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Commission continues work on rewriting 1901 Constitution

Bill Britt



By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—The commission to rewrite Alabama’s 1901 Constitution is at steady work toward an uncertain end because voters will have the ultimate say.

On Monday, December 3, 2012, the commission will reconvene to continue its work on constitutional reform. In the next legislative session, the commission led by former Governor Albert Brewer will offer revisions of Articles III (Distribution of Powers), IV (Legislative Department) and IX (Representation).

“Addressing the constitution as it applies to the legislative branch is the focus of this year’s attempt to rewrite Alabama’s 1901 Constitution,” said Senator Cam Ward, (R-Alabaster), a member of the Constitutional Revision Commission.


Recently, the commission had cause to celebrate as the approval of two amendments written by the commission passed with overwhelming voter support. The revised Corporations Article and the Banking Article moved smoothly from the committee to the legislature and then passed during the general election in November. However, an amendment purportedly to remove racist language from the constitution was soundly defeated. The defeat can be credited to the work of the Alabama Education Association who saw the Amendment as a backdoor removing a child’s guaranteed right to an education in the state.

The commission according to Ward has a good bi-partisan mix including a Tea Party Activist and a democratic pollster.

“It is a healthy debate we are trying to have” said Ward, who is known for his ability to build consensus as a legislator.

Alabama’s constitution has been criticized as a relic of the post-reconstruction era–document designed to keep agriculture and big business prosperous at the expense of the common citizen. One of the concerns that has arisen about the rewrites has been the influence of special interests.

“You are always going to have special interest try to determine the outcome,” Ward said. “But I think the only way we have real reform is by the article-by-article approach.” Ward says, his primary goal is to “make the constitution more functional.”

The Alabama 1901 is considered the world longest constitution it has been a desire of many to see it streamlined into a more coherent document.

“Much of the constitution was written in such away to ensure that it never changes,” said Ward. “This has also led to a constitution that is overly bloated.” Ward thinks that many of the items contained in the constitution should be “under statutes and not a part of the constitution, so that 20 years from now, if they become out dated they can be changed.”

One important area that Ward and the commission needs to be addressed, is when legislators actually take office. Under existing law a legislator takes office at midnight and the votes are not certified until a month later “this can cause all kinds of problems,” Ward says.

Some have said that the 2010 Special Session at which lame duck Governor Bob Riley proceeded over the newly-elected GOP supermajority was such an occasion for problems. In what was suppose to be a epic occasion for ethics reform, the legislature passed campaign finance reform that was not even a part of “the call” only to later find that the so-called reforms were, in fact, a hindrance to prosecution.

At the time then-Governor Bob Riley described the session by saying, “Alabama’s political system underwent more historic change and more reform during the seven-day special session that just concluded than we’ve ever seen before. Because of these landmark reforms, state and local governments in Alabama will operate more honestly, more openly and with more accountability.”

Yet, just a few months after the Riley’s proclamation of sweeping changes in ethics laws, Riley and Mike Hubbard, as well as Democrats would be caught up in a grand jury investigation that would test the new laws. The eight month grand jury investigation that followed did not return a single bill of indictment. However, a summary of the grand jury report delivered to Attorney General Luther Strange found that there was no means by which to prosecute anyone under the newly-enacted Republican-sponsored laws.

Ellen Brooks, Montgomery County District Attorney is the court officer that wrote the grand jury report and her findings saying in part, “there is very little accountability in the law. There is not even a clear definition of who can be prosecuted under the law.”
According to Brooks under current law concerning PACs, there are no clear definitions of who can be prosecuted if a crime is suspected, “We don’t know who that is, the chairman, the secretary, the person who signs the form, we don’t know, the law is unclear.”

With no one to hold accountable it is impossible to take action against law breakers. This is especially true concerning out of state PACs, which seem to have unlimited powers under the new laws. It is this kind of mischief that has the commission working to make sure that the governor and legislator are sworn in within a similar timeframe. Ward, who did not make any comparison with the 2010 special session sited, “mischief that occurred during the transition of lieutenant governors from Don Siegelman to Steve Windom. According to a New York Times report in 1999, “Democrats backed by Governor Siegelman voted to strip the Lieutenant Governor of the power to make committee assignments and direct the flow of legislation.”
Windom, elected as the first Republican in that office in this century, then threatened to hold up some of Siegelman’s legislative agenda.

