Rule breakers Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform

Alabama constitution rewrite up to voters if representative's plan passes

The Birmingham News
By: David White
March 4, 2011

MONTGOMERY -- State voters would decide whether to call a convention of delegates that could propose a new state constitution, under a resolution filed Thursday by state Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham.

Under Newton's plan, Alabama voters would decide during the June 2012 primary election whether to hold a convention. If they voted for the proposal, they would elect 105 convention delegates, one from each state House of Representatives district, during the November 2012 presidential election. The top vote getter in each district would be elected, even if he or she didn't win a majority of the votes.

The convention would start in April 2013 at the Capitol. If delegates proposed a new constitution, voters would decide in the June 2014 primary election whether to accept or reject it. If accepted, the new supreme state law would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Newton's plan, House Joint Resolution 34, could be reviewed by the agenda-setting House Rules Committee, which has 10 Republican and five Democratic members. If cleared by that committee, it could go to the full House for review.

Voters on Nov. 2 gave Republicans control of the Legislature for the first time in more than a century. In the House, Republicans hold 65 seats, Democrats hold 39 and there is one vacancy.

Newton for years has tried but failed to win approval of similar convention plans, and Republicans have tended to oppose them. But Newton quipped, "They said they want to move the state forward. This is their opportunity."

Newton noted that Alabama's current constitution was drafted in 1901 by a convention of white men. He said holding a convention would let a "cross section of Alabama" draft a new supreme state law.

Newton said Alabama needs a new constitution in part to give local governments more autonomy and control over zoning, taxes, weed ordinances and other local issues. Now, many changes sought by local governments, especially counties, must first be approved by the Legislature. "It's about empowering local governments," Newton said.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Hueytown, a supporter of Newton's resolution, urged fellow lawmakers to give the voters who elected them the right to decide whether to call a constitutional convention.

"If those people are smart enough to vote them into office, they ought to be smart enough to decide if they want the opportunity to rewrite the constitution," Coleman said.

But Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, the House leader, said he thinks a completely new proposed constitution would change so many things that most voters would find something they disliked, making approval doubtful.

"I believe it (would) be voted down. And that would be the end of constitutional reform," Hubbard said. "People find it easier to say no to something than to say yes to something."

Instead, Hubbard said he favored having the Legislature propose rewrites to the constitution section by section, which voters could accept or reject.

Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, has proposed House Bill 20, which would rewrite sections of the constitution on banking, if voters approved. He also has proposed House Bill 21, which would rewrite sections of the constitution dealing with corporations, if voters agreed.

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