Return power to state voters
Tuscaloosa News
Published Friday, March 7, 2008

There are arguments to be made for and against a convention to draft a new Alabama constitution. The only certainty is that the current document, enacted in 1901, needs to be replaced.

Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform wraps up all the major arguments: The 1901 Constitution restricts local democracy; it locks in an unfair tax system; it hinders economic development; it limits budget flexibility; it is the longest known constitution in the world; and it has undemocratic origins.

At long last, Alabamians may have a chance to vote on whether to call a convention to draft a new state constitution. The Constitution and Elections Committee of the state House of Representatives voted 9-4 this week for a bill for a statewide referendum concurrent with the 2010 primary elections.

The bill has a long way to go. It faces a vote in the full House, approval by the Senate and endorsement by the governor.

If the amendment passes, the convention is held and a new document is drafted, voters would return to the polls in 2012 to ratify or reject the result.

That's all you could ask for in the way of checks and balances.

It's also much more democratic than the way many matters are handled now under the strictures of the 1901 Constitution.

One example locally is the difficulty that Tuscaloosa officials have had in getting lawmakers to pass a bill letting city residents vote on Sunday alcohol sales.

They have been forced to bypass local lawmakers and seek a statewide vote on an amendment allowing a local vote. But even that has proven elusive.

The same day the constitutional convention bill passed, a House committee approved a bill allowing a statewide referendum on an expansion of gambling to cover Medicaid costs.

Let the people vote, its supporters said.

The lawmakers should apply the same standard to constitutional reform.

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