Hearing set on constitutional convention bill
Birmingham News, April 1, 2005
By David White

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MONTGOMERY - Alabama voters would decide by mid-September whether to call a convention to draft a new state constitution, under a proposal scheduled for debate next week at the State House.

The Senate's 12-member constitution and elections committee will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday on the bill by state Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn.

Little said people have talked for decades about rewriting Alabama's supreme state law, which took effect in 1901 and has more than 750 amendments. Little said he would like to see whether citizens could craft a better one.

Little said lawmakers have too many other things going on to craft their own piece-by-piece rewrite of the constitution. He said he would like to see people such as Auburn University history professor Wayne Flynt take a shot at writing a new one.

"We need to put full faith and credit in the people of this state," Little said. "We've got too many individuals out there of the Wayne Flynt caliber ... and they can make a very notable contribution to this state."

A new constitution could create a new state government, public school system, court system, National Guard and tax structure. It could give more power to counties and tighten or loosen gambling restrictions, among other things.

Any constitution proposed by a convention would have to be approved by a majority of Alabama voters to take effect.

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, who chairs the Senate constitution and elections committee, said many lobby groups want to keep the current tax structure or other existing features of state government. He said many lobbyists may try to kill Little's bill, but added that he's been surprised by the number of calls he's gotten from people who want a convention.

Little's bill would need at least 18 votes in the 35-member Senate and 53 votes in the 105-member House of Representatives to pass.

Lawmakers could rewrite Little's bill.

But if they passed it as written in this legislative session, which must end by May 16, a special statewide election on whether to have a convention of 105 delegates would have to be held within 120 days of the session's end.

If a majority of state voters agreed to hold a convention, candidates to be delegates would run in nonpartisan races in the June 2006 primary election.

Voters would choose one delegate for each of the 105 state House districts. A candidate would have to be a registered voter, at least 25 years old, a citizen of Alabama for at least five years and a resident of the House district for at least one year. Any federal, state of local officeholder could run to be a delegate.

Candidates could not take campaign contributions from corporations or from political action committees formed by lobbying firms, associations, companies and other groups.

The convention would first meet at the Capitol in January 2007, when delegates would elect a president. The state would pay delegates $50 per meeting day, but no more than $150 per week and for no more than 60 meeting days.

Delegates could work on writing a new constitution through early April 2008, if need be. The convention would disband if delegates couldn't propose a new constitution by then.

If they finished work by then, delegates would file a copy of their proposed constitution with the secretary of state. Voters would decide in the June 2008 primary election whether to accept it.

If a majority voted for it, the new constitution would take effect Jan. 1, 2009. If a majority voted against it, the current constitution would remain in effect.

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