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Bills to Rewrite State Constitution Carried Over Amidst Questions Over Constitutionality

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, March 5, the Alabama Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee voted to carry over controversial bills that would have rewritten parts of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution.

Last week, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) was asked to review the legality and constitutionality of revisions to the state Constitution largely written behind closed doors by an unelected committee. Chief Justice Moore wrote that the process is illegal, unconstitutional and a “usurpation” of the people’s rights:

“Stretching out the constitutional-revision process over a number of years by submitting to the people two, three, or five revised articles per general election under the amendment procedure of § 284 does not change the reality that a nearly total revision of the Alabama Constitution is occurring.” Chief Justice Moore wrote, “The Alabama Constitution states that ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’ who are the rightful engineers in the constitutional locomotive. Any branch of government that wrongfully seeks to hijack the process of constitutional revision must be stopped before the train runs out of control. For the reasons stated above, I would provide the advisory opinion requested and hold that the proposed amendments are constitutionally invalid because, taken as a group and also as a part of the Act No. 2011-197 revision train, they violate the exclusive prerogative of the people to revise their constitution through a constitutional convention held pursuant to § 286.”

The Legislative Director of the Rainy Day Patriots, Ann Eubanks, told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter,’ “The opinion of the AL Supreme Court Justices was absolutely correct when they opined that the Alabama Constitution Revision is unconstitutional. Del Marsh’s bill setting up a Revision Committee to change the AL Constitution instead of amending it, was inconsistent with the law.”

Eubanks continued, “The unelected members of this Committee do not have the right to do a wholesale “large-scale simultaneous revision,” according to the Justices. A Constitutional Convention is needed to amend 41% of the AL Constitution, not a Revision Committee.”

An angry Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster told the Committee, “I have a lot of respect for Judge Moore,” but the court is telling the state legislature how to act. Ward said, “We are totally against judicial activism,” until it is activism that Judge Moore does.

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Senator Ward was also angry with Alabama Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Bryan Taylor (R) from Prattville for not informing him before the meeting that he and Senator Dick Brewbaker (R) were both offering amendments to the bill that Ward was sponsoring, SB 258. Ward said that he found out about the amendments from some lobbyists in the hall. Ward said that as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he does not handle other members’ legislation like that and that he expected the same courtesy from other Senators.

Chairman Bryan Taylor said there were also two other amendments to the bill that other Senators had brought to him before the Committee meeting, not on the agenda.

Senator Dick Brewbaker said, “I am perfectly content to vote no,” on the legislation.

One issue that troubled some Senators was the abolishment of the BIR (Budget Isolation Resolution) which has to pass on a bill before a bill can be considered for final passage.

Senator Trip Pittman (R) said that he opposes abolishing the BIR. “I know of several instances where bills are stopped or stalled.” Pittman said that the BIR is a, “Healthy mechanism that has helped slow things down.”

Sen. Paul Bussman (R) from Cullman was concerned that the bill had no provision to prevent a lame duck legislature from having a special session to strip power from certain offices prior to the new legislature meeting. Bussman warned that the wording in the amendment could be a double edged sword.

Chairman Bryan Taylor said that the amendment that he was proposing to Senator Ward’s amendment would propose adding term limits for members of the legislature to this bill. Taylor said that that would require a separate vote on the floor of the House and the Senate.

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Senator Trip Pittman said that he supported Taylor’s amendment, but “Questions have been raised about the reform commission.”

Chairman Taylor said that Ward’s amendment, ‘Takes care of some technical issues that have arisen over the years,” including the timing of taking office.

Sen. Brewbaker introduced a motion to carry over SB 258 until next week. The carry over motion passed by a vote of 3 to 2

As he was leaving Sen. Ward said, “We eat lunch together every day. Surely some of you could say something to me.”

The committee also carried over bills putting state school board members under the impeachment statute, rewriting the executive department article in the state constitution, and a bill weakening the homestead exemption.

The Alabama Association For Judeo-Christian Values will be holding a press conference on the Alabama Statehouse Steps on Thursday March 6, 2014 at 10:30 AM . The group is expected to make an announcement concerning the lawsuit Bell vs Strange appealed to The Alabama Supreme Court to stop the unconstitutional re-write of the Alabama Constitution through the Constitution Revision Committee (CRC).

They are arguing that the Alabama Constitution can only be rewritten through the convention method which is reserved to a convention of the people which may only be called by popular vote according to the Section 286 of the Alabama Constitution.

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The lawsuit claims the Constitution Revision Committee is a committee comprised of legislators and special interest groups such as the ACCR and the Alabama Law institute and is acting as an in-house constitutional convention, therefore, circumventing the requirements of Section 286 of the Alabama Constitution which first submits the question: Convention or No Convention to the people of Alabama.

They argue that this action takes away the people’s source of power according to Article 1, Section 2 of the Alabama Constitution.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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