Alabama is continuing its tradition of being the exception when it comes to its state constitution. The Constitutional Revision Commission’s proposals on the Education and Declaration of Rights Articles feature clauses that are not present in any other state constitution’s sections on rights or education.
The Sec. 256 of the Education Article is proposed to read: “The legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of children thereof, provided that nothing in this Section shall provide a judicial right or obligation.” The clause beginning with “provided” was an amendment by Commissioner Matt Lembke to ensure that there was no right to education in the state of Alabama. The stated purpose of this amendment was to prevent school finance litigation that would challenge the equity of funding for Alabama’s schools. Former Alabama educator, John Northrop stated that “Excluding public education from judicial enforcement would reinforce injustice. It would make public education a second-class right in a state with a first-class need. It would feed perpetual advantage and weigh against quality education for many Alabama children.”
An attempt at impeding the future creation of rights is mirrored in the Commission’s proposal for the creation of an equal protection clause in the Declaration of Rights Article of the Constitution: “That all persons are equally free and independent; that they For are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; nor shall any person be denied equal protection of the laws based on race, gender, sex, religion, national original, or color. This provision must be read in conjunction with this Constitution as a whole and shall not be interpreted to create any additional rights not specifically enumerated therein.”
This addition of an equal protection clause to the Alabama Constitution, which is no doubt a step forward, is weakened with the second sentence that states that the clause cannot be interpreted to include any additional rights.
These unique clauses to the Education and Declaration of Rights Articles are attempts to prevent interpretation of the Alabama Constitution as guaranteeing additional rights that are not specifically stated in the constitution. These clauses dilute the integrity of the Commission’s revisions to these articles, and essentially invalidate the good that is present in the clauses preceding them.
Alabama’s Constitutional Revision Commission ended its article-by-article rewrite of the state constitution without recommending significant changes to provisions dealing with home rule. The issue of local governance is viewed by many as the most critical constitutional reform topic taken up by this Commission.
The Alabama 1901 Constitution contains nearly 900 amendments, with many new amendments being added every election year. The large number of amendments is primarily the result of a lack of home rule by local governments. While cities have control over many aspects of local government,most of the state’s rural counties are governed from Montgomery in a 1901-based process known as “Mother, may I?,” with the Legislature required to pass either statutory laws or constitutional amendments to change a county’s policies, no matter how trivial the local issue (e.g. dog catching in Madison County, malaria control in Limestone County etc).
The Commission reviewed several proposals that addressed Home Rule. One very straightforward proposal would have created different classes of counties based on population with different powers for each class; a second proposal would have given county commissions power to pass local policies pending later approval by the Legislature; and another proposal would have given counties the power to reject changes to local policy made by the Legislature. None of the proposals would have given counties the power to raise taxes as the Legislature had prohibited the commission from changing tax-related rules in the Constitution.
None of these proposals was accepted by the Commission. Instead, the Commission members voted unanimously to send the Legislature recommendations on how they might grant the county commissions more “administrative powers.”
Samford University law professor Howard Walthall, who advised the commission, stated “We’re not offering a specific text on this proposal.” Instead, the proposal represents “recommendations at the concept level.”
The Legislature will be sent these recommendations on Home Rule when their sessions begins in February, but since this is not a formal proposal it is unclear if this will be discussed by the Legislature.
Student Chapter Expands Reach
On August 29, the UAB Chapter of Alabama Students for Constitutional Reform participated at UAB’s Student Life Day. Members of the student chapter enthusiastically educated dozens of UAB students about the need for constitutional reform and got them to join the student chapter.
UAB Student Chapter members, Sharmin Anwer and Ashleigh Staples will be facilitating a roundtable discussion, titled “Reforming Alabama’s 1901 Constitution,” at the National Collegiate Honors Conference on November 9. This year’s conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana and is attended annually by honors programs at colleges and universities from throughout the country.
Sixth Annual Bailey Thomson Awards a Success
On August 15, ACCR hosted the Sixth Annual Bailey Thomson Awards. This year’s event honored the public service of the Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission and was held at the Wynfrey Hotel Grand Ballroom. With over 200 attendees, the event served as an enjoyable evening for constitutional reform supporters from throughout the state.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh spoke about the work of the Revision Commission, saying that all proposals that the Commission has been charged with proposing to the state legislature should be present on the statewide ballot for the 2014 elections. Alabama Law Institute Director Othni Lathram thanked ACCR for working with the Commission: “I know early on, this was not the process you had in mind; this was not the process you championed for many years and yet when this Commission got started, you put all of your effort in backing behind it and have been a valuable resource.” . Lathram called the work of the Commission the groundwork for future “honest debate on the single issues that remain.”
This fundraising event could not have been the great success that it was without the generous sponsorships given by numerous individuals, firms, businesses, foundations, and universities.
ACCR thanks our Sixth Annual Bailey Thomson Award sponsors
The Work of the Commission Comes to a Close
Trying to make sure that all of their proposed changes to Alabama’s constitution appeared on the 2014 ballot, the Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission compacted their four-year work into three years. Their work is now coming to a close, with only portions of Local Government, Impeachments, Executive, and Miscellaneous Articles left to be examined by the Commission.
Recently, the Commission passed a substantive change to theEducation Article of the constitution, which can be found in Section 256. The Commission proposed that Section 256 now read:
“The Legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof, provided that nothing in this section shall create any judicially enforceable right or obligation and nothing in this section shall in any way affect the provisions of Amendment 582.”
This would effectively remove the racist language that is currently in this section, while maintaining Amendment 582 which states that “No order of a state court, which requires disbursement of state funds, shall be binding on the state or any state official until the order has been approved by a simple majority of both houses of the Legislature.”
