Fearing that reform might rise from the local level, Alabama’s so-called Founding Fathers wrote provisions that gave legislators a way to snuff out innovation as soon as it reared its ugly head.
Over time, legislators so enjoyed this power that they let it stand as a testament to the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do attitude in Montgomery.
Legislators possess several prominent means to force local governments to follow their lead. One is the provision that if a single state lawmaker disapproves of a county making local changes through a countywide vote, that lawmaker can demand a statewide vote. That’s why the statewide ballot is often crowded with local amendments that people in other counties who have no interest in the issue must consider.
While this system wastes legislative time and confuses voters, it accomplishes what its authors intended — keeping counties from accomplishing much on their own.
Now that might change.
Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, has sponsored a bill that would require opposition from three senators or nine House members to put a county issue to a statewide vote.
The bill’s opponents contend that this would create a hodgepodge of county laws and might even allow a county to opt out of statewide laws. This page disagrees.
Since Alabama has a hodgepodge of counties — urban, rural, geographically and demographically dissimilar — there are many instances where a one-size-fits-all approach will not serve the people well. As for a county opting out of a statewide law, if the law is well-written and carefully crafted to benefit the entire state, why would a county opt out?
Not only would this bill give counties broader authority to deal with their particular needs, it would also force legislators to think more in statewide terms rather than local interests.
Both consequences will benefit Alabama and its people.