Thursday, May 5, 2016

Thursday, May 5, 2016

State Constitutional Convention?; “Sanctuary Cities” threatened; Low housing costs spurring growth; No raises for state workers? and; Lawsuit over voter registration

State Constitutional Convention?

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday that if comprehensive tax reform aimed at fixing the state’s consistent budget woes does not occur in the 2017 session, a constitutional convention is a real possibility for the state. In his address to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, he also shared his thoughts on this year’s first special session and what he wants to see in the next special session. Elizabeth Crisp of The Advocate has the story.


“We clearly have to do better, but we will,” said Edwards, a Democrat who took office Jan. 11. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s going to take people who are willing to sit down with one another.” Talk of holding a constitutional convention — a meeting to rewrite all or parts of the state constitution — has cropped up occasionally in recent years as the state has cycled through repeated budget shortfalls. At least one bill at the State Capitol this session would let voters decide whether a constitutional revamp is needed, and the topic was among the handful of questions Edwards fielded during the Rotary meeting. The constitutional convention idea has manifested as one of the symptoms of the near-constant crisis mode the state’s finances have been operating under. During a special session earlier this year, the state Legislature raised the sales tax to infuse quick cash in the budget — an action Edwards told the Rotary crowd he feels “terrible about.” He said he won’t allow another sales tax hike in a second special session. “I am not disavowing it — it was my plan because the only way to raise significant revenue in a short amount of time was through sales tax,” he said. “We had no choice, but part of long-term comprehensive tax reform has to be creating stable revenue so we can walk back the sales tax.”


“Sanctuary Cities” threatened

The Louisiana House overwhelmingly passed two bills aimed at punishing “sanctuary cities” – those with policies friendly towards immigrants. As Julia O’Donoghue of Times-Picayune reports, at least one of the bills could endanger cities’ construction funding and could be particularly difficult for New Orleans, where it would potentially violate the terms of a federal consent decree.


It could negatively affect construction projects associated with the Port of New Orleans, Superdome, airport, roads and local schools, city officials said. Both bills are a direct response to New Orleans new policing policy that directs law enforcement not to cooperate with federal immigration officials anymore. Since February, New Orleans police officers have been forbidden from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status, which rankles conservatives in state government…It’s not clear New Orleans could comply with “sanctuary city” legislation, even if it wanted to do so. Landrieu’s administration adopted the recent policing policy in part to comply with a court-supervised reform agenda. A federally-mandated consent decree governs NOPD’s practices, as the result of several lawsuits alleging unconstitutional actions by law enforcement. That consent decree specifically dictates that NOPD not inquire about people’s immigration status, according to the Landrieu administration. So if the proposed “sanctuary city” bill became law, it would put New Orleans in a tough spot. It would either have to violate the consent decree — overseen by a federal court — or violate the new state law.


Low housing costs spurring growth

Areas where housing costs have skyrocketed have seen a decrease in population growth, and areas with reasonable and affordable housing are enjoying population growth. That’s according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog. The report says housing costs are the biggest factor for millennials deciding where to live and for retirees.


For years, cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as Brooklyn, New York, and some Washington, D.C., suburban counties, have enjoyed tremendous growth despite their relatively high costs of living. Silicon Valley has been growing quickly, too. But their allure may be fading…Several parts of the country where the cost of living is more affordable have enjoyed strong growth in the past year. In Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, population grew by 46,000 last year, up by 5,000 from the previous year and the largest increase since 2007. Utah County, Utah, which includes Provo, gained 14,000, an increase of 5,000, the largest since 2009. Florida dominates the list of counties where growth accelerated last year: Brevard County, which includes Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, saw population growth double, adding 11,000 people, the biggest increase in 11 years. And Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, grew by 31,000, an increase of 6,000 over the previous year and its strongest growth since 2011. In all, 20 counties in Florida added at least 1,000 more people last year than they did the year before. Many of the people who moved were prompted by cost-consciousness, said Julie Harrington, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University. Especially around Tampa, in Hillsborough County, and Fort Myers, in Lee County, where housing is less expensive than in nearby areas, Harrington said.


No raises for state workers?

More than 40,000 rank-and-file state employees would forgo a pay raise next year due to the state’s ongoing fiscal travails if Gov. John Bel Edwards has his way. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne made the request of the state Civil Service Commission because the state doesn’t have the money.


“I don’t relish the opportunity to come before you with this particular request,” said Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser. But he added: “Given the crisis we’re dealing with right now, this is an appropriate action that we’re asking you to take.” The Edwards administration intends to similarly freeze pay raises for the tens of thousands of political appointees, known as unclassified workers, in the Cabinet agencies under its control, Dardenne told the commission. The Civil Service Commission didn’t make a decision on the request, voting 5-2 to delay a determination until June.


Lawsuit over voter registration

Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Commissioner of Elections Angie Rogers are named in a lawsuit being brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Fair Elections Legal Network. At issue is heightened voter registration requirements for naturalized citizens. Here’s more from the Associated Press:

The suit claims a state law on the books since 1874 is unconstitutional because it requires naturalized citizens to provide documents proving their citizenship when they register to vote, while other residents must simply swear that they are citizens. The plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking a preliminary injunction blocking its enforcement. The suit says Louisiana’s law appears to be the only one of its kind still enforced in the U.S. Four other states — Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Kansas — currently have proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration. Jon Sherman, an attorney for the Fair Elections Legal Network, said Louisiana’s law is different from the others because its requirements single out naturalized citizens.


Number of the Day

3 – the number of years it would take to write a new Louisiana constitution, from study to ratification. (Source: Public Affairs Research Council via The Advocate).