Editorial: Why reform matters — Efforts to improve state Constitution are terribly disappointing
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Oct 29, 2013 | 2069 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Gov. Albert Brewer, chair of the Alabama Constitution Reform Commission. Photo: The Associated Press
Former Gov. Albert Brewer, chair of the Alabama Constitution Reform Commission. Photo: The Associated Press
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In 2011, forward-thinking Alabamians greeted the Constitutional Revision Commission’s first meetings with the resounding hope that the state would join the 21st century. Out with the old, racist governing document, and in with a version both fair and worthy of defense.

Embedded in that hope was giving home rule to Alabama’s counties.

Last week, the commission issued its most recent recommendations. What it came up with was the suggestion that “a window to additional powers” be offered to counties. However, the commission was careful to point out that those “additional powers” would not include anything “substantive . . . in the realm of business or land regulation or in regard to other such ‘hot button’ matters as eminent domain, gambling, zoning, taxes, salaries of elected officials or fees charged for ordinary county services,” which leaves this page to wonder what “additional powers” are left.

After this disclaimer, the commission outlined the legalistic and constitutional hoops through which any county wanting “additional powers” must jump, and then sent it on to the state Legislature. Because this recommendation was drafted by the Alabama Association of County Commissioners and ALFA, and because it represents little threat to the hammer-lock the Legislature has on counties, it is reasonably certain that Alabama’s senators and representatives will smile approvingly and endorse what is proposed.

Here’s why it matters.

Last week, a headline in The Star read, “Cleburne officials drafting plan for 2-mill tax.” Below was a smaller headline, “Public would get vote on tax if lawmakers give OK.”

That is why it matters.

Cleburne’s elected leaders want to ask the people of Cleburne County who elected them to approve a small tax (approximately $20 on a $100,000 home) to help fund emergency services.

Under the state Constitution, which concentrates power in Montgomery, the Cleburne County measure must be introduced in the Legislature and lawmakers who might not even know where Cleburne County is will vote on it. If any member of the Cleburne County legislative delegation refuses to sign off on the measure, it will never get to a vote.

Doing away with this impediment to popular democracy was one of the “reforms” (or, if you prefer, “revisions”) that we hoped would be among the commissions’ recommendation.

That it was not is one of the reasons that the Revision Commissions’ recommendations are so disappointing.
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