Rule breakers Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform

Alabama constitution rewrite commission proposed by lawmaker

The Birmingham News
By: David White
April 18, 2011

MONTGOMERY -- A top lawmaker is pushing a plan to set up a commission of 16 people that could suggest changes to Alabama's constitution.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the Senate president pro-tem and sponsor of the plan, said he's heard from many people over the years who said the constitution, which took effect in 1901, is too long, too cumbersome and needs to be updated.

"Let's just get it done," Marsh said. "Let's go ahead and accomplish this."

The commission of state officials and their appointees could suggest over three years piece-by-piece changes to much of the constitution. The Legislature could accept or reject each. Any change accepted by lawmakers would take effect only if also approved by state voters.

Taxation off limits

Some parts of the constitution would be off limits, including Article 11, dealing with taxation; and Article 6, the section on the judicial department that voters revised in 1973.

Marsh said he thinks adding a review of the tax section to the commission's powers would doom his commission plan, set out in Senate Joint Resolution 82.

"It would prevent this resolution from getting out, because of the fear everyone has over who's going to be involved in the restructuring of any tax revenue," Marsh said.

Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, criticized taking taxes off the commission's table. "All the unfairness of the taxation system will simply be maintained and perpetuated under this," said Bedford, the Senate minority leader of 12 Democrats.

Marsh said lawmakers, if they wanted, could tackle taxes after deciding whether to modernize, clean up or otherwise change other parts of the constitution.

Gang of 16

Commission members under Marsh's plan would be: Gov. Robert Bentley and three people picked by him; Marsh and three people picked by him; Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and three people picked by him; and Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne; Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile; and Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, who are heads of the House and Senate judiciary and constitution and elections committees.

The Senate's agenda-setting Rules Committee plans to review Marsh's plan Tuesday. Committee chairman Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said he thinks there's a good chance the panel will clear the plan for debate by the full 35-member Senate (edit by jared bickford).

Bedford said he would prefer letting voters decide whether they want to elect delegates to a convention that could propose a new constitution, which also would go to the voters.

"I trust the citizens of Alabama. I think they've got the collective wisdom to come together and enact a good, working, new constitution for the state," said Bedford, who has proposed a convention resolution.

But Marsh, Beason and Hubbard, the House leader, said they preferred article-by-article changes to holding a convention and letting voters decide whether to accept or reject an entire new constitution.

"How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time," Beason said.

He noted that state lawmakers would write any proposed piece-by-piece changes to the constitution, but they wouldn't control what a convention might propose.

Piece by Piece

Alabama's constitution, excluding its 800-plus amendments, is divided into 18 parts or articles. Marsh's proposed commission would have a schedule for considering changes:
• February 2012: Article 3 on distribution of powers, Article 9 on representation, and Article 4 on the legislative department. Article 4 now strictly limits the power of county governments, such as the power to assess and collect taxes.

• February 2013: Article 1, the declaration of rights, Article 5 on the executive department, and Article 14 on education.

• January 2014: Article 7 on impeachments, Article 10 on exemptions, including things exempted from sale for debt collections, and Article 17 on miscellaneous items such as a ban on holding a state and federal office at the same time.

Hubbard noted that the House on Tuesday is scheduled to debate revisions proposed by DeMarco to Article 12, on corporations, and Article 13, on banking. Marsh added that Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has introduced an amendment that would remove remaining segregationist language from the constitution.

Birmingham lawyer Lenora Pate, who chairs the non-profit group Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said that, while she would like to see a convention, she also supports article-by-article revision and Marsh's proposed commission.

"I urge that, if this passes, .¤.¤. that those other appointed positions be filled with individuals who have demonstrated a real passion and understanding of the problems in our constitution," she said.

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