Constitutional panel hands off
to governor

January 20, 2003

   A REPORT issued by a grass-roots reform group provides a well-reasoned blueprint for beginning the update of Alabama's outdated 1901 constitution.

   The Alabama Citizens' Commission on Constitutional Reform, a volunteer group that held public hearings across the state and sought the advice of legal scholars, political scientists and other experts, issued its final report late last week in time to provide valuable help to incoming Gov. Bob Riley, who says he will set up an official state committee this week to propose reforms.

   Wisely, the Citizens' Commission focused its attention on those sections of the constitution causing the most pressing problems, including those that restrict local government powers and those that hamper efficient state government.

   Specifically, the commission recommends that counties and cities be given increased power to write laws and levy taxes, reversing the 1901 constitution's repressive concentration of power in Montgomery. Without this change, local governments cannot efficiently respond to the needs of their constituents.

   Moreover, the commission is recommending amendments that would have the governor and lieutenant governor run for election as a team, and would set term limits for legislators. Certainly, having the state's two top office-holders elected as a team could provide for a smoother state administration.

   Legislative term limits, for their part, are problematic because they prevent well-meaning, well-informed lawmakers from running for more than a predetermined number of terms. Nevertheless, a greater benefit might be the potential for breaking the special interests' stranglehold on the Alabama Legislature.

   Long-time relationships between legislators and lobbyists, and legislators' seemingly ever unsatisfied lust for campaign funds to pay for re-elections, have given disproportionate influence to rich political action committees and powerful lobbyists.

   The Citizens' Commission's 22-page report contains a number of other suggestions which deserve state officials' careful consideration. But that was expected, because the commission based its recommendations on its members input, advice from experts and Ú™ which recommends the report more than any other single reason Ú™ testimony and suggestions from citizens who shared their views during public hearings.

   Whether constitutional reform occurs through an elected constitutional convention with voter approval (the better way, in the Register editorial board's mind and in the view of the Citizens' Commission) or through individual amendments passed by the Legislature and approved by voters (which Mr. Riley seems to prefer) doesn't ultimately matter as long as the work gets done.

   The Citizens' Commission has performed a noble task by organizing citizen volunteers, educating Alabamians about reform, pushing constitutional issues onto the public agenda, and now providing a well-prepared blueprint for jump-starting the reforms so badly needed.

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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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