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Stories about Louisiana

Measures to repeal constitutional language on slavery and indentured servitude as criminal punishments are on the ballot in five states this November

On November 8, 2022, voters in five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont—will decide on amending their state constitutions to repeal language regarding the use of slavery or indentured servitude as punishment for a crime, or, in the case of Vermont, for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs.

The ballot questions are below:

  1. Alabama Recompiled Constitution Ratification Question: Ratifies an updated and recompiled state constitution, which was adopted by the legislature following voter approval of Amendment 4 in 2020. The proposed constitution repeals language that provides for involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.
  2. Louisiana Amendment 7: Removes language in the state constitution that provides for slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime and instead says that slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except that this cannot be applied to otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.
  3. Oregon Measure 112: Repeals language providing for slavery or involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.
  4. Tennessee Amendment 3: Repeals language providing for slavery or involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.
  5. Vermont Proposal 2: 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 adds language saying that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”

The Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—which was ratified on December 6, 1865—prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as a punishment for those convicted of crimes. The text of the Thirteenth Amendment reads:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

As of 2022, 10 state constitutions included provisions prohibiting enslavement and involuntary servitude but with an exception for criminal punishments, while nine states had constitutions that included provisions permitting involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as a criminal punishment.

The states with constitutions that include provisions regarding slavery and involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment are Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The states with constitutions that include provisions regarding involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as criminal punishment, are Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Vermont is the only state that has a constitutional provision regarding involuntary servitude to pay a debt, damage, fine, or cost.

Nebraska, Utah, and Colorado put measures on the ballot to remove language from their state constitutions regarding the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. These amendments were approved in Nebraska and Utah in 2020, and in Colorado in 2018.



Louisiana legislature adjourns special redistricting session without new congressional boundaries, plaintiffs appeal to SCOTUS

The Louisiana legislature adjourned a special redistricting session on June 18 without approving revised congressional district boundaries. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) had called the special session on June 7 after the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana struck down the state’s congressional district map and enjoined the state from using the districts for the 2022 elections. The special session began on June 15 and was scheduled to end on June 20.

After the session adjourned, State Sen. Rick Ward (R) said, “The problem I’ve run into is that we can’t find anything collectively that can get us to 20 votes. It’s a difficult task, one quite frankly that I think the courts will have to decide.” District Court Justice Shelly Dick, who authored the decision overturning the map, had previously set a hearing to review proposed redistricting plans on June 29. The judge’s original order said that the court would enact a remedial congressional district plan if the legislature did not do so by June 20.

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had issued an administrative stay of the district court’s ruling on June 9 pending further proceedings and vacated that stay on June 12.

On June 17, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) and Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) asked the Supreme Court of the United States to stay the federal district court’s decision overturning the congressional map pending appeal and petitioned the court to hear the case. The plaintiff’s appeal said, “If Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] does not require creating a gerrymandered second majority-Black district, Louisiana’s entire electorate suffers an irreversible Fourteenth Amendment violation when they next cast their ballots for their congressional representatives…Given the risk to the public that would arise without a stay, entering one far outweighs any burden Plaintiffs may claim.”

Louisiana originally enacted congressional district boundaries on March 30 when the state legislature overrode Gov. Edwards’ veto of legislation establishing the new districts. On March 9, Gov. Edwards vetoed the congressional district map that the legislature had passed on February 18. The state Senate voted to override the governor’s veto 27-11, with all ‘yes’ votes from Republicans and all ‘no’ votes from Democrats. The state House of Representatives overrode Gov. Edwards’ veto 72-32 with 68 Republicans, three independents, and one Democrat voting in favor and all votes against by Democrats.

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Federal appeals court allows ruling overturning Louisiana’s congressional boundaries to remain

On June 12, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated an administrative stay it had issued on June 9 of a federal district court’s ruling that struck down Louisiana’s congressional district boundaries. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also denied motions to stay the district court’s decision pending appeal. As a result, the congressional districts that the legislature adopted in March are overturned.

In its ruling, the court wrote, “Although we must acknowledge that this appeal’s exigency has left us little time to review the record, we conclude that, though the plaintiffs’ arguments and the district court’s analysis are not without weaknesses, the defendants have not met their burden of making a ‘strong showing’ of likely success on the merits.”

