AL.com: Amendment could take local issues off statewide ballot

  • Published: September 28, 2016
  • From AL.com | Amendment could take local issues off statewide ballot by Mike Cason

    Vote yes 2016 CAs

    Voters in all of Alabama’s 67 counties will decide on Nov. 8 whether Pickens County can elect a probate judge as old as 75.

    Voters in all counties will decide whether the Etowah County sheriff can hire employees through a new personnel board.

    And voters in all counties will decide on a proposal that could allow new toll roads in Baldwin County.

    At least three of the 14 amendments to the Alabama Constitution on the statewide ballot apply to only one county.

    That’s nothing new in Alabama, where the 115-year-old state Constitution gives counties few powers, forcing them to turn to the Legislature for amendments, even on mundane policy decisions.

    If just one legislator votes against an amendment, it goes on the ballot statewide, rather than just in the county seeking the change.

    And if voters statewide approve a local amendment, it becomes law even if a majority of those in the affected county voted no.

    Those ground rules could change under Statewide Amendment 3, which is also on the November ballot.

    It would repeal the requirement that a single dissenting vote in the Legislature puts an amendment on the statewide ballot.

    Instead, whenever the House and Senate approved an amendment, they would take a second vote on whether to make it a statewide or single-county vote.

    It would still take the vote of just one legislator to make it statewide.

    Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said counties wanted to separate the questions of approval and statewide or one-county ballot.

    “The big problem we’ve had over the years has been there has been a legislator or two who wanted to be on the record voting against a bill,” Brasfield said.

    If Amendment 3 passes, a legislator could put a no vote on the record but also allow a county-only vote.

    Amendment 3 would also say that voters statewide cannot ratify an amendment if the majority of voters in the affected county don’t support it.

    “That just kind of seems to fly in the face of the old idea of letting local voters decide local issues,” Brasfield said of the current setup.

    Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, who sponsored the bill for Amendment 3, said it’s hard for voters to know the rationale for a local proposal if they’re from another part of the state.

    If a local amendment fails in a statewide vote, that subverts the will of local governments, which can be a gross injustice, Coleman-Madison said.

    “I must admit I was part of the problem as a conscientious voter, I felt it was my duty to vote on all referenda items even if they were in other counties,” Coleman-Madison said in an email.

    “I can tell you that trying to be informed about what these bills were and how they impacted the people in those counties was confusing.”

    Also, Amendment 3 would abolish a board called the Local Constitutional Amendment Commission.

    The commission, which includes the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, attorney general and secretary of state, can require an amendment to go on the ballot statewide even if there were no opposing votes in the Legislature.

    That happened with Statewide Amendment 10 on the November ballot.

    It says no city or town outside Calhoun County can exercise any police or planning authority on any territory in the county.

    Some cities have police jurisdictions three miles outside their limits and planning jurisdictions five miles outside, and those jurisdictions can cross county boundaries.

    No senators or representatives voted against the Calhoun County bill. But the commission deemed it should go statewide.

    Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, sponsor of the bill, didn’t agree with that decision.

    “I guess you could look at it both ways, but yes, it is frustrating,” Wood said.

    Wood said 14 amendments are too many to have on the statewide ballot. He said it’s asking a lot for voters to study and understand that many.

    The proposed personnel board for the Etowah County sheriff is going statewide because there was a dissenting vote.

    It passed the House 66-0 and passed the Senate 30-1.

    Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, who was recorded as casting the lone “no” vote, told The Anniston Star he didn’t oppose the measure and didn’t remember voting against it.

    Hightower said the vote count could have been wrong, but Senate Secretary Pat Harris told the newspaper it was correct.

    Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, who sponsored the amendment, said he hopes that voters outside the county will pass and let Etowah County voters decide.

    Butler said that’s the approach he’s taken as a voter on amendments not affecting his county.