Rule breakers Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform
   
 

Constitutional revision effort set to begin; taxes aren't in mix

The Gadsden Times
By: Dana Beyerle
April 18, 2011

MONTGOMERY — The Legislature on Tuesday could begin a three-year project to rewrite select portions of the lengthy and often-amended 1901 state constitution.

Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, is sponsoring two proposed constitutional amendments that top the special order calendar the House Rules Committee will consider prior to the House convening on Tuesday.

“I've worked on this the last four years and hopefully this will be the year it gets to the public,” DeMarco said Monday.

The Senate Rules Committee will consider a resolution by Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, creating a constitutional revision commission that would consider revising some of the constitution's 18 articles.

DeMarco said he prefers revising individual articles and sending them to voters a few at a time over the next three years. “The public can better examine one article at a time rather than do it all at once,” he said.

DeMarco said the state has experience in revising articles. The judicial article was revised successfully in 1973 and the election article was updated in 1996. “The people will have the final say,” he said.

Marsh wants to exclude from consideration Articles 2, 5, 8, 15, 16, 28, and 11, dealing with state boundaries, the judiciary, suffrage and elections, the militia, oath of office, mode of amending the constitution and taxation, respectively.

He said he also is excluding taxation from consideration because it's controversial.

“I'm afraid if you stick that in there right now, it's a lightning rod,” Marsh said. “Let's take care of it down to the tax issue and then we can address it.”

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, is the Senate Rules Committee chairman. “Article by article is the way I've been in support of for years,” he said. “It allows the Legislature and the people to concentrate on one article at a time.”

House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said adding taxes to the mix makes the resolution “a non-starter.”

"When it comes to constitutional reform, we can bite off only what Alabama can chew at one time,” Hubbard said. “If we tried to rewrite the whole thing and take a vote, there's no question in my mind it would be defeated. And then, constitutional reform would be dead.”

Marsh's 16-member commission would consist of Gov. Robert Bentley and three appointees, himself and three appointees; Hubbard and three appointees; Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; DeMarco, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, chairman of the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee, and Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, chairman of the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said he believes a statewide convention consisting of male and female delegates from each of the 105 House districts will create a better document. “I trust the will of the people,” Bedford said.

Taxes should be included in a convention, Bedford said. “Saying you're going to do a constitutional revision and (to) not address inequities in the tax system is wrong,” he said. “We should work toward a more fair way of doing taxes.”

Beason said he's “not a fan of opening up a constitutional convention because I've seen the power of special interests over things as small as illegal immigration.”

“If you do it article by article, the public can look at it and look at local amendments and determine how we deal with things people have been complaining about,” Beason said.

Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform conducted surveys of citizens who wants something done. ACCR supports the three strategies, said Chairwoman Lenora Pate.

“They wanted the option to vote on a constitutional convention resolution, they wanted to see action article by article and they seem supportive of commissions,” Pate said.

She said ACCR's preference is a convention, but she also supports Marsh's commission. “We are urging if it passes (that) those with appointments will appoint citizens ... who have expertise and knowledge in reforming the constitution,” she said.

The ACCR for practical purposes supports Marsh's agenda that removes taxation from the table. “It doesn't mean it's going to be excluded altogether, it just means it's not on this one,” Pate said.

There are numerous resolutions or bills dealing with constitutional revisions.

They include House Joint Resolution 34 by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, allowing a convention; Bedford's similar resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 27; House Bill 181 by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, to allow home rule; Senate Bill 212 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to remove segregation-era language that is inoperative but remains in the 110-year-old document; and DeMarco's amendments to modernize the banking article and update corporation articles. Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, sponsored HB 207 that would allow a small percentage of motor vehicle taxes and fees for public transportation.

Alabama's Constitution was written in 1901 by white males to disenfranchise blacks and poor whites, and concentrate political power.

Instead of giving counties the authority to self-govern, it requires voters to consider amendments. That requirement has resulted in 827 amendments, many pertaining to just one county.

Marsh wants the Alabama Law Institute to serve as the commission's staff. It would analyze the constitution and amendments, identify outdated, duplicative and unnecessary provisions and report by Dec. 31.

Marsh wants to remove unconstitutional language and tackle articles 12 and 13 on private corporations and banking, respectively, this year.

The schedule in 2012 would be to look at articles 3, 4, and 9, dealing with the distribution of power, the legislative department and representation, respectively.

In 2013, Marsh envisions tackling articles 1, 5, and 14. Those deal with the declaration of rights, the executive department and education, respectively.

The Legislature in 2014 would take on articles 7, 10, and 17, dealing with impeachments, exemptions and miscellaneous, respectively.


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