The most substantial change to the Declaration of Rights Article is the addition of an equal protection clause which states:
“That all persons are equally free and independent; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; nor shall any person be denied equal protection of the laws based on race, gender, sex, religion, national origin, or color. This provision must be read in conjunction with this Constitution as a whole and shall not be interpreted to create any additional rights not specifically enumerated therein.”
A substantive change passed by the Commission on the issue of local government resulted in a revision of Section 284.01, which increases the threshold of votes needed to place local issues on a statewide ballot. The previous threshold was one vote in either the Senate or House; the Revision Commission’s proposal requires three or more dissenting votes in the Senate or nine or more dissenting votes in the House.
The Commission has numerous issues left to examine regarding local government. Commission Chair, former Governor Albert Brewer, stated that if the Commission did not complete their work and take a final vote on the matter, then the Commission would package their research and send it to the Legislature.
Upcoming newsletters will provide additional and more detailed information about the final proposals of the Revision Commission, in anticipation of them being proposed to the state legislature at the start of their 2014 session, early next year.
The Bailey Thomson Awards
Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform cordially invites you to its Sixth Annual Bailey Thomson Awards event on August 15 from 6:30-9:00 PM at the Wynfrey Hotel Ballroom in Birmingham. This year’s event will honor the outstanding public service of the members and staff of the Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission, chaired by former Governor Albert Brewer.
This event invites constitutional reform supporters to spend an evening mingling with one another as well as with the advocates, lawyers, and legislators that comprise the Revision Commission. Beginning with a social hour that offers a cash bar, the event will feature dinner and a program with former Governor Albert Brewer as keynote speaker.
The Bailey Thomson Award has traditionally been given annually to an individual in Alabama who has demonstrated a substantial commitment to constitutional reform. This year, ACCR is pleased to announce a group award to all the members and advisors of the Constitutional Revision Commission. This year’s honorees are:
|- Former Governor Albert Brewer, Chair
||- John Anzalone
|- Representative Paul DeMarco,Vice-Chair
||- Phillip Brown
|- Governor Robert Bentley
||- Greg Butrus
|- Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh
||- Vicki Drummond
|- House Speaker Mike Hubbard
||- Matt Lembke
|- Senator Quinton Ross
||- Carolyn McKinstry
|- Senator Bryan Taylor
||- Jim Pratt
|- Senator Cam Ward
|- Representative Patricia Todd
||- Othni Lathram
|- Representative Randy Davis
||- Bob McCurley
|- Al Agricola
||- Howard Walthall
||- Mike Waters
You won’t want to miss this exciting event celebrating those who are working to amend our State Constitution and bring Alabama into the 21st century. Your support will honor public service and allow ACCR Foundation to maintain its Bring It Back Home educational program throughout the state.
Be looking for an email from us titled “Bailey Thomson Awards” in the coming weeks. This email will allow you to purchase individual tickets or a sponsorship for the event online!
For more information, you can call us at: 205-321-6506 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Revision Commission seeks diversification
The 1901 Constitution was written to protect the interests of a small minority of Alabamians; legislative measures have been taken to assure that Alabama history does not repeat itself.
On February 21, Senate Joint Resolution 39 was passed to secure that the Constitutional Revision Commission “may better reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state.” The resolution will allow for a minimum of two additional appointments, one by the Speaker of the House and one by the President Pro Tem of the Senate, to the Commission to accomplish this objective.
Currently composed of 16 members, the Constitutional Revision Commission only claims one African-American member, Carolyn McKinstry. The 2011 resolution that created the Revision Commission, called for it to “reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state.” The guidelines allocated seven of the seats to white males of governmental positions: the governor, President Pro Tem of the Senate, Speaker of the House, and four Senate and House chairs. The remaining seats were equally allocated by Gov. Robert Bentley, President Pro Tem Sen. Del Marsh, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard. The Commission also lacks geographic diversity as most of its members are from the Birmingham or Montgomery areas.
Senator Quinton Ross, Jr. was recently appointed by Senator Del Marsh to fill one of the new positions on the Commission. ACCR requests of its supporters to nominate names of Alabamians who are well informed about constitutional issues and would aid in the diversification of the Constitutional Revision Commission.
County Team commemorates inaugural event
The Madison County Team met in Huntsville at the public library on Monday night, April 15, 2013, to celebrate the 13th Anniversary of ACCR’s launching in 2000 at Tuscaloosa. Three participants at that inaugural ACCR event were present in Huntsville and were honored by Team Captain, Isaiah Ashe: Mary Holdsembeck (seated); Joe Jones (standing, left), and Mary Witherspoon (standing, right). Tuscaloosa participants unable to attend the event were: Mrs Joe Jones; Bill Giardini; Bill Goodson; and, Hartwell Lutz. A total of fifteen loyal ACCR supporters attended and celebrated with stories, reminisces, cake and soft drinks.
Home Rule: How do you want it?” As the Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission continues to examine Home Rule, they have begun seeking the perspective of college students. The Commission’s Chair along with the Commission staff traveled to schools in the University of Alabama system to gain the insight of the state’s youth. On March 7th, UAB’s Honors College hosted “Home Rule: How do you want it?” featuring Commission Chair and former Governor Albert Brewer and staff members, Professor Howard Walthall and Bob McCurley. Students were educated by the speakers about the 1901 Constitution of Alabama and current proposals to revise several of the Home Rule provisions of the Constitution. Students were then asked to make their own suggestions for revision. Many students proposed that the advertisement requirements for proposed amendments be extended to include electronic media. Students also suggested that powers be specifically listed for the state, with all other powers being delegated to the county governments.