Panel to consider home rule for Alabama counties
by Tim Lockette
Dec 12, 2012 | 4011 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — A set of proposals being considered this week by an Alabama constitutional reform panel may give counties more say in running their own affairs.

The 16-member Constitutional Revision Commission was appointed last year to rewrite Alabama’s 376,000-word state Constitution, article by article. On Friday, the commission will take up “home rule” — the ability of county governments to regulate matters in their jurisdiction. Most counties have little home rule, meaning that countywide regulations must be implemented by state statute or amendment.

“Friday’s meeting will be a wide-open discussion,” said Othni Lathram, director of the Alabama Law Institute, which does much of the administrative work for the commission.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama has already weighed in on the matter, recommending a set of changes that would give counties interim power to regulate their own affairs, pending review by lawmakers when the Legislature is in session.

A collection of anti-poverty groups, including Alabama Appleseed, is pushing for self-rule for all counties, with an opt-out provision for counties where voters reject the idea.

Both plans are included as possible options in a draft set of proposals that will come before the commission Friday. Those proposals, released by the Alabama Law Institute Wednesday, also include a plan to give counties power to reject state laws that change the composition of county commissions or that divert or earmark county revenue.

Lathram said all the proposals in the draft are starting points for conversation, and shouldn’t be viewed as ironclad.

“This will be the first in-depth discussion,” he said. “Though I’m sometimes surprised at how quickly the commission digs in.”

None of the draft proposals gives counties new power to raise taxes. Even without taxing authority, home rule could be a hard sell in some counties. Voters in mostly rural Marshall County, for instance, rejected limited home rule in 2010.

According to newspaper accounts from the time, opponents of home rule saw the county’s increased enforcement power as an infringement on their property rights.

Proponents of home rule say the lack of local control is one reason the Alabama Constitution has grown so long, with more than 800 amendments governing a variety of county-level issues. Voters have sometimes seen amendments governing city-level matters, but cities generally have more self-rule authority than counties.

“It should be equalized,” Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner said in an interview earlier this week. Joiner said that local elections provide the checks and balances to keep cities from abusing their powers. The same would be true for counties, he said.

The Constitutional Revision Commission will meet Friday at 10 a.m. at the Statehouse in Montgomery.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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