Rule breakers Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform

Piece-by-piece start toward constitutional reform (editorial)

The Press Register
By: Editorial Board
May 1, 2011

ALABAMA’S 1901 constitution is an outdated clunker that needs a complete overhaul.

But we’d settle for replacing one part here and one part there as long as progress is being made.

Piecemeal constitutional reform is the plan being put forth in a resolution approved by the Legislature and expected to be signed soon by Gov. Robert Bentley.

Proposed by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the resolution would create a commission of 16 people to suggest changes to the bloated document that now has more than 800 amendments to its name.

Under the plan, the commission could propose changes to nine of the constitution’s 18 articles. Any change suggested would have to be approved by lawmakers and then go before the voters. The Alabama Law Institute would advise the commission.

The plan’s only real failing is that it would not address the constitution’s flawed tax provisions. That’s a big omission, but it’s a compromise that apparently was necessary to gain approval.

There are plenty of other problems the commission can tackle as it marches toward reform. <> Sen. Marsh’s resolution calls for addressing particular articles in the constitution over several years, starting this year with Article 12 on private corporations and Article 13 on banking.

Legislature and representation would follow in 2012, the executive branch and education in 2013, and impeachment and miscellaneous items in 2014.

Home rule — the ability of counties to manage their own problems — is another issue that cries out for attention. By design, the 1901 constitution withholds authority from county governments, centralizing power in Montgomery.

As a result, counties have to get legislative and voter approval for the smallest of actions — from dealing with mosquito control to dead farm animals — through the cumbersome constitutional amendment process.

This fault could be fixed by granting counties the authority they need to handle more of their own business without having to go begging to Montgomery.

Another, separate indication that the Legislature intends to update the constitution is the all-night session the Senate pulled last week to remove some of the document’s racist language.

Members emerged at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday after working all night and agreeing to eliminate some of the outdated language regarding poll taxes and separate schools for blacks and whites. This measure still must be approved by the House and by voters — and although some say it doesn’t go far enough, it’s another step in the right direction.

Alabama’s 1901 constitution is a serious obstacle to good government. While rewriting the document in its entirety doesn’t appear to be feasible right now, taking one bite at a time might be.

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