According to the account at the time, the move was intended to leave the Lt. Governor powerless as long as it was a republican. According to the Times “Siegelman called a special session of the Legislature to solve the dispute, but tension ran so high that Mr. Windom refused to leave the chamber even for a bathroom break during the round-the-clock session, lest Democrats find a way to replace him.” In the end, Windom and the Lieutenant Governor’s office was left as mainly ceremonial.
“It is this type of mischief we want to avoid in the future,” said Ward.

Ward says that personally he hope to make “ the constitution more workable.”
He says as for political ideology, “The people of Alabama are for limited government, we have always been that way, there are ways to make government more libertarian minded in a manner that limits government but it still has to function and operate properly. There are areas in our constitution that do not allow for that.”

Ward says he is confident in the leadership of Governor Brewer and the Commission’s co-chair, Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood), to continue toward a successful article-by-article rewrite of the state’s constitution.

Commission members are as follows:  Governor Albert Brewer, Chair; Represenative Paul DeMarco, Vice-Chair; Governor Robert Bentley; Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh; Speaker Mike Hubbard; John Anzalone; Greg Butrus; Vicki Drummond; Becky Gerritson; Matt Lembke; Carolyn McKinstry; Jim Pratt; and Representative Patricia Todd.

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Day Care bill passes out of Legislature, heads to governor’s desk

Sam Mattison



The day care bill that would license certain day cares in Alabama has left the Legislature to the governor’s desk after a long tussle in the State House.

Alabama’s Senate approved the bill 23-4 Thursday after state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, relented on Wednesday saying that he would no longer “stand in the way” of the bill’s passage.

Shelnutt initiated delay tactics when it first came to the floor last month, and the senator is primarily the cause of its failure last year. He opposed the bill on the grounds of religious day cares being licensed, and the structural requirements that would be imposed on them.

Religious day cares in non-profit schools and churches were the main concern of opponents to the legislation. The bill’s sponsor Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, worked with multiple groups to reach a compromise.


The final bill was a weakened version that only would affect some day cares in the state, as opposed to the original goal of licensing all day cares. The factor that would determine licensing would be if the day care accepted federal dollars in grants.

Warren said the compromise was worth it if the bill could be passed by the Legislature.

In a statement after the bill’s passage, Warren said it was a “great day for the children of Alabama.”

“This legislation will go a long way to ensuring a safer environment for children across the state who attend these facilities,” Warren said. “I greatly appreciate all the support from my colleagues and look forward to the Governor signing this important legislation.”

While ultimately voting in favor of the bill, state Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said that all day cares in the state should be protected.

“We need to come back and bring something stronger,” Figures said.

Other proponents of the bill voiced similar sentiments. VOICES for Alabama’s Children said the bill is an “incremental step” in a statement after its passage.

“While the bill provides additional protections to some programs, we continue to reiterate our position—as we have clearly and repeatedly stated throughout this debate—that every child care facility should be licensed in the state of Alabama,” Melanie Bridgeforth, VOICES for Alabama’s Children’s executive director, said in the statement.

The bill was delivered to the governor a little after noon on Thursday.

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Senate passes education budget after battle over ASU’s funding on floor

Sam Mattison



The Alabama Senate managed to pass the Education Trust Fund budget on Thursday after a nearly 4-hour debate that threatened to derail its passage.

Thursday’s debate of the budget started off relatively calm with state Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, stating his problems with the bill but making no action to change the appropriations amount.

Bussman, in a bid to stall the budget last year, went line-by-line in the budget on a whiteboard he wheeled unto the floor. No whiteboards were present this year.

Instead, Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, took to the podium to challenge the appropriations for Alabama State University, which he says was unfairly targeted by the Bentley administration.


In his tenure, Gov. Robert Bentley started to audit ASU saying that some of their programs were not up to standards. Although his probe never found anything to take action on, the governor never formally cleared the institution and various programs faced being uncertified.

According to Singleton, the Bentley probe cost the university millions in lost revenue.

