Vanilla Language for a Banquet of Amendments

May 23, 2017

The House Civil Law Committee began working through proposed constitutional amendments Monday.

“Right now there are 50 constitutional amendments out there,” staff attorney Robert Singletary advised the members.

They weren’t debating the content of the amendments, just okaying the ballot language, in case any of those measures make it through the legislative process.

“I think it needs to be a little more clear, and I think they’d be more likely to support the cause,”

Bossier City Representative Raymond Crews said of voters' likely response to the ballot language for the amendment which would guarantee funding for the state Inspector General's office.

“It’s about as vanilla a language as I ever saw. It’s like asking if you like mother, apple pie and baseball!” Greensburg Representative Robbie Carter complained. “It says, ‘Do you support an amendment to provide greater independence for the state Inspector General by dedicating a minimum level of funding?’ Doesn’t say how much, where it’s coming from. To me, it’s about as vanilla as you can get.”

“Because it is just as vanilla and home and apple pie as you can get -- to make sure that our state watchdog is independent of the legislative process,” Kenner Representative Julie Stokes, the bill's author, responded.

So why isn’t the ballot information on constitutional amendments required to be clearer? The committee’s attorney Robert Singletary says it dates back to Hotard v. The City of New Orleans, a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“The Court basically stated that the purpose of the ballot language is simply to provide enough information so that the voter can identify which matter that they are voting on,” Singletary told committee members. “It’s not to fully explain what the matter does.”

Civil Law chairman, Raymond Garofalo of Chalmette, admits the language of ballot measures is often not ideal.

“If a voter doesn’t take the time to go and read the entire proposition, I understand that’s an issue,” Garofalo said. “But I don’t know if it’s an issue that we’re going to be able to solve here today.”