By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Alabama voters go for to the polls to decide whether they want Donald J Trump (R) or Hillary R. Clinton (D) to be the next President of the United States and other races; but on the back of the ballot there are fourteen Alabama Constitutional Amendments that the state legislature wants voters to pass.
State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is the sponsor of Amendment fourteen which was passed in the August Special Session. Sen. Ward talked to The Alabama Political Reporter where Ward urged voters to ratify this amendment.
Sen. Ward said, “I don’t like all the Amendments but I did, in full disclosure, sponsor Amendment 14. Most people think it’s the legislators who love local bills when in fact most of us don’t. In 2010 I put a measure on the ballot to give Bibb County home rule– 72 percent votes against home rule. Marshall county had home rule and then voted at the polls to repeal it.”
Amendment fourteen would is in response to a recent court case in which a judge ruled that the Alabama House of Representatives did not use the proper methodology to pass a number of local bills. Ward said that lawyers looked for and found a legal technicality to exploit. A “yes” vote for Amendment 14 would retroactively make over 600 local bills, that could be challenged in court, made legal after the fact.
Ward said that if the public votes “No” on amendment fourteen. then “All the sheriffs and prosecutors are going to lose most of their budgets if all of these local bills are invalidated. A real blow to public safety.”
Sen. Ward said that in his own district, Chilton County voters approved a bond issue to fund construction of a new bond issue by a 3 to 1 vote. That bond issue passed “overwhelmingly” but opponents looked for a “technical way around it” to challenge the legitimacy of the local decision and the did that by going to court and challenging the manner in which the legislature authorized the local people to vote. In the first place.
The legislature passes two kinds of bills: statewide bills that affect the whole state and are voted on by the whole legislature and local bills, which apply to just one county, city or town. Generally the local delegation decides that represents that county decides whether or not to approve the bill. In most of the votes for local bills in the House only a small percentage of the legislature actually votes on a local bill not affecting their constituents.
The primary reason for even having a legislative session is to pass the budgets. If the legislature focused on its primary mission, the budgets, then passing the budgets would take priority over passing legislation. To encourage the legislature to actually focus on the budget, instead of their pet legislation, Alabama law requires that before the budgets are passed any bill that might affect the budget must first pass a budget isolation resolution (BIR) explaining how passing this could affect the budget before it could be considered by the whole legislature. Since most of the times only ten or twenty legislators in the House actually vote on local bills that don’t affect their constituents those 600 plus local bills passed BIRs without a quorum of the House approving the BIR. The judge in the Chilton County case found that the House violated state law by passing that BIR without a quorum of the House approving the BIR.
This oversight has left 600 plus local bills in jeopardy of being challenged in court. Ward said that this situation puts all of us out there at risk. Sen. Ward said that the legislators hate doing local bills; but he has found that most local folks don’t want home rule. When Bibb County voted on home rule 72 percent of voters rejected the measure. Ward said that he has talked about it in Chilton County and too many people are opposed. Voters like having that check on their county commissions.
Voters get to decide this and thirteen other constitutional amendments on Thursday. Ward warned that there would be “serious consequences” if Amendment fourteen is not ratified by voters next week.