By John Peck and Anthony McCartney
Times Montgomery Correspondents
January 17, 2003
MONTGOMERY - Local governments would have more freedom to pass laws,
levy taxes and develop industrial parks if provisions in a report
on constitutional reform become law.
For the complete text of the reform proposals, see Sunday's
Forum section. Other recommendations in the report include making
the governor and lieutenant governor run as a team, setting term limits
for state legislators and appointing state school board members, who
are now elected.
The Alabama Citizens' Commission on Constitutional Reform
released the 22-page report today. The commission's recommendations
grew out of a series of public meetings held statewide last year and
comparisons between Alabama's 102-year-old constitution and those
of other Southeastern states.
Dr. Thomas Corts, chairman of the group's steering committee,
said he hopes many of the proposals will be drafted into law. The
group is distributing copies of the report to Governor-elect Bob Riley,
members of the Legislature and various advocacy groups. The report
is also available online at www.constitutionalreform.org.
"For too long we have languished under a state charter
that keeps us from adequately addressing the needs of our state,"
Corts, president of Samford University in Birmingham, said in a prepared
statement. "Until we comprehensively reform our constitution,
Alabama will never achieve its potential."
Constitutional reform opponents say a rewrite of the
1901 document could lift gambling and tax restrictions and remove
references to God.
The report, paid for by the nonprofit Alabama Citizens
for Constitutional Reform, comes as Riley and state lawmakers prepare
for the 2003 legislative session that will begin in March. Riley,
who takes office Monday, has promised to revamp state government,
including revising the constitution and overhauling Alabama's regressive
Riley said today he has not had a chance to read the
report but has passed it along to his advisers to study it. Riley
also said he planned to name a commission to study constitutional
reform on Tuesday.
Outgoing Secretary of State Jim Bennett, who chaired
the Alabama Citizens' Commission, said Thursday the report should
be considered "food for thought" and not as a document the
Leg islature will be asked to vote on.
The actual amendments to the constitution will be drafted
by a committee Riley is expected to create next week. Those amendments
could be ready for lawmakers to vote on when they return to Montgomery
in March, Bennett said.
Dr. Wayne Flynt, a historian and constitutional expert
at Auburn University, said the recommendations seem balanced. They
give and take powers from the Legislature, retain provisions that
would be politically unpopular to undo and allow government leaders
greater flexibility while giving voters final say over most major
decisions, he said.
"There's a modernization pattern that's just trying
to drag Alabama kicking and screaming into the 21st century to conform
to what is common practice in most other states," Flynt said
He said it makes no sense to preserve a constitution
that was designed to funnel power to Montgomery to preserve special
interest control. Its white authors, mostly wealthy industrialists
and railroad tycoons, wrote a document that disenfranchised blacks
and poor whites and weakened local governments.
Flynt also praised the proposals that recommend home
rule for counties while retaining final voter approval on many tax
issues. He dismissed charges from constitutional reform opponents
that granting home rule could open the floodgates to higher local
"That responsibility ought to be in the hands of
people we elect to office," he said, "and not people who
have been dead for nearly a century."
A reform critic, former state Rep. Bob McKee, R-Montgomery,
said the founding fathers purposely included barriers to ensure that
proposed tax increases are needed. McKee said property owners are
already taxed too much at the federal level to grant open taxing authority
to state lawmakers.
Bennett said the commission's goal was to address areas
of the constitution that need the most attention. "Not every
article in the constitution needs to be rewritten," he said.
The commission prefers a rewrite by constitutional convention,
while Riley favors revising the document article by article. Bennett
said if the revisions are done piecemeal, the document could be improved
by grouping the amendments by county rather than in the order they
Flynt said there was uneasiness in the drafting of the
U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago. "Despite the fact
that everybody had reservations, it's amazingly resilient.
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