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling directed “the Clerk to issue an expedited briefing schedule and to calendar this matter for argument before the next available randomly selected merits panel that is already scheduled to hear arguments during the week of July 4, 2022…it is feasible that the merits panel, conducting a less-rushed examination of the record in the light of differently framed arguments, may well side with the defendants.”

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana had struck down the state’s congressional district map on June 6 and blocked the state from using the districts for the 2022 elections. The district court’s order blocking the map said, “The appropriate remedy in this context is a remedial congressional redistricting plan that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district. The United States Supreme Court instructs that the Legislature should have the first opportunity to draw that plan. Therefore, the Court ORDERS the Louisiana Legislature to enact a remedial plan on or before June 20, 2022. If the Legislature is unable to pass a remedial plan by that date, the Court will issue additional orders to enact a remedial plan.”

Louisiana enacted a new congressional map on March 30 when the state legislature overrode Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto of legislation establishing the new districts. The state Senate voted to override 27-11 with all ‘yes’ votes from Republicans and all ‘no’ votes from Democrats. The state House of Representatives overrode Edwards’ veto 72-32 with 68 Republicans, three independents, and one Democrat voting in favor and all votes against by Democrats. Gov. Edwards had vetoed the congressional district map on March 9.

On June 7, Gov. Edwards called a special legislative session on redistricting that began June 15 and was scheduled to end on June 20. Louisiana’s filing deadline for congressional candidates is July 22.

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Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stays district court ruling blocking Louisiana’s congressional district map

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an administrative stay on June 9 of a federal district court ruling blocking Louisiana’s congressional district map pending further proceedings. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana had struck down the state’s congressional district map on June 6 and blocked the state from using the districts for the 2022 elections.

The federal district court’s order blocking the map said, “The appropriate remedy in this context is a remedial congressional redistricting plan that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district. The United States Supreme Court instructs that the Legislature should have the first opportunity to draw that plan. Therefore, the Court ORDERS the Louisiana Legislature to enact a remedial plan on or before June 20, 2022. If the Legislature is unable to pass a remedial plan by that date, the Court will issue additional orders to enact a remedial plan.”

Louisiana enacted a new congressional map on March 30 when the state legislature overrode Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto of legislation establishing the new districts. The state Senate voted to override 27-11 with all ‘yes’ votes from Republicans and all ‘no’ votes from Democrats. The state House of Representatives overrode Edwards’ veto 72-32 with 68 Republicans, three independents, and one Democrat voting in favor and all votes against by Democrats. Gov. Edwards had vetoed the congressional district map on March 9, saying, “This map is simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and does not meet the standards set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act.”

Louisiana’s filing deadline for congressional candidates is July 22.

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Louisiana Legislature adjourns 2022 session; eight measures to appear on November ballot and three to appear on December ballot

The Louisiana State Legislature adjourned its 2022 legislative session on June 6, referring six constitutional amendments to this year’s ballots. These amendments join five other constitutional amendments that the Legislature referred during its 2021 session.

Eight measures will appear on the November 8 ballot and three will appear on the December 10 ballot.

On November 8, voters will decide measures that would do the following:

  • provide for the adjustment of property tax rates by a taxing authority up to the maximum rate approved by the constitution until the authorized rate expires;
  • allow local governments to waive water charges for customers if damages are not caused by the customer;
  • limit the increase in assessed value of residential property in Orleans Parish to 10% of the property’s assessed value from the prior year;
  • increase the maximum amount of certain state funds authorized to be invested in equities to 65%;
  • allow classified service/civil service employees to publicly support the election campaigns of individuals in their immediate family when off duty;
  • remove language in the state constitution that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime, thereby prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude except as it may be applied legally in the administration of criminal justice;
  • remove the annual income recertification requirement to receive special assessment property tax rates for homeowners that are permanently and totally disabled; and
  • exempt property owned by veterans with a 100% disability rating from property taxes entirely, expand property tax exemptions for certain disabled veterans with disability ratings less than 100%, and extend the exemptions to the spouse of a deceased veteran with disabilities.

The three measures on the December 10 ballot would do the following:

  • require senate confirmation of the governor’s State Police Commission appointees;
  • require senate confirmation of the governor’s State Civil Service Commission gubernatorial appointees; and
  • add a section to the Louisiana Constitution that says, “No person who is not a citizen of the United States shall be allowed to register and vote in this state.”

