Bills offer hope for constitutional rewrite
Press-Register
Monday, March 19, 2007

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IF THE Alabama constitution were a truck, it would be a 1901 wooden wagon pulled by big mules, because no one made a pickup before 1902. The mules would be old and skinny, hardly capable of pulling the bloated constitution that has acquired so many amendments (more than 700) that it has become the longest constitution in the nation.

The wood slats and bottom of the 1901 wagon would be rotted, mildewed and broken. The wheels would be rusted and bent, the harness decayed and patched together.

It wouldn't serve the needs of 21st century Alabamians any better than the real constitution does.

Folks have been debating trading the old wagon in on a new truck for years. The Legislature has largely left the vitals of the document untouched despite calls by the public for a new constitution.

But major change often comes slowly. As a matter of practice, it usually takes several years for good ideas to wend their way through the Legislature. But this should be the year that legislators let Alabama voters decide whether to call a constitutional convention to rewrite the state's guiding document.

To that end, two bills with bipartisan support have been introduced in the Legislature. They are House bill 98 and Senate bill 99.

Well-reasoned, the bills would allow voters to vote "yes" or "no" on whether to call a constitutional convention. The election would be held during Alabama's presidential primary in February 2008.

If voters approve, an election would be set to choose delegates. And, yes, the legislation would prohibit undue influence by big-moneyed lobbyists.

No delegate would be allowed to take a campaign donation of more than $100 from any one donor. Two delegates would be elected from each House of Representatives district.

Once elected, the 210 delegates would meet the first Monday in October 2008, and would have to conclude by July 1, 2009. The new constitution would be submitted to an election. If voters rejected it, the old constitution would stay in effect.

But what a shame it would be for Alabama to remain burdened by a dysfunctional constitution that makes home rule for counties nearly impossible, contains racist language, works against economic development, and enforces an unfair and inadequate tax system.

The 1901 constitution doesn't serve the people of Alabama. Indeed, it was written to serve the interests of the 19th century planter class, which no longer exists.

Legislators can let Alabama progress and do the public's bidding by allowing a vote for a constitution convention. Opinion polls have shown that more than 50 percent of voters in both political parties favor rewriting the state constitution.

It's time to put the mules out to pasture and get a new motorized vehicle of a constitution that can drive Alabama into the 21st century.

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