Senate panel backs bill to allow vote on constitution convention
The Birmingham News
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
DAVID WHITE
News staff writer

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MONTGOMERY - State voters could decide Nov. 7 whether to call a convention that could propose a new state constitution, under a bill passed Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The Senate's constitution and elections committee voted 10-0 for the bill. It next could be voted on by the full 35-member Senate as soon as Thursday, if the agenda-setting Senate Rules Committee were to give it priority.

"We're delighted. We think this is a fantastic beginning for this bill to come out of this important committee in the Senate," said Birmingham attorney Lenora Pate, co-chair of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a nonpartisan grassroots group.

The vote breathed new life into efforts to rewrite the state constitution. Just last week, the constitution and elections committee of the House of Representatives refused, on a 7-7 vote, to pass a virtually identical bill.

"I think the bill's alive," said state Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, the Senate bill's sponsor.

Little said he will start asking Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, to put the convention bill on the Senate's voting agenda, or special order calendar. "He's a key," Little said. Preuitt leads the Senate Rules Committee.

If the Senate and House were to pass Little's bill and if a majority of the state's voters approve a constitutional convention, elections would be held April 3, 2007, for voters to elect 210 delegates.

The delegates would be a man and a woman from each of the 105 state House districts. The convention would start July 10, 2007. It would have to end by May 1, 2008.

If the convention adopted a revised or a new constitution, state voters in the general election of Nov. 4, 2008, would decide whether to accept it. If a majority said yes, the revised or new constitution would take effect Jan. 1, 2009. If a majority said no, the current constitution would remain in effect.

Opponents say a convention might propose a constitution that would make it easier to raise state taxes or create a lottery, or that would give county governments more home rule so they could raise local taxes and zone property more easily.

Supporters say the current constitution, which took effect in 1901, should be replaced because it was designed to empower white landowners and take away the vote for blacks and poor whites. They say it's too long and cumbersome, with more than 770 amendments, and that it puts too much power in the Legislature and not enough in local governments.

E-mail: dwhite@bhamnews.com

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