Rewriting state constitution stalled for now

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 8, 2001

Staff Writer

A day after proponents of rewriting the Constitution of Alabama gathered in Montgomery, the Alabama Senate stalled plans to do so.

On Tuesday and Thursday, senators discussed, at length, Sen. Roger Bedford’s proposal that would give the Legislature authority to rewrite the document penned in 1901 all at one time.

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Ideas for rewriting the 1901 Constitution have included one article at a time or having a constitutional convention.

Bedford’s plan would have created a third method ­ letting the Legislature rewrite entire document at one time and have Alabama voters approve what they do in a statewide referendum.

But, debate resulted in the issue being put aside by Bedford for fear of multiple amendments.

Bedford said his proposal should not have any amendments mandating what should be in the constitution, rather they should be saved until the rewriting begins.

The issues that arose during debate included topics that will likely resurface during campaign season next year ­ taxes, gun control and constitutional revision.

During the debate, Republican senators offered amendments that would require any rewrites include a ceiling on income taxes and the right to bear arms.

Democrats argued those amendments were out of place and later succeeded in turning back a Republican amendment that would have mandated any new constitution keep Alabama’s 5 percent ceiling on the state income tax. It died 17-11 with all 17 being cast by Democrats.

However, on Thursday, Bedford could not bring a halt to a Republican amendment mandating a new constitution retain the current provision for the right to bear arms, including the right to self defense. It passed by a 24-4 vote.

That vote set it up for Republicans to pass more amendments, which forced Bedford to put his idea on hold.

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, was caught a little off guard

by the opposition.

"To my surprise, there’s a lot of opposition to rewriting the constitution that didn’t come along until this week," Mitchell said.

He said the arguments seemed to "come out of the woodwork" after so many had been pushing for constitutional reform.

"I think we really do need to look at our constitution," Mitchell said.

Although surprised, Mitchell said he understands the arguments.

If any good came out of the opposition, he said it is the reminder "we need to be more guarded" when considering constitutional reform.

"I think the people should be allowed to vote on anything that increases taxes," Mitchell said.

The five-term senator said he predicts lawmakers will either compromise or drop the issue.

"We can’t kill the session over this issue," Mitchell said, adding that was pretty much all the Senate considered this past week.

"In the Senate we did very little," of the week’s activities on the seventh floor of the Alabama State House.

Members of the Alabama House of Representatives have not taken up the constitutional issue, but they did have their share of debate on other topics.

State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, was pleased the House passed the General Fund budget after "a lot of debate about it."

With that out of the way, the House can consider other financial matters.

"Now, we can turn our attention to the Education Trust Fund," Boothe said.

This week, House members also allocated money to put more State Troopers on the roadways.

They also increased the licensing fee for well drillers from $200 to $400, although the Alabama Department of Environmental Management wanted to go up to $1,000. Boothe was the one who suggested the cap of $400.

An issue that brought Boothe to the podium this past week involved "grease traps."

He said restaurant owners are having difficulty disposing of certain waste products, such as grease, because landfills will not accept it.

One issue the House will be considering in the near future is judicial pay raises.

"The judicial pay raise is still raising its head," Boothe said, adding he does not support that and didn’t support any judicial raises the last time the issue came up for a vote.

"It’s hard to take away what you’ve given," Boothe said.

Representatives will go to a three-day work week for at least the next couple of weeks to make up for time lost to the special session called by the governor in February.