Legislature prepares for regular ’01 session

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Staff Writer

Dec. 25, 2000 10 PM

As the end of the year approaches, legislators are already making plans for the 2001 Regular Session.

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In March of this year, legislation calling for constitutional reform was stalled, but the sponsor, Rep. Todd Greeson, R-Ider, is already working to push it through the next time.

"For nearly a year, I have spoken of the need for reform of Alabama’s constitution," Greeson said.

In Greeson’s eyes, Alabama has experienced "a new, more progressive day" dawning, but believes the state’s constitution does not reflect that growth.

"Major industries are being drawn to our great state, resources are being put forward to improve Alabama’s public school systems and government is working to become more fiscally responsible," Greeson said. "Unfortunately, our state’s constitution does not reflect Alabama’s progressive nature."

The Alabama Legislature goes into session Feb. 6 and, at the conclusion of the 2000 Regular Session, Greeson prefiled House Bill, which would call for a Constitutional Convention.

Greeson said having a convention will provide "an immediate and complete reform of our constitution, rather than a slow process which would be subject to delays and politics of time."

While the proposal "a radical change" by some, Greeson Alabama’s Constitution is "littered with outdated and contradictory" amendments that need to be changed.

That, he said "hinders economic growth and facilitates many of the social and economic inequalities which has plagued Alabama for years."

He said the 1901 Constitution of Alabama hinders communities by giving power to state government and "serves to tie the hands of local industrial recruitment boards" by its language. Changing that language, he said, would open communities to industrial recruitment.

Greeson firmly believes in home rule.

"Each year, the Alabama Legislature considers a number of bills which are entirely local in nature," Greeson said. "Without question, the 1901 Constitution of Alabama created this problem by attempting to micro-manage the local affairs of the state."

As a matter of fact, over 600 amendments to the constitution deal with local exceptions to general rules.

"Many citizens throughout our state are unaware of the role those of us who gather in Montgomery play in their local laws," Greeson said. "Often, decisions concerning the enforcement of laws, the pay for local elected officials and the ability of local governments to raise revenue are decisions which must be approved by the Legislature.

"Is it fair for a legislator from Birmingham or Mobile or Ider to decide the fate of an issue which may only effect Huntsville, Decatur or Troy? Of course not!"

But, under the constitution that is what is happening and Greeson wants that fact to change.

"The current state of Alabama’s constitution reflects the conditions, frustrations and prejudices of a long past century," Greeson said. "The impact of such constitutional neglect can be felt on every street corner in every Alabama town."

He believes House Bill 3 (prefiled) will change "the complexion" of the state and allow Alabama to "take major progressive steps in the next few years."

The proposed legislation details six things:

· Like the Legislature of 1900, the current one has an opportunity to change a constitution that is "grievously defective and antiquated in that it reflects the conditions, frustrations and prejudices of a long past century that do not exist today."

· The Constitution of 1901 is too long. "…a simpler, more modern document, like that of other states, would provide a more efficient and effective fundamental law."

· Problems with the constitution are evident by the number of amendments made to it. Over 660 amendments have made to the 98-year-old document.

· Efforts to revise the current constitution have failed because of the cost and lack of authority by a vote of the people.

· The constitution "is long overdue for a revision and, if necessary, a complete replacement with a better constitution for this century."

· Giving the people of Alabama "an opportunity to move forward with a document that is more appropriate for the times in which we live."

The proposed legislation would call for an election, giving Alabama voters the opportunity to decide whether or not to call a constitutional convention. If the majority agrees a constitutional convention should be called, the legislation provides for the election of delegates to the convention, provides for holding the convention and provides for an election to submit the proposed constitution, once it is prepared by the convention, to the voters for ratification.

Although State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, believes the constitution needs a facelift, he isn’t sure a Constitutional Convention is the way to go.

"I think you have to be extremely careful when you’re dealing with the Constitution," Boothe said.

"The Constitution needs revision. It’s antiquated. But whether a Constitutional Convention is the best way to do that, I don’t know."

When the constitution was approved in 1901, leaders had to have a convention because communications wasn’t the same as it is today, Boothe said.

"I think it’s something that needs careful consideration," he said of pulling together people for a Constitutional Convention.

Stalling the legislation this year was because some legislators were leery about rewriting the constitution via a convention out of the fear special interest groups would control the process.

"You are not going to get around special interests," said Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile. "They are going to control who is elected to this convention."

Pringle, along with other members of the House Elections Committee, delayed action on Greeson’s bill as well as another introduced by Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville.

Pringle is one of the House leaders working to rewrite the Constitution of 1901 piece by piece.

Secretary of State Jim Bennett, who has called for a constitutional convention, sees things a bit differently.

He said the Alabama Legislature appears to want to do the rewriting itself at a slower pace.

"I think delegates would be closer to the people than the Legislature," Bennett said, adding those that don’t want a constitutional convention don’t trust the people of the state.

Having a constitutional convention would give Alabama voters a chance to select delegates who will write a new constitution. Work by the delegates will then be approved by voters in a referendum.