What voters should know about constitutional items on the November ballot

Election Day 2022 is now less than three weeks away. And while the focus for many voters may be on races for governor, U.S. Senate and the Alabama Legislature, there are also 10 constitutional amendments and a vote on the revised Constitution of Alabama 2022 that will appear on the ballot. 

While some of the amendments appear to be noncontroversial, there are several questions that voters should be asking. Why is a Republican supermajority legislature not pursuing a more substantial rewrite of the Alabama Constitution? Why should voters vote yes on any amendment that gives more power to state government? Why do statewide voters need to weigh in on issues of only local importance?

As it currently stands, over 75% of the 978 amendments to the Constitution of Alabama 1901 only apply to one county or city. Some of these amendments continue that lopsided trend.

When you make your way to the voting booth on November 8, the first question on the ballot will indicate that you are voting on the Constitution of Alabama of 2022. This is a separate vote from the 10 amendments. You will not be voting on a new document. 

What you will be voting on is a “reorganized” version of the state’s 1901 constitution, certainly the longest governing document in the United States and likely the world. The 2022 “rewrite” will simply reorganize the order of the document into more logical sections, remove racist language, delete repealed and repeated portions, place amendments related to economic development together, and arrange local amendments by county. 

None of these goals are inherently bad, but shouldn’t the legislature be considering broader reforms?

A rundown of the 10 amendments shows a few areas of concern in terms of lessening local government rights, as well as the absurdity that the Constitution requires a statewide vote on local matters.

Here is an overview of the amendments: 

  • Amendment one would create Aniah’s Law, which would limit bail for individuals accused of specified violent crimes. It is named after Aniah Blanchard, who was murdered by a man that was out on bond for attempted murder. While the sentiment for ratifying the law is understandable, it does raise due process concerns for those accused, but not yet convicted, of crimes.

  • Amendment two would allow the state, county, and municipal governments to spend federal stimulus funding through grants for broadband infrastructure projects. The state has already allocated money for this purpose. The primary concern with this amendment is that Alabama needs it for local governments to be able to spend the money for its authorized purpose in the first place. The state should not control the ability of local governments to spend already allocated money for its intended purpose.

  • Amendment three would require the Governor to notify the state Attorney General and a victim’s family before postponing or commuting a death sentence. API has no concerns with this amendment.

  • Amendment four to the constitution would require that any law impacting a general election to be passed at least six months before the election. A potential concern with this amendment is that it could limit the Legislature’s ability to make a necessary change to election law if unexpected circumstances arise less than six months before the next election. It comes down to a question of do you have faith in the government to use this power responsibly, or would you rather them not have the power at all?

  • Amendment five deletes outdated language related to county probate court’s authority over “orphans’ business.” API has no concerns with this amendment.

  • Proposed amendment six would allow towns that are already permitted to collect a special property tax to use those dollars to directly pay for construction projects instead of incurring new debt. Again, the question is not about whether local governments should have that power, but why do they need a statewide constitutional amendment to do it and why is the Alabama Legislature controlling how local property tax assessments are spent? This is another example of the need for local governments and citizens to have greater autonomy in how local tax dollars are allocated.

  • Conversely, amendment seven would give more power to local government. Under current law, only specified counties and municipalities are permitted to use public funds to sell property, lend credit, or become indebted for economic development purposes. Amendment seven would extend that power to all local governments. This is a victory for city and county governments statewide. 

  • Amendments eight and nine are of more significant concern. They would give jurisdiction of privately owned sewer systems in Shelby, Tuscaloosa, and Jefferson counties to the Public Service Commission (PSC). There are undoubtedly problems with the privately owned sewer systems in each county, but if these amendments are adopted the local authorities will in essence be turning to the state to fix those problems and relinquishing their own authority.

  • While the PSC may be able to provide enhanced oversight and ensure better business practices, taking over regulation of the system will come at a cost. To cover PSC compliance costs, a rate hike will likely be in order. It should be a decision made by the impacted communities, not all statewide voters. Amendments eight and nine give more power to state government.

  • Amendment ten, if the reorganized 2022 constitution and all 10 amendments are adopted, would incorporate those amendments in a logical position within the new constitution, instead of appearing as a separate list at the end of the document. API has no concerns with this amendment.

Overall, the 10 proposed amendments show the ongoing need for meaningful constitutional reform that limits the role of state government and grants more power to Alabama’s local governments. About half of the amendments deal with issues that are purely of a local nature and should be decided by only those jurisdictions. While others raise varying levels of concern, it is up to the people of Alabama to decide. 

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