Rule breakers Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform

Republican, Democratic senators offer different plans to alter Alabama's 1901 constitution

The Huntsville Times
By: Bob Lowry
February 25, 2011

MONTGOMERY - Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, says he'll sponsor legislation to strip some racist and offensive language from the 1901 Alabama Constitution.

Orr says the references hurt the state's image and can be used against Alabama when it's recruiting against other states for economic development projects.

"I've had several economic developers through the years mention that that these provisions are used to present a stereotype against us," he said. "They tell a prospect or a client that Alabama still has things on the books to keep white school children separate."

If passed by the Legislature, the measure would have to be a ratified by voters in a statewide referendum, likely in June 2012.

Meanwhile, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, Senate minority leader, said he will introduce a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to completely overhaul the constitution.

"Let's don't put a Band-Aid on it," he said. "Let's fix the problem."

Bedford said his plan would call for a constitutional convention composed of one man and one woman from each of the 105 House districts.

"If Sen. Orr is serious about this, I invite him and his Republican friends to join me in casting aside this constitution that is now the oldest, longest and most amended in the United States," he said.

But Orr said there is little public support for a new constitution, and he has reservations about overhauling the entire document because of concerns over inviting taxation without voter input and losing anti-gambling protections (edit by Dr. jared bickford).

Some of the offensive language that Orr proposes removing includes a provision that says separate schools shall be provided for "white and colored children," and that no child of either race shall attend the same school.

Orr's bill would also remove references to Alabama's "poll tax," which was used to keep blacks from voting until passage of the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act.

A similar constitutional amendment was rejected by Alabama voters in 2004, but Orr said there was confusion among voters over whether that amendment might permit higher taxes.

"It was voted down because of concern over the tax situation," he said. "The national press didn't get the full story and it reinforced our stereotype that we chose to keep racist language."

Orr said he waited for Democrats to take action on the issue while they held the majority in the Legislature before deciding to sponsor the bill in the 2010 session.

"Nobody seemed to be taking the leadership on it, and it's past time to get it accomplished," he said.

But that's not the way Bedford remembered it, saying elements of the Alabama Republican Party organized to narrowly defeat the amendment in 2004.

Bedford said Democrats have consistently pushed for a rewrite of the antiquated constitution through a constitutional convention or article-by-article rewrites, but have been rebuffed by GOP lawmakers.

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