Term limits for Louisiana tax assessors move forward in Legislature
Bill would limit assessors to 12 consecutive years
The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).
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.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.