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of Alabama's outdated 1901 constitution.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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