The Legislature also referred a measure to the November 18, 2023, ballot, which would provide that the legislature may consider vetoed bills during a regular or extraordinary session rather than convening a separate veto session and state that the governor’s deadline to act on a bill is based on the legislative session in which the bill was passed.

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 4 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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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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Louisiana legislature refers two constitutional amendments to 2022 ballot concerning property taxes

On May 24, the Louisiana State Legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the Nov. 8 general election ballot, bringing the total number of measures currently certified for the ballot to seven.

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 Louisiana Constitution provides for a special assessment level that limits the total assessment of a property from increasing above the assessment level in the first year that a property owner receives the special assessment level. The special assessment level is available for property owners receiving a homestead exemption and who are:

  • 65 years old or older;
  • veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 50% or more;
  • members of the U.S. or Louisiana National Guard who were killed or missing in action or are a prisoner of war for 90 days or more; or
  • determined by a court or state or federal agency as being permanently and totally disabled.

A person receiving the special assessment level may not have an adjusted gross income over $100,000. The $100,000 income limit was set to be adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index beginning in 2026. For those who are married filing separately, the adjusted gross income is determined by both individuals’ incomes. Property owners receiving the special assessment level, except those who are 65 years old and older, must annually certify their income from the prior tax year with the parish assessor.

The other amendment would expand property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses. In Louisiana, properties are assessed at 10% of fair market value. The homestead exemption in Louisiana exempts the first $7,500 of assessed value from property taxes. Disabled veterans with a 100% disability rating may receive an additional $7,500 exemption, meaning the first $15,000 of their property’s assessed value is exempt from property taxes.

Under the amendment, veterans with a service-related disability rating of 50% or more (but below 70%) would receive an additional property tax exemption of $2,500 of assessed value after the first $7,500 homestead property tax exemption, bringing their total exemption to $10,000. Veterans with a service-related disability rating of 70% or more (but below 100%) would receive an additional exemption of $4,500, bringing their total exemption to $12,000. The total assessed value of a property owned by a veteran that is totally disabled or that is rated as 100% unemployable by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would be exempt from property taxes.

The property tax exemptions would be extended to the surviving spouse of a deceased disabled veteran whether or not the exemption was claimed on the property prior to the veteran’s death.

The amendment would provide that tax revenue lost due to increased property tax exemptions would be absorbed by the local taxing authority and would not create any additional taxes for other taxpayers during any future reappraisals or millage adjustments.

The Louisiana State Legislature may refer additional constitutional amendments to the ballot during its 2022 legislative session, which is set to end on June 6. The Legislature referred five constitutional amendments to the ballot during its 2021 legislative session. The measures would do the following:

  • provide for the adjustment of ad valorem tax rates by a taxing authority up to the maximum rate approved by the constitution until the authorized rate expires;
  • allow local governments to waive water charges for customers if damages are not caused by the customer;
  • limit the increase in assessed value of residential property in Orleans Parish to 10% of the property’s assessed value from the prior year;
  • increase the maximum amount of certain state funds authorized to be invested in equities to 65%; and
  • allow classified service/civil service employees to publicly support the election campaigns of individuals in their immediate family when off duty.

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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Karen Peterson resigns from Louisiana State Senate

Karen Peterson (D) resigned from the Louisiana State Senate on April 8 to focus on recovering from depression and a gambling addiction. She represented District 5 from 2010 to 2022. According to The New Orleans Advocate, a federal probe is being conducted into Peterson’s finances and gambling addiction. 

Prior to joining the state Senate in 2010, Peterson served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1999 to 2010. She most recently ran for election in 2021, challenging Troy Carter (D) in the special election for U.S. House Louisiana District 2. Carter was elected with 55.2% of the vote.

If there is a vacancy in the Louisiana State Senate, the vacant seat must be filled by a special election. An election is required if there are six months or more left in the unexpired term. The presiding officer in the house where the vacancy happened must call for an election no later than 10 days after the vacancy occurred. The presiding officer must determine the dates for the election along with all filing deadlines. The person elected to the seat serves for the remainder of the unexpired term.

As of April 11, there have been 52 state legislative vacancies in 28 states during 2022. Twenty-two (22) of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 52 vacancies, 34 are Democratic and 18 are Republican. Democrats have filled 15 vacancies, while Republicans have filled seven.  

