Committee for recompiling state constitution holds public hearing, work to continue

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

August 24, 2021

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The committee charged with making the state’s monster constitution more user friendly and less racist is now taking written public comments.

Only one speaker attended the public hearing for the committee on recompilation of the constitution on Tuesday at the State House, but a two-week period for written comments to be sent to the committee was also approved.

Committee Chair Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, said during Tuesday’s meeting that she knows some members of the public could not come today because of concerns over COVID-19.

“We want the public to have the opportunity to let their voices be heard, to talk about the provisions they feel are racist or talk about the recompilation and how we should do it itself, so we want to give the public two weeks so they can go on the LSA website, put their comments in or contact the Legislature to know what they’re comments are,” Coleman said.

People wishing to submit a comment now have until Sept. 7. Those can be sent by email to Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, at [email protected] or by calling 334-261-0690.

The committee was created after Alabama voters approved a recompilation amendment during the 2020 general election allowing the Legislature to revise the state constitution that was ratified in 1901.

The revisions are limited to removing racist language, deleting duplicative or repealed provisions, consolidating economic development provisions and arranging all local constitutional amendments by the county of application.

Lathram explained to committee members on Tuesday why reorganizing the constitution by county is the best way forward.

“The idea would be that a person living in any particular county, Montgomery for example, should instead be able to go to a listing for the county of Montgomery and see there any amendments that affect them in their local county, in a way that’s much more accessible,” Lathram said.

The current version of the constitution, considered the nation’s longest, has over 950 amendments, most of which are county or municipal amendments and are listed in chronological order from when they were approved.

The only person to sign up for the public hearing was Jackie Antoline, a Mobile native, who said she was happy this process is taking place but wishes more information was available online of what actions the committee is considering or will be taking up.

“In order to have public input the public needs to be informed,” Antoline said.

Nancy Ekberg, a lobbyist for the group Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said she wants to make sure the public knows this effort is simply about reorganizing the constitution.

“We don’t have a mandate to rewrite the constitution,” Ekberg said. “…We are only recompiling the existing document.”

The committee will vote on the method of reorganizing the constitution and further discuss the removal of the racist language at its next meeting on Sept. 2.

Lathram said the racist language identified mainly occurs in three areas: the prohibition of slavery except for when it comes to incarcerated labor; the poll tax; and language dealing with K-12 education and segregation of schools.

Lathram said he expects to have a draft of the new recompiled version of the constitution done by November so the Legislature can consider it in the next regular legislative session. If it is approved, Alabama voters will then vote on it in the 2022 general election.

All documents related to the committee and meeting times can be found on the Legislative Service Agency’s website.