Louisiana voters to decide in November on constitutional amendment to remove language that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime

Louisiana voters will decide in November on a constitutional amendment that would remove language from the state constitution that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. The amendment would also add language to say that the section of the constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude “does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.”

In Louisiana, a two-thirds vote is needed in each chamber of the Louisiana State Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration.

This amendment was introduced as House Bill 298 on March 2, 2022. It was passed unanimously in the state House on May 3, 2022, and passed unanimously in the state Senate on June 1, 2022.

As of 2022, Louisiana was one of nine states that included constitutional provisions permitting involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as a criminal punishment. Ten other states had constitutions that included provisions prohibiting enslavement and involuntary servitude but with an exception for criminal punishments. These constitutional provisions were added to state constitutions, in their original forms, from the 1850s to the 1890s. One state—Vermont—had a constitutional provision permitting involuntary servitude to pay a debt, damage, fine, or cost.

Amendments to remove constitutional language on the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments were certified for the 2022 ballot in four other states:

  • Tennessee: Removes language that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments and replace it with the statement, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited.”
  • Oregon: Repeals language from the state constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments and adds language that authorizes an Oregon court or a probation or parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration for a convicted individual as part of their sentencing.
  • Vermont: Repeals language stating that persons could be held as servants, slaves, or apprentices with the person’s consent or “for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like” and add “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”
  • Alabama: Ratifies an updated and recompiled state constitution that was drafted to remove language considered racist, among other changes. The section stating “That no form of slavery shall exist in this state; and there shall not be any involuntary servitude, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted,” would be removed.

At the 2020 general election, Utah and Nebraska voters decided to remove language from their respective constitutions that allowed the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. Nebraska Amendment 1 was approved by a margin of 68.23% to 31.77%. Utah Constitutional Amendment C was approved by a margin of 80.48% to 19.52%. In 2018, voters in Colorado approved Amendment A by a vote of 66% to 34%, which removed language from the state constitution saying that slavery and involuntary servitude were permitted as criminal punishments.

During the 2021 legislative session, the Louisiana State Legislature referred five constitutional amendments to the November 2022 general election ballot.

So far during the 2022 legislative session, the Louisiana Legislature has referred two other constitutional amendments to the Nov. 8 general election ballot. One amendment would remove the requirement to annually re-certify income for homeowners that are permanently and totally disabled in order to keep their special assessment level for property taxes. The other amendment would expand property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses. Louisiana’s 2022 legislative session is set to end on June 6.

During the 20-year period between 2000 and 2020, the statewide ballot in Louisiana featured 104 constitutional amendments. An average of 10 amendments appeared on the ballot, and the number of amendments on the ballot ranged from four to 21. Voters approved 71.15% (74 of 104) and rejected 28.85% percent (30 of 104) of the constitutional amendments.

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