Alabama Constitution plans to reform home rule agenda

By on March 12, 2013
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Former Governor Albert Brewer, Samford Professor Howard Walthall and Alabama State Barr President Jim Pratt talked about reforming the Alabama Constitution, especially about reforming the home rule process in the state. It was sponsored by the Honors Colleges of the University of Alabama system.

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Brewer started the presentation with an introduction to the Alabama Constitution Revision Commission and their process for reforming it. Alabama holds the record for having the longest constitution in the world having 856 amendments. He stated that the commission works on individual issues as opposed to drafting an entire constitution from scratch.

This process is more focused than the alternative and allows for immediate and more extensive feedback to each proposed change. He told the more than forty people in attendance that a home rule is simply allowing a subordinate body of government to exercise powers that could be exercised by the higher body.

After a fifteen minute introduction, the Governor introduced Howard Walthall, a professor at Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. He further explained home rule and its implementation in Alabama. The state towns and cities are authorized to adopt ordinance for safety, health, and prosperity of inhabitant, but counties are granted specific powers, such as the ability to create and maintain roads any other changes to the way counties operate have to come through a process called “local law.”

For a county to pass taxing laws or a law that would only apply to its constituents, it has to first advertise the bill for four weeks in a local paper, usually the Alabama Messenger. A legislator from the county is sent to the Local Legislation Committee in Alabama’s Congress and has to be passed by both houses by legislative courtesy.

There is also the problem that if a bill is not passed unanimously then it will be sent to a statewide vote where it is very likely to die even if the local community affected overwhelmingly supports the bill.

Walthall asked the audience on their thoughts to reform this process. A comment was presented that the Alabama Constitution have an elastic clause (Article One, section 8, clause 18 also called the Necessary and Proper Clause) similar to the U.S. constitution and have a system of preclearance similar to the Voting Rights Act, meaning that the State would allow the counties and cities to pass laws germane to the interests of its constituents and not violate the state or federal constitutions. The state legislators would have to pass the bill by simple majority in order for it to be enacted.

In reply, Walthall said that counties can seek advice from the Alabama Supreme Court though it would not allow for the passing of the bill.

Another audience member proposed changing the standard for notification to reflect a change in the media.

He presented three alternatives from the committee, asked for further comment and allowed Pratt to conclude the presentation by thanking the audience for their attention and comments.

Jermichael Buckhannon
Staff Writer
talesguy@uab.edu

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