MONTGOMERY COUNTY ADVERTISER: Alabama needs constitutional reform
Editorial in the Montgomery County Advertiser
A caller who had just left the polls after casting her ballot in the primary election Tuesday was perplexed. Why, she asked, did she have to vote on a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution to allow the Legislature to approve the propane gas industry assessing its members fees to promote the industry? Why would such an arcane issue of relatively little importance to most citizens be a constitutional question? If she expected a simple answer, she was disappointed. Alabama's state constitution is a lot of things, but simple is not one of them. The short answer is that it is completely illogical to have to amend the state constitution to address such issues. But Alabamians have to consider similar amendments all the time. This amendment, which is relatively harmless and probably supported by most of those who would pay the fees, was soundly defeated by 60 percent of the voters. Certainly one reason it was rejected is many voters -- like our caller -- simply didn't understand what such an issue has to do with the state constitution. Alabama's outdated 1901 Constitution should have been rewritten long ago to eliminate the need for constitutional referendums on such minutiae. But once again this year, as it has for several years now, the Legislature rejected a proposal to allow the state's voters to decide if a convention would be held to rewrite and update the constitution. The Alabama Constitution is probably the longest in the world, and it is by far the longest such state document in the nation. It is 12 times longer than the average state constitution. A constitution is the basis of law, and should deal with basic concepts and fundamental issues. But the Alabama Constitution contains 827 amendments, and many of those amendments deal with such petty issues as how to dispose of dead animals or how to control rodents or mosquitoes in a local area. Amendment 827, for instance, addresses the right of Tallapoosa County to adopt local traffic laws on private roads. But its length is far from its biggest shortcoming, although it is a serious one. Alabama's constitution concentrates power in Montgomery and in the Legislature by restricting the power of locally elected officials -- those politicians closest to the people. One result is that the special interests that lobby the Alabama Legislature are among the most powerful in the nation. Many legislators like to hold such power. Others probably don't trust the public to decide such issues in a constitutional convention. (Isn't it ironic that they don't trust the same citizens who elected them also to decide on a constitution?) But a convention is not the only way to rewrite the constitution. The Legislature could do it article-by-article and present it to the people to approve or reject. Either way, it is long past the time that the state constitution should have been rewritten to shorten and modernize it. If the state's voters continue to reject amendments on relatively minor issues such as the propane gas question, it could increase pressure on the Legislature to allow the people of Alabama to address constitutional reform. Maybe legislators finally will trust the public.