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Louisiana enacts new congressional district boundaries after legislature overrides governor’s veto

Louisiana enacted new congressional district boundaries on March 30 when the state legislature overrode Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto of legislation establishing the new districts. Louisiana was apportioned six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census, the same number it received after the 2010 census. This map will take effect for Louisiana’s 2022 congressional elections.

The state Senate voted to override 27-11 with all ‘yes’ votes from Republicans and all ‘no’ votes from Democrats. The state House of Representatives overrode Edwards’ veto 72-32 with 68 Republicans, three independents, and one Democrat voting in favor and all votes against by Democrats. Governor Edwards had vetoed the congressional district map on March 9 that the legislature had passed on Feb. 18, saying in a statement, “it does not include a second majority African American district, despite Black voters making up almost a third of Louisianans per the latest U.S. Census data.”

Louisiana is the fourth state this cycle—along with Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland—where the legislature overrode the governor’s veto of redistricting legislation. All four states have divided government, where one party holds the governor’s office and the other controls both chambers of the state legislature.

Tyler Bridges, Sam Karlin, and Blake Paterson wrote in The Advocate that the approved map means “that Louisiana this fall will have five congressional districts favored to elect Republicans, while Democrats will have one – unless federal courts rule that the new map violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act and mandate new boundaries.”

After the legislature’s override vote, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) issued a statement that said, in part, “Today, the overwhelming will of the Legislature was heard. House Bill 1 fulfills our constitutionally mandated duty to redistrict Congress. It also shows true legislative independence and a clear separation of power from the executive branch.”

In remarks made after the legislature overrode his veto, Gov. Edwards said, “I can’t imagine there is a more compelling case for the courts to look at and to overturn than in Louisiana. It’s not even close. I happen to believe it’s a very clear case of violating the Voting Rights Act.”

As of March 31, 39 states have adopted congressional district maps. One state’s map has been overturned by court action and four states have not yet adopted congressional redistricting plans after the 2020 census. Six states were apportioned one U.S. House district, so no congressional redistricting is required.

States have completed congressional redistricting for 383 of the 435 seats (88.0%) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Louisiana enacts state legislative maps

Louisiana enacted new legislative district boundaries on March 14 when the bill detailing those boundaries took effect without Gov. Jon Bel Edwards’ (D) signature or veto. Louisiana holds regular state executive and legislative elections in odd-numbered years, so these maps take effect for the state’s 2023 elections.

On Feb. 18, the legislative redistricting plan passed the state Senate, 25-11, with all votes in favor by Republicans and 10 Democrats and one Republican voting against. The state House of Representatives approved it by an 82-21 vote with 68 Republicans, 12 Democrats, and two independents voting in favor and 20 Democrats and one independent voting against.

After the legislature voted on the maps, Tyler Bridges wrote in The Advocate, “Without much fuss, the Republican-controlled Legislature…approved new district boundaries for the state House and Senate that would maintain GOP legislative dominance for the next decade.”

Edwards had announced on March 9 that he would not act on the legislative boundaries, releasing a statement that said, in part, “While neither the congressional or legislative maps passed by Louisiana’s Legislature do anything to increase the number of districts where minority voters can elect candidates of their choosing, I do not believe the Legislature has the ability to draw new state House and Senate maps during this upcoming legislative session without the process halting the important work of the state of Louisiana. At a time when we face unprecedented challenges, but have unprecedented opportunities to make historic investments in our future, the Legislature should be focused on the issues in the upcoming session and not concerned about what their own districts will look like in the 2023 elections.”

The Louisiana constitution says that a bill “shall become law if the governor signs it or if he fails to sign or veto it…within twenty days after delivery if the tenth day after delivery occurs after the legislature is adjourned.” The Louisiana legislature passed the redistricting bill on the last day of its special redistricting session and delivered it to the governor on Feb. 21.

Louisiana is the second state in this redistricting cycle where maps have become law without the governor signing or vetoing them. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) neither signed nor vetoed that state’s congressional map. Arkansas’ congressional districts then became law on Jan. 14, 2022, 90 days after the legislature passed them.

Nationwide, legislative redistricting has been completed for 1,694 of 1,972 state Senate seats (85.9%) and 3,989 of 5,411 state House seats (73.7%).

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