Bill that could cut down on local amendments at election time moves forward in Alabama Senate
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 14, 2014 | 3211 views |  0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — A bill designed to reduce the number of local amendments that appear on statewide ballots moved forward in the Alabama Senate Thursday.

"We spend 90 percent of our time dealing with local issues," said Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham.

Coleman is the sponsor of a bill that would make it harder for lawmakers to force a statewide vote on countywide laws brought before the Alabama Legislature.

The Alabama Constitution of 1901 gives Montgomery control over many aspects of city and county government, requiring Constitutional amendments for many county-level rule changes. Some of those countywide amendments appear on the ballot only in the county they affect — but if a single state lawmaker disapproves of a countywide referendum, a statewide amendment vote is needed.

If Coleman's bill passes, it would take the opposition of three senators or nine House members to place a county issue on a state ballot.

Coleman said around two dozen county-level issues have been decided as statewide amendments since the year 2000. Most voters didn't know or care about the issues they were asked to vote on, she said.

"It's the uninformed public who have to decide on poultry farms, what kind of feed they can use, and what time they wake the cows up," she said. Coleman said she counted herself among the uninformed public. She said she no longer votes on such amendments.

Coleman's bill passed by a 3-2 vote out of the Senate's Constitution and Elections Committee, and heads to the full Senate for a vote. The committee's chairman, Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, opposed the bill.

Taylor said the current system helps prevent counties from opting out of statewide laws and thus creating a hodgepodge of county laws.

"We end up creating a slew of counties and laws," Taylor said.

Nan Ekberg of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform was on hand to to watch the committee vote. The group is supporting several amendments, crafted by the state's Constitutional Revision Commission, intended to modernize the state's constitution. The Commission has endorsed an amendment reform proposal similar to Coleman's.

"That's what we call momentum," Ekberg said of the bill's passage.

So far, the Constitutional Revision Commission's suggestions have advanced slowly in the Legislature. A hearing on two other constitutional reform proposals Thursday morning was canceled due to the winter weather affecting the northern part of the state.

Despite the weather, neither the House nor the Senate had trouble getting a quorum of members this week, and both chambers passed a number of bills.

— The House voted 100-0 Wednesday to offer up to $5 million in tax credits to people or businesses who donate to scholarships that would help high school students enter dual-enrollment programs for two-year college credit. Proponents of the bill say dual enrollment helps students leave high school with a job skill. The bill heads to the Senate for consideration.

— The Senate voted 22-7 Thursday in favor of a bill that explicitly states schools are allowed observe "traditional winter celebrations" including Hanukkah and Christmas. Senators rejected a motion to reconsider the bill and add Kwanzaa to the list of celebrations.

— The House voted 98-0 Thursday in favor of a bill that would allow schools to count students as transfer students, instead of dropouts, if they leave school to attend an accredited online school.

— A Senate committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that supporters say will strengthen the Alabama Open Meetings Act. The bill would ban some "serial meetings" in which members of a governing body meet in small groups to decide an issue without holding an open meeting; and it would require the Legislature to establish rules that would ensure their meetings are open to the public.

— Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, on Tuesday filed a bill that would allow Weaver to annex a parcel of land on Alabama 21, across the highway from Heroes American Grille. Heroes was annexed last year, shortly after the Legislature approved Sunday alcohol sales in the city. Mayor Wayne Willis said the annexation would encourage development of the parcel across from the restaurant.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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