Reform gets closer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 20, 2002

BNI Newswire

Efforts toward a constitutional convention in Alabama took a step closer Tuesday, but supporters expect a fight once legislation calling for a referendum on a convention reaches the full House.

The House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, passed a joint resolution that would put the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention on the November ballot.

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Gov. Don Siegelman, who has pushed hard for a convention since his state of the state address in January, said "the fight won’t be easy."

"I want to commend the members of the Rules Committee for leaving this very important issue to the members of the full House," Siegelman said. "Now, the real battle begins.

The people of Alabama now will find out whether or not their elected representatives trust them.

"The special interests are already locked in. The big corporations who have had a free ride on the backs of Alabama citizens for the last 100 years don’t want to give people the chance to come together in a citizens’ convention. The special interests will fight to keep this resolution off of the special order calendar, and then there will be a filibuster because they don’t want to pay their fair share to our schools."

Last week, the House Rules Committee held a public hearing on the proposed legislation, drawing supporters and opposition who spoke for more than two hours.

That same day, the Black Legislative Caucus announced its opposition to a convention, with members saying they don’t think a convention would represent minority interests.

Bailey Thomson, a journalism professor at the University of Alabama and a board member of Alabama Citizens for Constitution Reform, said the caucus’ opposition makes it harder for the resolution to pass the full House.

"It’s certainly going to be very difficult," Thomson said. The Black Caucus’ opposition "makes it that much more difficult."

"There are some (legislators) who have legitimate concerns," Thomson said. "We need to explain better that a new Constitution will address minority concerns."

The resolution also must earn a majority of House members’ votes to pass – not just a majority of the quorum, Thomson said.

"There’s a higher standard," he said. "It will be difficult to get that.

"But this movement will be back. It has become one of the top issues in Alabama. Polls indicate that there is strong support. People want a convention to rewrite the Constitution."

In fact, while there have been several efforts in the 100 years of its existence to rewrite a Constitution, Thomson believes the current effort has the "most involvement by citizens."

"It’s been a real grassroots movement," he said. "That’s very significant."