Both of the candidates for a Baton Rouge-area Louisiana Senate seat support holding a state constitutional convention, though they have concerns about the process.
State Sen. Regina Ashford Barrow, the current officeholder and a Democrat, said she has in the past supported legislation calling for a convention. But she said she would prefer to limit the convention to fiscal issues.
Challenger Gary Chambers, also a Democrat and the publisher of the Rouge Collection website, agreed, saying the high number of spending dedications in the constitution cause higher education and health care to be on the chopping block when revenue falls short. But he said as a Democrat he is concerned the Republican majority would have too much control, so he likewise would like to limit the subject matter to revenue issues.
“What we’re doing now is not working,” he said.
It is not clear whether a limited convention is viable in Louisiana. Attorneys general have issued opinions saying a convention has to stay within the bounds of the legislature’s call, but a proposed constitutional amendment to set up a framework for limiting conventions was defeated by voters, suggesting the current constitution doesn’t allow for a limited convention.
Barrow and Chambers addressed the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. Asked about a bill this year that called for an early rollback of an 0.45 cent temporary sales tax extension, Barrow said she is concerned about the impact of sales taxes on low-income residents but said she supported the tax because it was needed to balance the budget.
Barrow touted legislation she sponsored calling for a review of the state’s myriad tax breaks, adding that the “conversation is ripe” for restructuring the state’s tax code. Chambers said the state should consider eliminating its homestead exemption, saying every property owner should pay some property taxes.
Chambers said he would support legalizing marijuana for recreational use as a way to raise revenue for the state. Barrow said she was opposed to full legalization of marijuana because there are too many unanswered questions about the public health impact of doing so.
Both candidates said they support the changes Gov. John Bel Edwards made to the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, better known as ITEP, that give local officials a say in whether property tax exemptions in their jurisdictions are granted.
Chambers said he would support abolishing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, saying it is too beholden to wealthy campaign donors.
He said he would eliminate license requirements for hair braiders. Barrow said the number of hours required by the cosmetology board should be reduced, but said the potentially dangerous chemicals used by some are a reason why the license is needed to protect the public.
Early voting in Louisiana's next state election has ended. Election day is Saturday.