At least it’s a start

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 23, 2011

Home rule is the idea that local governments should deal with its own problems.

We don’t have it in Alabama. Why?

Alabama’s Constitution of 1901, likely illegally ratified, kept power centralized in Montgomery.

Therefore, county governments must seek legislative approval of sometimes mundane issues, and statewide voters often are called upon to vote on issues that have absolutely no impact on them.

Consequently, the Alabama Legislature spends almost half of its time debating local issues. More than 70 percent of the 800-plus amendments to our constitution apply to a single city or county. That’s a minimum of 560 amendments that could have been avoided if our constitution didn’t so severely limit the authority of local governments.

Why don’t we fix it?

Lots of folks have advocated for that. There are two ways that could be done. First, there could be a constitutional convention to draft a new document; or the flawed 1901 document could be revised article-by-article.

IN the last session of the legislature, the second approach was embraced. Consequently, this week, nine appointments were made to a Constitutional Revision Commission.

Former Alabama Gov. Albert Brewer, a longtime proponent of reform and professor of law and government at Samford University, is among the nine appointed members. Others are:

• Vicki Drummond of Jasper, a member of the Alabama Policy Institute;

• Becky Gerritson of Wetumpka and president of that city’s Tea Party; Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham;

• Democratic pollster John Anzalone;

• Balsch and Bingham attorney Greg Butrus;

• Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963 and an advocate who was elected to a leadership role in mock consitutional convention; • Matthew Lembke, an attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings; and

• Jim Pratt, a Birmingham attorney and president of the Alabama State Bar.

Other members of the Commission who serve by position include Gov. Robert Bentley, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston; and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. who Four legislators — the chairs of the House and Senate judiciary and constitution committees — will be ex-officio members.

The Alabama Law Institute will analyze 11 of the 18 articles in the 110-year-old document and suggest changes. The commission then will report suggestions for revisions by the third legislative day of the 2012 regular session, which begins in February. The process will repeat in 2013 and 2014.

Suggested revisions would go to the state legislature. If the legislature approves suggested revisions, they’ll then go to state voters.

It will be a long and arduous process, but we’ve known for a very long time that this is a process Alabama needs to complete.

The Commission – like the constitution it seeks to revise – is weighted in favor of white men. There are three women, and really no one who represents rural Alabama, where we might need home rule the most.

Still, we are optimistic about what they may be able to accomplish. At least it’s a start.