Singleton, mentioning former senator and ASU President Quinton Ross, said the state should increase the appropriations by millions in what he calls “reparations.”

ASU received a boost in funding in 2019’s budget like all universities in the state, but to some senators, the increases were marginal at best.

Singleton was one of those senators and proposed an amendment that would give $3.5 million to the institution. Wanting to move on with the budget’s passage, senators rejected his initial proposal.

After its failure, Singleton indicated that he and other sympathetic senators would begin to grandstand the bill and potentially set the Senate back by hours.

As Singleton began his filibuster, other senators, including some Republicans, joined him to speak about how they thought ASU was targeted by the Bentley administration.

State Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said the Bentley probe into ASU was “wrong-headed” and also expressed that he was interested in giving them some increased funds from the budget.

Nearly an hour and a half after the debate began, Singleton announced he would decrease his amendment to $1.2 million. The Senate accepted the proposal and passed the budget unanimously.

With Singleton’s new amendment, ASU’s budget will have increased by $3 million when compared to 2018’s budget. The institution’s appropriations are now $46 million.

The bill will now go to the House to be debated or concurred to the governor’s desk.

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Bill to arm educators passes out of Committee

Sam Mattison



Stock Photo

Educators in Alabama are one step closer to being able to carry firearms into their classrooms after a House committee narrowly approved a bill to arm school officials.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville, would allow for educators to carry firearms into a school’s campus if they received a minimum of 40 hours of training.

In addition to the minimum requirement, the bill would also allow for local school officials to impose additional requirements, and would give the officials the final say on who can and cannot carry a weapon.

Under the current provisions, only a select few in the school would know who possessed the gun, and parents would not be privy to the information. The situation has been described like the Air Marshal’s program, where anonymous law enforcement carry guns on planes unannounced to the aircraft’s passengers.


Ainsworth’s bill was combined with state Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, which would have allowed schools to establish a security force. Both bills were presented during a public hearing on Wednesday, where education officials both supported and denounced the measure.

At Thursday’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee meeting, the opposing representatives let their dissent known.

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said that educators are trained to teach and not fire guns at students. Moore has been an opponent since Ainsworth filed the legislation and filed legislation of her own to ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons.

Moore was sharply critical of the lack of a funding mechanism in Ainsworth’s legislation.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, accused Ainsworth of making a political move with the bill, and called it a “great campaign” bill.

Farley said the bill was not a political move, but came at the behest of his wife, who encouraged him to file the legislation after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting a month ago that ended with more than a dozen dead.

Ainsworth, who has three children in public education, made similar statements.

The last opponent to speak was a former teacher and the only Republican against the bill.

Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Stockton, said at the meetings that firearm would not be welcomed in school and said that “lady teachers” wouldn’t even carry firearms.

The comment inspired the ire of some online including gun rights activist and Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for Gun Rights Inc. Shanna Marie Chamblee.

“I’m checking my calendar to make sure I didn’t time warp back a few centuries,” Chamblee wrote on Facebook. “I’ve just sat in this committee and listened to both a Democrat AND a Republican House Representative say that ‘Lady Teachers’ shouldn’t carry guns and aren’t capable of defending like a male! WHAT!?!?!?!?”

In an interview with, Shiver double-downed on his comments.

“I’m not saying all (women), but in most schools, women are (the majority) of the teachers,” Shiver said to “Some of them just don’t want to (be trained to possess firearms). If they want to, then that’s good. But most of them don’t want to learn how to shoot like that and carry a gun.”

Despite the controversy created by Shiver’s comments, the bill narrowly passed the committee 5-4. It’s trajectory now is up in the air.

Ainsworth and others in the House are confident that they can pass it before the end of this year’s Session, which seems to be drawing to a near end. The representative told reporters on Wednesday that the bill was a “priority” for House leadership.

Its real path to final passage lies in getting past the Senate.

Speaking to reporters after the Senate’s meeting on Thursday, Senate Pro-Temp Del Marsh, R-Anniston, indicated that the bill would not be a priority for the upper chamber.

With only two weeks left, the bill must overcome the Senate in only 5 days without a fast track set by Senate leadership. A vote is expected on the bill in the House next week.

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Commission continues work on rewriting 1901 Constitution

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min