FROM TODAY'S ANNISTON STAR:

Editorials

Backdoor reform

In our opinion
07-03-2006

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Alabama Legislative Session Update and where do we go from here?
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In case you missed it (and we did), Alabama got itself a little constitutional reform this year.

It came in an area where we badly need it — home rule.

For this, you can thank the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama and the voters of Mobile, Autauga, Dallas, Jackson and Marshall counties.

Here’s what happened. As we all know, Alabama’s 1901 Constitution denies home rule to counties in favor of centralized rule in Montgomery, where special interests can get what they want. This Constitution has been amended nearly 800 times, and many of the changes have dealt with local matters that county commissions in other states handle as a part of their normal duties.

Primary among these areas are taxes, planning and zoning, and health and safety.

Now, the Legislature is not about to give up its control over how taxes are levied. And planning and zoning are politically sensitive topics, and there are many among the powerful who do not want local governments to make these decisions.

So the Association of County Commissioners decided to see if they could get the Legislature to give county commissions authority over the least controversial of the three — health and safety — if the people of a county agreed.

And the Legislature said OK. In the 2005 session, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing county commissions to call for a referendum in which voters could empower commissioners to address things like pollution, noise, junkyards, animals, etc.

June 6 was the first time these issues could be put before county voters. Mobile, Autauga, Dallas, Jackson and Marshall counties put their particular questions to the people. And the people voted yes. In November, Escambia, Bibb and DeKalb counties will have similar issues on the ballot.

We hope that constitutional reform will come as a larger package, not piecemeal like this. And as other groups work to that end, we hope legislators will take note of what these counties have done and realize that people want things to change. Senators and representatives should help, not hinder, Alabamians to get what they want.
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