(KPLC) - By Sarah Gamard and Tryfon Boukouvidis
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE - A bill to take a step toward creating a constitutional convention was approved Wednesday by a House committee, giving momentum to a push to hold one in 2020.
Louisiana's last constitutional convention occurred in 1973, and proponents say a new one is needed to free up funds that are locked up for certain purposes and to change the state's tax structure.
The House and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bill, House Bill 500 by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, and it now goes to the full House.
The bill would implement a limited constitutional convention in 2020 if the idea is approved by a 27-member committee of non-legislators whose purpose is to decide by 2019 whether the convention is needed.
The convention would focus on local government and state funds, taxes and revenue, and K-12 and higher education. The convention in 1973 was more comprehensive and looked at the state's entire body of laws.
Proponents say a new convention could serve as a long-term fix for the state's budget crisis. Excluding federal aid, about $4 billion of Louisiana's annual spending is set aside by the Constitution or state laws for various programs, and about half of the other $6 billion is spent on healthcare and higher education, leaving those areas vulnerable when spending cuts are needed.
Some legislators said a convention also could streamline sales tax collection.
Opponents say another convention, which has no guarantee of success, could ultimately be a waste of time and money given the state's political gridlock.
The Legislature is now grappling with a proposed budget that contains $994 million in cuts to state-funded agencies and programs after a fifth special legislative session in two years collapsed earlier this month. Gov. John Bel Edwards called the special session in an attempt to find revenue to replace $1 billion that will be lost when a temporary increase in the sales tax expires on July 1.