Students push for constitutional reform
The Birmingham News
Thursday, April 26, 2007

News staff writer

MONTGOMERY - University students rallied on the steps on the Alabama Capitol Wednesday telling lawmakers they want to be the last young people to come of age with a Jim Crow-era state constitution.

About 120 students gathered for the rally sponsored by the College Council for Constitutional Reform and Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.

University of Alabama senior Matthew Lewis said the 1901 constitution shackles the state economically and politically.

"It was written and based on racist overtones. There's limited home rule and no home rule in many areas, forcing our legislature to spend 60 percent of their time on local issues," he said.

Lewis helped organize the College Council for Constitutional Reform.

The students are supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, that would allow Alabama residents to vote on whether to hold a convention next year.

The 79-year-old speaker pro tem told the crowd of young people in their teens and twenties that a new constitution would set them all free.

"I don't want you to have to defend a constitution full of racist language," Newton said.

Advocates have tried unsuccessfully for decades to replace the existing constitution. Newton said he believes his bill could come up for debate in the House as early as next week.

Opponents of a new constitution have said it could lead to higher taxes or that special interests could take over a convention and write a document to their own design.

The Alabama Constitution is frequently criticized because it contains segregationist language and centers power in Montgomery. The constitution, often to change local laws, has been amended 743 times, much more than any other state.

Everything from mosquito control to soybeans to dead animals are addressed in the Alabama Constitution, Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn said.

Little told the students that the constitution was an impediment during the current bidding war with Louisiana for a ThyssenKrupp steel plant.

While Louisiana was able to approve incentives quickly, Alabama had to have a special session and wait for a referendum to alter the constitutional cap on the state bonding authority.

"That's how antiquated we are," Little said.

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