State Constitution needs help

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Our Alabama Constitution is very antiquated. One of the flaws inherent in the document is that it does not allow local county governments very much authority or power. Therefore, county governments have to channel most changes or actions into local acts that have to be advertised in their local paper for four weeks and then taken to the state legislature to be enacted. As a result, the entire state legislature must act on a local bill for Fayette County that might only involve something as mundane as paving a road or buying a tractor.

As a legislator, I dreaded this procedure because it took most of the day everyday in the legislature. We would sit for hours every morning and vote on these local bills from all over the state, which had nothing to do with state government. In addition, these local acts were not always non controversial measures regardless of whether the act involved the rural counties or the urban areas of Jefferson, Mobile or Madison. In fact, the Jefferson County delegation would usually be embroiled for hours, if not days, on local issues that should have been determined back home in the Birmingham City Hall or among Jefferson County Commissioners.

Those of us from rural counties were not immune to controversial local acts. Many of us came from counties where we were the only resident legislator from our county. In essence if you wanted the power you could become the czar of your local county government. If you did not want some act to pass you simply could choose not sign it out of committee because you were the committee.

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Legislators had an honor system that was known as local courtesy. The understood rule was you would defer from voting against another county’s local legislation. So in actuality a legislator from a rural county, who was the only resident legislator, could thwart a road paving project or any other local matter they objected to.

Invariably, a disgruntled county commissioner who was not getting his way would come to me and request that I kill his rival county commissioner’s bill to get a new road.

However, early in my legislative career I made an ironclad policy that I would not be involved in local county business. I insisted that all local bills be voted on in public by all the county commissioners at their open meeting before being presented for passage.

The recorded vote must be attached to the bill when I received it. Therefore, my only participation would be as a perfunctory messenger or conduit for the local issue.