Term limits for Louisiana tax assessors move forward in Legislature

Bill would limit assessors to 12 consecutive years

By: - April 18, 2022 7:01 pm
Louisiana State Capitol Building

The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).

UPDATE: HB-288 ultimately failed to move from the House calendar before the 2022 session concluded.

A proposed constitutional amendment to place term limits on parish tax assessors narrowly advanced Monday in the Louisiana Legislature.

House Bill 288, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, would limit tax assessors to 12 consecutive years or three consecutive terms in office, a proposal that would change the power dynamic of a political office where incumbents can easily spend decades. The bill would not apply retroactively, so those currently in office could hold power for at least 12 more years. 

Some assessors have held office for nine consecutive four-year terms, including former Eddie Gatlin in Jackson Parish and Bobby Gravolet in Plaquemines Parish. Both retired in 2015. 

Despite pressure from the Louisiana Assessors Association, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced the legislation in a 7-6 vote, sending it to the House floor where it will require a two-thirds supermajority to pass. If the bill manages to clear that hurdle, it will have to repeat those steps in the Senate before it is placed on the ballot for voter approval in the Nov. 8 statewide election. 

In her testimony to the committee members, Landry acknowledged her bill has placed some of her legislative colleagues in a difficult position, facing pressure from incumbent tax assessors and lobbyists opposed to term limits. 

However, she said controversy over the legislation stops there. Outside of the political establishment, the bill is a non-controversial measure of fairness and good government that Louisiana voters will overwhelmingly approve if lawmakers give them that chance, Landry said.

The 12-year, three-term limit matches the term limits voters placed on state lawmakers in 1995.  

Research indicates term limits on political offices are “extremely popular” with voters across the country and in Louisiana, particularly with Republicans, she added.

“What I’m asking you to do is put this on the ballot for voters,” Landry said. “This is not your personal opinion on term limits but what your actual constituents think on this. It gives them the option.”

Landry has a similar proposal for term limits on sheriffs. She said both the sheriffs and assessors are “very angry” about the bills.

She said she agrees with term limits and believes they encourage younger candidates to run for office.

“Most of us wouldn’t be here without (term limits),” Landry said. 

The governor, Legislature and members of the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education (state school board) are the only state officials who have term limits. Many local offices are term limited, but sheriffs, tax assessors and most judges and prosecutors are not. 

Brian Eddington with the Louisiana Assessors Association argued that term limits would cause a loss of “institutional knowledge” in assessors’ offices. There is a “very narrow specific set of knowledge” required to perform the duty of a tax assessor, he said, and this knowledge would be lost if assessors had to leave office due to term limits.

When Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie, asked for specific examples of knowledge that would be lost, Eddington said “familiarity with the tax base” and “consistency and repeatability of results.”

“You want your assessments to be consistently applied every year,” Eddington said, adding that assessors follow “very technical rules” that the Legislature and Louisiana Tax Commission create.     

Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, said the institutional knowledge is lost regardless of term limits because tax assessors, like other humans, cannot serve in perpetuity. If they’re not voted out of office, they will at some point either retire or die. So, if the concern is truly over the loss of knowledge, that problem isn’t solved simply by opposing term limits, Willard pointed out.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.