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Committee recompiling state constitution close to final vote

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

The commission deciding what changes should be made to Alabama’s constitution is close to a final vote, with most members agreeing on Wednesday about alterations to three sections containing racist language.

The group decided to take another week to review all of the final suggested revisions before taking a final vote, most likely during the special session on reapportionment which could happen as soon as the last week of October.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, chairs the commission and said she thought the discussion on Wednesday and the outlook for the recompilation looked positive.

“I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page because at the end of the day, I’m going to take this document back to the Legislature, and I want to say that this is a document that was bipartisan,” Coleman said after the meeting.

The revisions are limited to removing racist language, deleting duplicative or repealed provisions, consolidating economic development provisions and arranging all local constitutional amendments by the county of application.

The three sections that will be removed due to their racist implications and language relate to the amendment that abolishes slavery, language that relates to a state poll tax and language surrounding public education and segregation of schools.

Once the commission finally agrees on revisions , the document will have to be approved by the Legislature and then Alabamians will give it a final vote during the next general election.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who co-chairs the committee, said he was feeling confident about the recompilation effort and agrees with all of the revision discussed Wednesday.

“It’s long overdue,” Orr told ADN. “Of course the racist language and other parts have become moot due to court cases but I think it gives a bad image to our state, and I was greatly disheartened in 2012 when the people voted it down, but I feel strongly encouraged about this process and hopeful it will pass.”

Orr sponsored a previous constitutional amendment in 2012 that would have just removed the language dealing with segregated schools but ultimately 1,040,987 Alabamians voted against approving that measure.

Coleman said she feels confident that the voters of Alabama will support the new document in an overwhelming manner, just as they did with the constitutional amendment in 2020 to start this process.

“Will there be people that will go out and try to fight it? Sure,” Coleman said.  “Are there segments of the population that are still racist in 2021? Sure. But I’m hoping and praying that is not the majority of the people in the state of Alabama.”

Overwhelmingly, the public comments that were submitted to the group were in favor of the proposed revisions, especially for the sections regarding racist language.

A concern was brought up by one of the commission members that the proposed revision to the state’s poll tax may cause an outside challenge to the recompilation work as a whole since the language already in the constitution doesn’t overtly mention race.

Section 259 of the constitution says, “all poll taxes collected in this state shall be applied to the support and furtherance of education in the respective counties where collected.”

Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency and who is charged to recompile the constitution, explained that Alabama’s poll tax was used regularly to disenfranchise poor and Black voters in the state, but since the poll tax no longer exists the language is obsolete and should be removed.

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, also shared that same concern and suggested during the meeting that maybe the poll tax section should be dealt with in its own constitutional amendment.

“I’m worried about someone undermining, either on legitimate or illegitimate purposes, the work that we’ve done,” Givhan said.

Lathram recommended not separating the provisions because that in itself could create an argument that could undermine the recompilation effort, but also said he thought the likelihood of a lawsuit concerning the poll tax language succeeding was highly unlikely.

All documents pertaining to the recompilation effort can be found at the Alabama Legislative Services’ website.

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