House may set Feb. 5 for vote
The Birmingham News
Friday, April 27, 2007 DAVID WHITE
News staff writer

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MONTGOMERY - The state House of Representatives next week likely will vote on a plan that would let state voters decide Feb. 5 whether to call a convention of 210 delegates to rewrite the state constitution, said Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham.

Newton is the second-ranking House member. He said the plan, which he is sponsoring, likely will come up for debate and possible approval Tuesday or Wednesday.

The House in 2002 debated a constitutional convention plan sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, but opponents talked it to death. Black said he thinks a constitutional convention has more organized support now.

Newton said he thinks his convention bill has a decent chance of passing the House in a close vote. "I'm optimistic. I'm really optimistic this time."

Last year, Newton's convention bill died in a review committee and never went to the full House.

If passed by the House, the plan would go to the Senate for debate.

Delegate vote in June'08:

If Newton's plan becomes law and if a majority of state voters on Feb. 5 approve 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 the 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 delegate's seat.

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 in a new constitution, which would be the supreme state law and set the structure of Alabama's government, taxes and many other areas.

Critics of the current constitution, in effect since 1901, say it 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.

Opponents of a convention say a convention could be controlled by special interests.

The Senate's constitution and elections committee voted 7-2 Thursday for the Senate version of Newton's bill.

But the Senate sponsor, Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, said Newton's bill has the best chance of making progress in coming weeks, since senators now are feuding over Senate operating rules and haven't approved many bills.

Input - from whom?:

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, voted for Little's bill in committee, saying he thinks it would provide wide input for writing a new constitution.

"We've got to approach it in a manner that allows for the broadest base of participation for the most people," Mitchell said.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, voted against Little's bill in committee. "Who's going to advise the delegates?" he asked. "Who's going to be steering them through this process? Is it going to be all lobbyists?"

Voting for Little's constitutional convention bill in committee were Mitchell and Sens. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose; Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville; Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Myron Penn, D-Union Springs; and Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery.

Voting against it were Orr and Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile.

E-mail: dwhite@bhamnews.com

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