Citizens’ commission
First public meeting set for July 15 in Huntsville

July 7, 2002

   The governor’s recommendation for a citizens’ commission to study constitution reform has come to pass.

   The recommendation of Gov. Thomas E. Kilby, that is, who pushed the Legislature to call a convention to replace Alabama’s 1901 Constitution in 1923.

   Seventy-nine years later, the Alabama Citizens’ Commission for Constitutional Reform will hold its first session July 15 in Huntsville at Constitution Village at 8:30 a.m. The setting is wonderfully symbolic; a citizens’ convention drafted the state’s first constitution in that city in 1819, and it was a much better fundamental charter than the sixth constitution, the one now shackling Alabama.

   The commission, part of the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform’s efforts to bring a new constitution to the state, won’t rewrite the document. Instead, it will meet four times around the state through December, including in Birmingham Sept. 9, gathering citizens’ suggestions about reform. It also will compile “best practices”research to aid an eventual citizens’ convention as it drafts a new constitution.

   Secretary of State Jim Bennett, who has pushed hard for a new constitution, leads the commission of 23 citizens, which includes an associate Supreme Court justice, pastors, business owners, civic leaders, lawyers, educators and retired military.

   The commission is a necessary step toward a new document. It will make its recommendations to the Legislature and governor, whomever that may be, probably in January 2003 before the governor’s inauguration and the Legislature goes into session, according to ACCR spokeswoman Kathryn Bowden.

   What’s important about the commission’s work is that its meetings around the state through the rest of the year will help keep the issue of constitution reform out front, where it belongs. So far this election year, gubernatorial candidates have had little to say about a new constitution.

   That’s unfortunate, because the 1901 constitution is so flawed. Among its problems: It ties the hands of local governments as it concentrates power in Montgomery, allowing special interests to control the Legislature more easily; much of Alabama’s flagrantly unfair tax structure is embedded in the document; it locks up spending on specific projects, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers to respond to critical needs.

   Gov. Don Siegelman has said he wants a new constitution, and pushed in this year’s legislative session the ACCR-drafted legislation that would have let voters decide in November whether they wanted a citizens’ convention to write a new document. But Siegelman has spent much more time campaigning for his lamentable lottery idea. U.S. Rep. Bob Riley has backed away from full-fledged constitution reform and now says he wants a commission to study reform in just two areas: home rule for counties and earmarking of tax dollars.

   Getting a new constitution ought to become a major topic of discussion during the gubernatorial campaign. With a citizens’ commission holding public meetings about the need to do so, maybe it will.

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Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 34
Montgomery, Alabama 36101-0034

E-mail: accr@constitutionalreform.org
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