Crowded U.S. Senate race, 8 amendments on the Louisiana ballot

Louisiana voters statewide have a crowded ballot, with U.S. Senator John Neely Kennedy battling at the top of the ticket to keep is seat on The Hill against a host of challengers.

Louisiana election law uses the November election as a Primary with all candidates on the ballot. If one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, they avoid a runoff election.

With more than a dozen candidates for U.S. Senate, it would seem a runoff is likely. However, FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate of polls shows Kennedy above the 50% mark, despite a crowded contest.

His toughest challenge comes from Democrats Luke Mixon and Gary Chambers. Each posted 16% support in different polls — Mixon in a Public Policy Polling survey in October, where Chambers posted 8% support; and Chambers in an Echelon Insights poll in early September, where Mixon posted 8% support.

Other Democrats in the race include Syrita Stein, M.V. Mendoza and Salvador Rodriguez. Independent candidates include Beryl Billiot, Xan John, W. Thomas La Fontaine Olson, Bradley McMorris, Aaron Sigler and Thomas Wenn. 

Cook Political Report lists the state as a “solid R” favoring Republicans.

Kennedy has served in the Senate since 2017. He succeeded U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the seat after Vitter served from 2005 until 2017. Prior to that, the seat was a Democratic stronghold. 

Louisiana voters will also decide on eight constitutional amendments:

Amendment 1: 

“Do you support an amendment to increase to 65% the cap on the amount of monies in certain state funds that may be invested in stocks?”

The current cap is 35%.

The amendment would apply to the Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund, the Artificial Reef Development Fund, the Lifetime License Endowment Trust Fund, the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and Protection Fund and the Russell Sage or Marsh Island Refuge Fund.

Amendment 2:

“Do you support an amendment to expand certain property tax exemptions for a property on which the homestead exemption is claimed for certain veterans with disabilities?”

Currently, veterans with a 100% disability rating can exempt $15,000 from their property taxes, twice the normal exemption. A “yes” vote on the amendment would expand that increased exemption to veterans with a lesser disability rating. 

Amendment 3:

“Do you support an amendment to allow classified civil service employees to support the election to public office of members of their own families?”

A “yes” vote would allow civil service employees, as long as they are off-duty, to appear in or at family members’ political campaign photos, advertisements or events. The Louisiana Constitution currently prohibits such appearances, whether on duty or not.

Amendment 4:

“Do you support an amendment to allow local governments to waive water charges that are the result of damage to the water system not caused by the customer?”

A “yes” vote would add an exception to a Louisiana Constitution provision that currently prohibits state governments from “loaning, pledging, or donating its funds, credit, property, or things of value” to anyone. The exception would allow local governments to waive water charges in certain circumstances. 

A “no” vote would continue barring local governments from waiving water charges.

Amendment 5:

“Do you support an amendment to allow the levying of a lower millage rate by a local taxing authority while maintaining the authority’s ability to adjust to the current authorized millage rate?”

This amendment seems vague on its surface. It pertains to the state’s current “use it or lose it” law on millage rate utilization. Under current law, taxing bodies must implement the maximum allowable millage rate for at least one year out of every four years in order to maintain their ability to utilize the maximum in future years. 

Those supporting the amendment say it would ultimately save taxpayer money by allowing local governments to forego the max when they don’t need it, without risking their ability to ask for it when they do.

Critics fear it would cause increased burden to tax payers by allowing higher future millage rates.

Amendment 6:

“Do you support an amendment to limit the amount of an increase in the assessed value of residential property subject to the homestead exemption in Orleans Parish following the reappraisal at ten percent of the property’s assessed value in the previous year?”

The amendment applies only to the Orleans Parish. It would limit increases to assessed residential property values to 10%.

Amendment 7:

“Do you support an amendment to prohibit the use of involuntary servitude except as it applies to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice?”

This amendment has perhaps gotten more attention than any other, with critics, including the original bill sponsor, arguing it has an unfortunate unintended consequence — allowing slavery.

Louisiana is currently one of nine states where the Constitution permits involuntary servitude, but not slavery, for criminal punishment. The amendment would alter language to say that “slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited” if the amendment is approved. 

A “yes” vote is two-fold. It would support removing language from the Constitution that allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. But it would also support new language clarifying that the section prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude “does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.” That last part is where controversy has entered, as it includes slavery in the listed exception. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Edmond Jordan now opposes the amendment and is urging voters to reject it. He wants to try again with cleaner language in a subsequent election and, if the amendment does pass, to provide additional clarifying language. 

Amendment 8:

“Do you support an amendment to remove the requirement that homeowners who are permanently disabled must annually re-certify their income to keep their special assessment level on their residences for property tax purposes?”

Special assessments are given to permanently or 100% disabled homeowners and their surviving spouses, as well as to those 65 and older; veterans with a service-related disability rating of at least 50%; and National Guard members who were killed in action or missing in action or a prisoner of war for at least 90 days.

The amendment would remove a requirement for permanently or 100% disabled homeowners to re-certify their incomes annually and allow them to keep their special tax assessment indefinitely. 

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