Marsh, who is president pro tem, the top spot in the state Senate, proposed a resolution last week to establish a 16-member commission to suggest changes to Alabama’s constitution.
Many efforts have been made in the last few decades to reform the lengthy constitution, which took effect in 1901, but with little success.
Through the resolution, which Marsh expects to have ready for Gov. Robert Bentley to sign next week, the commission will suggest article-by-article changes to most of the constitution in the next three years. Proposed changes could be accepted or rejected by the Legislature and any accepted changes must be approved by Alabama voters before taking effect.
Tax reform, however, will not be considered by the commission.
Marsh said keeping tax reform off the table was the only way to get things moving.
“The reason is the tax code puts a big block on constitutional reform,” Marsh said. “What I want to do is get all the other articles rewritten, then come back on the tax issue.”
William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, said leaving out changes to the tax code was a good move.
“Taxes, that is a major source of contention,” Stewart said. “Taking it out will remove a major obstacle. One of the primary worries people have is will they have higher taxes after the reform.”
The commission members will include Gov. Robert Bentley and three of his appointees; Marsh and three appointees; House Speaker Mike Hubbard and three appointees; Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, chairman of the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee; Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; and Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, chairman of the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee.
Once established, the commission will start work this year on reviewing proposed changes on Article 12 – Private Corporations, and Article 13 – Banking. The committee would also remove any unconstitutional language throughout the constitution.
Marsh said it was important that the commission tackle issues regarding private corporations and banking first, due to their complexity.
“Some of the articles we’re reforming are more complex than others,” Marsh said. “We want to get through the most complex first.”
Marsh’s resolution lays out the rest of the commission’s schedule for considering changes. The committee would take on articles relating to the Legislature and representation in 2012, the executive branch and education in 2013; and impeachment and miscellaneous items in 2014.
Lenora Pate, chairwoman of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said she supported Marsh’s approach to changing the constitution.
“There’s a lot in that constitution and if they focus on any of it, I’m pleased,” Pate said. “I think it is an ambitious effort to do it systematically.”
She noted, however, that changes in the tax code will need to eventually take place for true constitutional reform to occur.
“But there is a lot to do, so not having the tax issue in there right now doesn’t bother me per se,” she said.
Bentley is also pushing for the reform, said Jennifer Ardis, the governor’s press secretary.
“He does support the study of constitutional reform,” Ardis said.
Sen. Jerry Fielding, D-Talladega, said he fully supported Marsh’s resolution.
“I think it’s an excellent idea and I’d like to see it move forward,” Fielding said.
Fielding said he would really like to see much of the language in the constitution changed and see more power granted to county commissions.
“A lot of the language in there is archaic and some of it is very discriminatory,” Fielding said. “And I’d like to see the counties get more ability to operate without having to go through the Legislature.”
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said he would support a commission designed to review changes to the constitution article by article.
“I think that is the only way we can do it,” Wood said. “If we just held a constitutional convention, it would be nothing but special interests getting involved and we don’t need that.”
Stewart, who supports constitutional reform, has written two books on the subject and was also a member of a reform commission set up by former Gov. Bob Riley, is optimistic about Marsh’s efforts but would not be surprised if they did not come to fruition.
“It’ll take a lot more than just forming a commission – so often, their reports have just gathered dust,” Stewart said. “It’ll take a lot of work.”
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.