- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana voters are a step closer to deciding whether convicted felons will have to wait 15 years after serving a criminal sentence before running for elected office.

The House passed a proposed state constitutional amendment Tuesday that would require the 15-year buffer. The amendment gained the two-thirds it needed to move to the Senate for consideration with a 79-19 House vote.

Voters passed a similar amendment, which was adopted in 1998, but the Louisiana Supreme Court voided it recently. The high court said voters had approved an amendment that differed from the one passed by state lawmakers.

Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco, said presenting the voters with an amendment similar to the 1998 amendment was not about a new punishment for convicted felons, but allowing the public to again pass something it once overwhelmingly supported.

“This is about the rights of the people of Louisiana to try to bring the best (people) in government, so that we don’t further erode the trust that the people of Louisiana have in the government,” he said.

Before passing the amendment Tuesday, legislators debated the length of time convicted felons should have to wait, with some support for an eight-year waiting period.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, said he supported passing a measure that would have the public vote on the shorter waiting period. Expediting the wait time, he said, would allow a young person convicted as a felon under low-amount narcotics crimes to positively serve his or her community sooner.

“The electorate can decide who can be in office,” Leger said.

Others saw 15 years as a compromise between disqualifying convicted felons for a short period of time and disallowing them from ever holding office.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, asked his colleagues to be careful in protecting the opinions of the Legislature - in this case, the 1998 state lawmakers’ decision to set the waiting period.

“It’s a privilege to be here and it better be damn hard to get here,” he said.

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Online:

House Bill 275: www.legis.la.gov

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