiana voters will consider freedom of religion, ‘Zuckerbucks’ amendments



(The Center Square) — Louisiana voters will consider four constitutional amendments on Saturday’s ballot involving election donations, protections for worship, retirement debt, and property tax exemptions.

The four amendments are among eight proposed changes to the state constitution in the current election cycle, with another four scheduled for the Nov. 18 general election ballot. The proposals follow two-thirds favorable votes in both chambers of the Legislature and require a majority vote on Saturday to become law.

Amendment 1 will ask voters whether to include a provision in the constitution that would ban the use of financial or other donations from a nongovernmental source or foreign government to administer elections in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has twice vetoed bills to prohibit the use of private funds for elections in 2020 and 2021. The legislation was in response to hundreds of millions in donations during the 2020 election cycle from a nonprofit founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that Republicans contend was largely distributed to Democratic-leaning districts.

Over two dozen Louisiana election offices initially requested the grants, known as “Zuckerbucks,” before reversing course amid legal and ethical concerns.

Amendment 2 would amend the constitution to require government restrictions on the freedom to worship in church or another place of worship to meet a “strict scrutiny” legal standard, which deems such restrictions unconstitutional unless the government can sufficiently justify them with a compelling reason.

The amendment is in response to restrictions on churches during the pandemic that limited in-person services and sparked lawsuits, including one that resulted in a 5-2 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that applied the strict scrutiny standard to dismiss charges against a Louisiana pastor who defied the edicts.

While some argue the amendment will ensure strict scrutiny will be applied in such cases to remove any confusion in the courts, others argue freedom of religion is already protected in both state and federal constitutions.

Amendment 3 would require lawmakers to use 25% of any state surplus to pay down debt in the state’s four public retirement systems. Unfunded accrued liability in those systems stands at about $17 billion, and the amendment would boost an existing constitutional requirement to devote 10% of surplus funds to the debt. Like the current requirement, the increase could not be used to pay for cost-of-living increases.

Amendment 4 would allow local government officials to leverage property tax exemptions to force nonprofit housing organizations to address repeated health and safety violations. The measure would give local officials the authority to remove property tax exemptions for those nonprofits cited for repeated issues involving structural instability, toxic ventilation, hazardous water or electrical systems, faulty fire systems, leaking roofs, and other code violations.

While proponents contend nonprofits that refuse to correct repeated problems that put renters and residents at risk do not deserve the valuable tax breaks, opponents argue local politicians could abuse subjective code enforcement violations. The loss of the tax exemptions won’t ensure the issues will be resolved.



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