By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Alabama voters on Nov. 8 will decide on 10 proposed statewide amendments to the Alabama Constitution and, separately, a reorganization and update to the 121-year-old governing document.
The 1901 Constitution of Alabama has been amended 978 times over decades, adding and repealing language. There are 750 local amendments, specific to one county or municipality, tacked on to the massive text.
“We’ve never voted on an official recompilation that incorporated those into a single document,” said Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency.
Ratification of Constitution
Getting the ratification of the Constitution of Alabama of 2022 on the November ballot has been a years-long process. In 2020, voters approved an amendment to make specific changes to the document: Removing racist language, organizing local amendments by their counties of application and grouping together amendments related to economic development.
The new constitution doesn’t change the state’s laws, but “makes it more accessible and understandable,” Lathram said.
Now, voters must approve it.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, sponsored the legislation that began the recompilation process.
“The 1901 Constitution spells out a value system that I think is outdated in the state of Alabama,” Coleman said. She said the original document was rooted in white supremacy, written with the intent of disenfranchising Blacks and poor whites.
“Now, we have an opportunity to tell the rest of the world that we are no longer 1901 Alabama, we are 2022 Alabama,” Coleman said.
Lathram uses Section 102 of the current Constitution as an example of what would be struck from the document. That section banned the Legislature from allowing interracial marriage.
“Section 102 has been unconstitutional for decades,” Lathram said. “… However, if you’re looking at the official Constitution, you still see it and then have to find Amendment 667 to know that it’s been repealed.
“That’s a level of chore that’s difficult enough for lawyers and nearly impossible for average citizens. And there’s dozens of examples just like that.”
Coleman said the changes, including better organizing the economic development provisions, is about inviting business to the state.
“We want to grow our economy in the state of Alabama,” Coleman said. “But to grow that economy, we have to send a message that all people are welcome. We have an awesome opportunity on Nov. 8 on the ballot to send that message.”
Known as Aniah’s Law, Amendment 1 would make clear to judges when they are allowed to deny bail for violent defendants, specifically listing the crimes of murder, assault in the first degree, kidnapping, rape, sexual torture, domestic violence, first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, arson, terrorism and aggravated child abuse.
“It’ll save lives,” Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollingers Island, said about the amendment he sponsored through the Legislature. “It gives prosecutors and judges an opportunity to keep the most dangerous predators off the street while they’re awaiting trial.”
Currently, the only defendants who can be denied bail are those charged with capital murder.
The law is named after Aniah Blanchard, 19, a student at Southern Union State Community College who was abducted in Auburn, Alabama in October 2019 and later killed.
The man accused of her murder was out on bail awaiting his trial for a previous kidnapping case.
Amendment 2, proposed by lawmakers earlier this year as part of the state’s efforts to expand broadband, would allow municipalities to award grants specific for broadband expansion to public or private entities.
It clarifies that local governments can spend federal funds, including American Rescue Plan Act dollars, on broadband expansion. It is needed because current constitution language prohibits local governments from granting “public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation…”
The amendment clears the way for local governments to award broadband grants to providers much like the state is currently doing.
Amendment 3 would require the governor to provide notice to the attorney general and the victim’s family prior to granting a reprieve or commutation to a person sentenced to death. It also voids the reprieve or commutation if the governor does not provide notice.
Amendment 4 would require any future legislation related to the conduct of general elections be passed at least six months prior to the election.
Rep. Jim Carns, R-Vestavia Hills, sponsored the legislation behind the proposal and previously said it is meant to prevent possible future lawsuits against the state.
“This is to make sure we don’t have any slip ups and any challenges of any elections in the future,” Carns said in 2021.
If approved, Amendment 5 deletes outdated language in the Constitution about county probate judges’ oversight of “orphans’ business.”
The amendment doesn’t change any laws related to minors and probate courts would continue to handle adoptions in the state.
Amendment 6 applies to municipalities that have special ad valorem taxes and would allow them to use that tax revenue to pay for capital improvements as they’re incurred instead of having to use the money to pay off debt on the project.
“Amendment 6 provides that cities/towns already allowed by law to collect a special ad valorem tax may use those tax dollars to directly ‘pay-as-you-go’ for construction projects instead of going into debt,” said Kayla Bass, director of external affairs for the Alabama League of Municipalities. “We believe this amendment, if passed, is a more efficient way for municipalities to fund and pay for projects without accumulating additional debt.”
Amendment 7 would clean up and clear up state rules for local governments and their economic development efforts. Because the Constitution says municipalities can’t give individuals or entities a “thing of value,” — as is the issue at the heart of Amendment 2 — in 2004, voters approved an “economic development exception” to that rule.
According to the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, currently 47 counties have their own local constitutional amendments about economic development, which has generated confusion about whether the economic development exception applies equally to these counties. Amendment 7 would have the economic development exception apply equally to all counties and cities, regardless of whether they have separate local constitutional amendments.
Amendments 8 and 9
Though the amendments only apply to Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties, they were put on statewide ballots because some lawmakers voted against the legislation allowing them. One “no” vote kicks a local amendment to the state ballot.
Amendment 8 applies to Shelby County and would bring some privately owned sewer systems under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission. Amendment 9 would do the same thing in Tuscaloosa County.
Assuming the new constitution is ratified, Amendment 10 would allow the other nine amendments, as well as local amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot, to be placed in the new Constitution.
“That way, we don’t immediately have two dozen amendments to our new Constitution,” Lathram said.
Amendment 10 also says that any case law and court decisions settled in the 1901 Constitution carries forward to the 2022 version.
Sample ballots, including the amendments, are available here.