How long, Alabama?
The Huntsville Times
By John Ehinger
Saturday, February 18, 2006

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As many times before, constitutional reform seems headed nowhere

Every year, the Alabama Legislature is asked to set into motion the procedures that would allow Alabama voters to write a new constitution. Every year, the Alabama Legislature refuses. This year appears to be no exception.

This week, the state House Constitution and Elections Committee deadlocked 7-7 (amounting to a "no" vote) over a measure that would let the people decide if they wanted a constitutional convention. (To their credit, three area House members, Jeff McLaughlin, Randy Hinshaw and Sue Schmitz, voted in favor of the measure.)

So the proposal is dead in the House. A twin bill is pending in the Senate, but a more positive outcome is considered a longshot.

To review:
What's wrong with the present state constitution? It invests power solely in legislators while denying local government control over local issues; it retains the racist language of Alabama's past; and it so distorts the process of public-policy decisions that it has been amended more than 700 times, with no end in sight.

What would a new constitution include? It would include what the people wanted. If they wanted to perpetuate the present tax system, it would include that. If they wanted a different tax system, the document would reflect that preference. And so on.
How would a new constitution be drafted and adopted? Here is where the legislators shamed themselves and shortchanged their constituents. The proposal before the House committee would have let the voters decide whether to call a constitutional convention. If they did, they would then elect 210 delegates. Finally, any proposed new constitution would have to be ratified by the voters in a statewide referendum.

So what's wrong with all that? Nothing. The safeguards are numerous and redundant, and yet the same old cadre of selfish special interests - Alfa, the Christian Coalition and others - worked feverishly behind the scenes to prevent any chance at reform.

And what said opponents of the measure? They said the Legislature should revise the document article by article and submit those articles to the voters one at a time. Any rational observer might ask: Why has the Legislature not done that already?
Even this year, an amendment to remove the racist language from the 1901 constitution is going nowhere. In 2004, voters narrowly rejected a measure to remove such language after opponents fabricated absurd claims of other things that would result.

How long will Alabama suffer under this flawed and barbaric document? How long will the power-obsessed Legislature continue to deny the people the right to decide the question for themselves?

How long? Probably for a very long time, and more's the pity.

By John Ehinger, for the editorial board. E-mail: johne@htimes.com

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