Constitutional reform advocates release recommendations
.More freedom for local bodies, term limits among suggestions

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 tax structure.

   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 Thursday.

   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 taxes.

   "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 were passed.

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

E-mail: accr@constitutionalreform.org
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