Off the hook
The Birmingham News
Sunday, April 02, 2006

Alabama Legislative Session Update and where do we go from here?

Wednesday, the Alabama Senate concurred with the House on a resolution to name a rest stop on Interstate 65 after Guy Hunt.

Senators also commended newspaper publisher Carol Pappas on being elected president of the Alabama Press Association.

And they congratulated the Patrician Academy Lady Saints basketball team on winning the AISA 2A state basketball championship.

But the Senate had no time to debate a bill that would let voters choose in November whether Alabama needs a convention of citizens to write a new constitution.

This isn't to belittle any of the above resolutions, no doubt all of them well-deserved, but to point out that senators can make time for what they think is important - like approving feel-good resolutions in an election year.

Not quite so important was a last-gasp chance to debate a Senate bill on whether voters could allow a citizens' convention that would draw up a new fundamental charter for Alabama to replace the special-interest-coddling, inefficient and racist 1901 model.

Constitution reformers have argued the bill was a simple matter of trust. Either lawmakers trust voters enough to make the right decision, just like they trust them to make the right decision in legislative races, or they don't.

The message? Lawmakers trust voters about as much as voters trust lawmakers with their tax dollars. (Hint: not much.)

Wednesday was the last day the Senate realistically could debate and pass the citizens' convention bill. Beginning Thursday, the 25th day of the session, Senate bills required unanimous consent to be sent to the House for consideration. That would allow a single senator to hold up a bill originating in the upper chamber, killing anything remotely controversial.

What's especially infuriating about the Senate's inaction on a bill that passed out of committee 10-0 in February, as well as the House's inaction, is that it lets lawmakers off the hook. Aside from the 10 Senate committee members and the 14 members of a House committee who deadlocked 7-7 on sending a similar bill to the full House, no lawmaker is on the record either opposing or supporting letting the people vote.

That's a shame, because a whole lot of other lawmakers should have to answer for the flagrant disregard for more than 65,000 Alabamians who signed petitions delivered to the Legislature requesting a vote on a citizens convention. No doubt, there are thousands more Alabamians who didn't sign the petitions who would like the chance to decide.

No wonder Freddie Patterson, the chief lobbyist for the Alabama Farmers Federation, which fought to kill constitution reform, smiled when asked about the failed effort.

"We just believe that a constitutional convention in 2006 or 2007 would be as dominated by special interests as the convention of 1901 was - just different people for different reasons," Patterson told the Mobile Register.

Horror of horrors. Patterson makes a citizens' convention sound almost as bad something even more dominated by special interests: the Alabama Legislature

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