Constitution costs Prichard
Press-Register
Friday, December 22, 2006

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Mobile, Alabama

SOMETHING GOOD could come out of the recent defeat of an amendment that would have allowed Prichard to set up a tariff-free trading zone, if the defeat spurs the Legislature to change the rules governing local constitutional amendments.

The Prichard amendment lost by less than 1 percent of the vote in a statewide election in November. But a statewide vote shouldn't have been necessary, because the amendment wouldn't have affected other counties.

Mobile County voters approved the proposed amendment; yet Prichard is denied an economic development project because voters in other parts of the state wouldn't approve it. Chances are, most of the voters outside Mobile County didn't understand what they were voting on.

Under existing rules, a local amendment must be put to a statewide vote if only one legislator from either house opposes it. That's what happened to the Prichard amendment. Sen. Hank Erwin, a Republican from Alabaster, was the lone dissenter.

In response, the Association of County Commissions of Alabama has come up with a reasonable suggestion: Increase the legislative threshold for triggering a statewide election on local amendments.

The association suggests requiring five senators in the Senate or 15 representatives in the House to oppose an amendment before a statewide election is required.

An even better solution would be to rewrite the 1901 state constitution to eliminate the need for local amendments. But until that happens, the association's proposal would provide some needed relief from an unfair policy.

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