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Proposed constitutional amendment tweaks vote process on local legislation

Alabama voters in March will have a chance to slightly change the legislative process.

The only proposed statewide constitutional amendment on the March 5 ballot would do away with a required procedural vote, known as the Budget Isolation Resolution, before lawmakers could debate local legislation or bills proposing constitutional amendments.

Passing the state’s budgets is the only thing the Alabama Constitution requires the Legislature to do each year. And it’d previously dictated that the Legislature is to take up the budgets before any other matters each session.

To get around that requirement, the BIR was created more than 40 years ago. As long as at least three-fifths of the quorum in a chamber votes in favor of the BIR, debate on a bill, and a potential vote for passage, can proceed.

But especially on local legislation, the BIR creates “unnecessary hurdles and procedural issues,” said Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville. He and Rep. Jim Carns, R-Birmingham, sponsored the bill in July to alter the BIR process.

“The BIR on local legislation just isn’t effective,” said Chambliss. “… When we look back at the BIR and local bills, it’s always created confusion and issues. What we wanted to do is just clarify it and make sure the process is very clear, there’s no misunderstanding about how many votes are needed (to pass a local bill.)”

Rarely does a BIR vote on any bill fail.

And local bills rarely fail. Local bills are specific to one county or municipality. They’re often related to local government structure or tax or fee increases. Dozens of them are filed and approved each session. If all of an area’s delegation members support a local bill, it usually receives “local courtesy” and clears the House and Senate with little debate.

“If the local delegation isn’t for a local bill, it doesn’t advance,” Chambliss said.

That’s another reason to get rid of the BIR on local bills, said Chambliss.

The BIR votes are also an opportunity for those opposed or angry about any bill or issue to kill time by asking questions about the bill before the Legislature.

Chambliss said getting rid of BIRs on local bills will speed up the legislative action, but members will still “have plenty of opportunities and ways to delay the process.”

Chambliss said BIRs simply aren’t as effective or needed as they were decades ago when budgets were “held hostage” as bargaining chips for other bills.

“Now that there’s a supermajority (of Republicans), the BIR just isn’t as effective, it’s just procedural,” he said.

“It’s just not effective at this point in time.”

The only local constitutional amendment on the March 5 primary ballots is in Dale County. If approved, it will allow mayors in that county to participate in the Retirement Systems of Alabama.


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