Archived Story

Amendments explained

Published 12:24pm Thursday, October 25, 2012

By David Goodwin, Outlook Staff Writer

Along with the big questions of U.S. President, Congressional seats and State Supreme Court Chief Justice, Alabama voters will be asked to decide 10 proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Because the proposed constitutional amendments often have to repeal other sections and amendments, the language can sometimes be difficult for the average voter to decode.

To grab a slice of one, Amendment 10 proposes to “amend section 247 relating to the authority of the Legislature concerning banks and banking, and to repeal Amendment 154 … now appearing as Section 255.01 … subject to the contingency that a new article XII of the state constitution, and subject to the contingency that Sections 10A-2-12.01 and  10A-2-12.02 Code of Alabama 1975, are repealed.”

Amendment 10 was a suggestion made by the Constitutional Revision Committee, which found the language to be archaic and obsolete, as our banking system no longer circulates money that way. Amendment 9 changes language that forbids one telegraph company from owning another telegraph company.

Prattville Rep. Paul Beckman (R) said those two amendments are essentially test-cases for the process of reforming the state’s 1901 Constitution piece by piece, as opposed to a full constitutional convention approach.

“We wanted to take something simple, put it before the people, and if it fails, we know we need to have a full constitutional convention,” he said.

Amendment 1 is straightforward. The voters are asked whether or not to continue the Forever Wild Land Trust program for another 20 years.

But the program, which buys land to put into private trust using one third of the state’s oil and gas revenues, was made controversial Sept. 18, when voters approved a plan to patch up the general fund budget using $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund.

That pending withdrawal – in three installments over the next four years – has some voters and lawmakers spooked about the longterm health of the ATF, and the wisdom of using oil and gas revenues to buy private land.

At a voter forum last week in Wetumpka, all three legislators – Beckman, Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) and Rep. Joe Hubbard (D-Montgomery) – expressed opposition to the constitutional amendment.

“I agree the program was very popular when it first came out (in 1992),” he said. “But we’re not in the same situation as we were when it was first voted in. We need to get to a solid fiscal state, then we can come back and look at it again.”

If Amendment 1 passes, Taylor said, “there will be more pressure to raise taxes to replenish the ATF.”

Amendment 2 aims to give the state more money to use in attracting job-creating industries the state. It would allow Alabama to refinance much of its outstanding bond debt at lower interest rates, aiming to free up cash to throw at potential companies as incentives. But Hubbard said he opposes it, because increasing the amount of bond debt the state can take on is “contrary to our live-within-our-means ethic.”

Taylor countered that the amendment just permits the state to refinance its existing bonds at lower interest rates, lowering future payments to allow more bond issues to finance incentive packages for economic development projects. He said it frees up some money to attract industry without adding debt.

“This would be borrowing for a narrow list of (industries) to bring to the state,” Taylor said.

Amendment 4 is a move to repeal outdated references to racist policies enshrined in the constitution prior to the Civil Rights Era. If approved, the language would repeal portions of Amendment 111, relating to the separation of schools by race, and Amendments 90 and 109, relating to the poll tax levied against black voters to discourage their voting.

The measure putting the amendment on the ballot was passed in 2011 and sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur). The remaining language carries no weight due to court decisions over the last 70 years, but lingers in the state constitution. A previous attempt to remove it failed, due to language interpreted to allow tax increases.

But the seemingly uncontroversial measure now faces opposition from some of the groups it was written to please. Black legislators, along with the Alabama Education Association, said the language, written to avoid tax-related “poison pills,” removes language enshrining education as a fundamental right.

The failure of a 2004 attempt to remove the language dealt the state a public relations black eye, as the effort to avoid tax increases was seen by outside groups as a move to preserve outdated racist ideas.

Amendments 6 and 7 were put on the ballot as the Republican Legislature’s response to unpopular moves by Democrats in Congress and the White House.

Amendment 6 forbids manditory participation in “any health care system,” an overt retort to the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009.

Amendment 7 focuses on preserving secret ballot elections for all voters, but specifically refers to efforts to unionize workplaces. Hubbard noted it simply “constitutionalizes a right we already have.”

Taylor agreed that Amendment 6 and 7 “have no legal effect,” but “the more states that pass these laws, it gives a louder statement that we’re upset about the way it was crammed down our throat.”

There are also two amendments on the ballot that address local issues applicable only to residents of Baldwin and Mobile counties.

Amendment 8 is a vote on the Taylor-sponsored plan to revoke the 62 percent pay raise passed by the Legislature in 2007 and instead tie lawmakers’ pay to the state’s median household income.

Amendment 3 would create a “landmark district” of the unincorporated community of Stockton in Baldwin County, and prohibit the region’s annexation into any municipality. Amendment 5 would transfer the assets and liabilities of the City of Pritchard’s Water Works and Sewer Board to the City of Mobile’s Water Board and Sewer Commissioners.

Goodwin is the political editor for The Wetumpka Herald.