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Constitution Revision Commission returns to work

Staff Report

After a six-month interval, the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission reconvened Wednesday to begin planning for a year likely full of argument and debate.

The commission will examine articles in the state’s governing document dealing with distribution of powers and representation this year. But the most controversial will likely be the legislative article, which includes strict limits on home rule for counties and requires many local issues to be decided in the state Legislature, often through constitutional amendment.

The article also includes issues of ethics. The commission will form subcommittees to study local government, ethics and the overall structure and process of the Legislature.

“There’s a lot of discussion about home rule, and everyone has a different definition of what is home rule,” said Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, who chaired the meeting Wednesday. “There have been ballot measures these past couple of years where people have had opportunity to say what their ideas are.”

The commission could make any number of recommendations, including leaving the home rule restrictions as they are. Any revision proposed by the commission would have to be approved by the state Legislature as a constitutional amendment, and then by popular vote.

Howard Walthall, a professor at the Cumberland School of Law and member of the Alabama Law Institute’s Council, said there were four approaches the commission could take toward home rule:

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  • The Legislature setting up a “menu” of local government options, with assorted powers and restrictions;
  • Giving counties the ability to adopt a charter government, designed by local counties;
  • Giving counties additional powers while the Legislature is out of session;
  • Giving counties new powers under the Constitution, but extending an “opt-out” proposal for voters in those counties.

Walthall said the first two options were included in a state constitution proposed in 1973. Neither was adopted.

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