Constitution convention bill clears panel
The Birmingham News
Thursday, April 12, 2007
DAVID WHITE
- News staff writer

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MONTGOMERY - State voters would decide Feb. 5 whether to call a convention of 210 delegates to rewrite the state constitution, under a bill approved Wednesday by a legislative panel.

The Constitution and Elections Committee of the state House of Representatives voted 8-5 for the plan sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham.

Newton said he was pleased, especially since the same committee killed a similar bill he sponsored last year. "I think it's a first step in the right direction."

The bill now faces debate in the full 105-member House.

If it became law, and if a majority of state voters on Feb. 5 approved calling a convention, then special elections for delegates would be held June 3, 2008.

Voters would elect a man and a woman in nonpartisan races in each of the 105 Alabama House districts. Runoffs, if needed, would be held between the two leading vote getters for each seat.

A candidate for delegate would have to be at least 18, a resident of the state for at least three years and of his or her district for at least a year. Each candidate would have to file a $50 qualifying fee.

Legislators and other elected officials could run for a seat.

Each candidate would be banned from accepting a campaign contribution of more than $100 from any one source in the special election, and no more than another $100 could be received from any one source in any runoff. There would be no limit on how much a candidate could spend on his or her campaign.

The constitutional convention would start Oct. 6, 2008, and under the bill would have to finish its work by July 1, 2009.

If delegates by then agreed on a revised or completely new constitution to propose, voters would decide whether to adopt it in the November 2010 general elections. If a majority of voters approved, the new constitution would take effect Jan. 1, 2011.

Delegates would be free to propose massive changes to the existing constitution, which is the supreme state law and sets the structure of Alabama's government, taxes and many other areas.

Newton said the current constitution, in effect since 1901, needs to be replaced in part because it was designed to keep blacks and poor whites from voting and because it gives too little power to local governments. He urged committee members to let voters decide whether to call a constitutional convention.

"Let the people vote," Newton said.

Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, voted against the convention bill. "What protections are there to keep special-interest groups from really kind of taking over?"

1 article at a time:

Several Republicans said they would rather propose piece-by-piece changes to the state constitution, rather than ask voters to possibly accept or reject an entire new document.

The committee last week approved a bill by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, that would revise the constitution's Article 13 on banks, and on Wednesday it approved DeMarco's bill that would revise Article 12 on private corporations, railroads and canals. Both bills would be subject to popular vote.

Attempts in recent years to revise the constitution article-by-article have passed in the House but died in the Senate.

E-mail: dwhite@bhamnews.com

HOW THEY VOTED:

The House Constitution and Elections Committee members voted 8-5 on a bill calling for a statewide referendum on whether to call a convention to rewrite Alabama's constitution.

Voting for: Reps. George Bandy, D-Opelika; Randy Davis, R-Daphne; Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville; Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile; Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; Jack Page, D-Gadsden; Tommy Sherer, D-Jasper; Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham.

Voting against: Reps. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills; Chad Fincher, R-Semmes; Micky Hammon, R-Decatur; Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery; and Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka.

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