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Rewriting the 1901 Constitution One Article at a Time

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–Throughout its history, Alabama has operated under six Constitutions, the current one is dates from 1901.

The Alabama State Constitution is a massive document well over 360,000 words long. To put that into context; that is 12 times longer than the average state constitution in the United States. It is 40 times longer than the actual Constitution of the United States of America. About 90 percent of the document’s length, as of 2011, comes from its 827 amendments.

During the 2012 Legislative Session some updates to Articles 12 and 13 were approved by the State Legislature this November the citizens will vote to accept or reject those changes.

Sponsored by Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood), HB357 and HB358 seek to update old verbiage in the over 100-year-old document.

“In the Alabama Constitution there are different sections that deal with different topics and subject matters,” said DeMarco.

“As an example, back in 1901 we had Telegraph so we have removed that language. In 1901 we had the Gold Standard we don’t have that anymore. We are just changing some language, it doesn’t raise taxes or affect citizens rights in any way,” he says.

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Article 12, addressed in HB357, deals with corporations. He said, “In 1901 there was one corporate entity, ‘corporations.’ Now you have LLCs, LPs, PCs, S corporations, etc.” The language would open up the constitution to address these separately according to statutes regarding the specific type of entity.

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The second possible amendment, HB358, is to Article 13 regarding banking. It states:

“…relating to the general power of the Legislature regarding banks and banking, effective January 1, 2014, to include in that section existing provisions concerning unlimited duration, prohibitions on political subdivisions being stockholders or lending credit, and bank examination requirements…”

DeMarco said, “We have statutes in place that deals with all of that so it gives the flexibility when it comes to amending the business code and that is not something that you find in a charter for a state in the first place. We have had to amend it so many times.”

There are words that no longer pertain to modern-day business transactions. “There is antiquated language such as language as ‘telegraphs’ in the corporate article so obviously that is outdated. It still keeps telephones in there but it takes that antiquated language,” said DeMarco.

DeMarco has served on the Constitutional Commission Committee since coming to the Legislature in 2005.

“When I was first elected to office I was on the Constitutional Commission Committee we had a big public hearing and there were those who wanted to change almost every word of the Constitution and then there were those who wanted to change nothing, “ says DeMarco.

He says that the commission decided to take an article-by-article to updating the document rather than a Constitutional convention that has been called for over the years.

“Calling a Constitutional convention to look at every word of the constitution with electing delegates and all that involves has never made sense to me,” said DeMarco.

The article-by-article is a must more effective approach and much more precise.

He says that the article-by-article approach while slow also offers the most transparent and careful method.

“The whole idea of throwing out the whole constitution and starting from scratch did not make in sense to me,” DeMarco explains, “The reason being because there are too many good things in it to just start all over.”

DeMarco point out factors like the balance budget article as an example of why the 1901 Constitution should not receive a wholesale makeover as many have preposed.

“We don’t want to change that. That is a very good provision in our constitution I wish we had that in Washington, DC,” said DeMarco.

Why throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We don’t need to change articles that protect the right of the citizen, so we must be cautious, thoughtful and go slow.

In late June the Constitutional Commission Committee will meet to consider next steps in the rewriting process. Last year the legislator passed a resolution that determined the order in which the articles would be addressed.

DeMarco says that the committee will be considering the Legislature Articles and the different rules in the legislative process in its next session.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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