- Cullman, Alabama

November 5, 2012

Statewide amendments roundup

What you need to know about amendments

By David Palmer
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Voters face a variety of topics in statewide amendments, some strictly local in nature and others with far-reaching implications.

Amendment 3 pertains to Baldwin County, particularly the Stockton community. The amendment proposes to prohibit annexation by local law of any property within the Stockton Landmark District into any municipality. The amendment ended up on a statwide ballot because of a few votes in the House opposed to the idea.

State Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, in a presentation last week about the amendments, said his advice concerning local matters in other areas is simply to skip voting on that particular amendment if you live in another part of the state.

“It really doesn’t matter here, but it ended up on a statewide ballot. I’m going to skip it and stay out of their local issue,” Buttram said.

Amendment 4

Of greater concern is Statewide Amendment 4. The amendment proposes to amend a portion of the state Constitution of Alabama of 1901, which contains racist language relating to separation of schools by race.

The Alabama Education Association and a few other groups have raised concerns that amending this portion of the constitution could open the door to the state dropping its obligation to fund public education.

Many state lawmakers say that fear is unfounded and are advising voters to approve the amendment as a means of cleaning up the language in the constitution.

“I don’t think there should be any concern about the state abandoning its obligation to public education,” said Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Vinemont. “The whole ideology of the United States is to support public education. The benefit in this amendment is to remove the racist language. If a foreign entity  is looking at Alabama to open or expand an industry and they see this language in the state constitution, that’s not good for our recruiting efforts.”

State Sen. Paul Bussman agrees.

“The amendment would help us with our recruiting. We don’t need to have this kind of language showing, and I’m tired of hearing that we’re not going to support education. I strongly in favor of supporting our schools at the state level and I don’t think you’re going to find a different opinion among the leadership,” Bussman said.

Bussman, Oden and Buttram said efforts are under way to amend the constitution a few articles at a time.

“The feeling is that a constitutional convention would go nowhere because someone always finds a reason to object, like in this case,” Bussman said. “If we can put this before the voters a few articles at a time, allowing people to look closely at the amendments, the feeling is we can make some progress.”

Amendment 5

This amendment is another strictly local issue affecting  only those who live in  the city of Mobile or the Prichard area.

The amendment specifically calls for the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System to acquire the assets, liabilities, and infrastructures of the Water and Sewer Board of the city of Prichard. A yes vote would dissolve Prichard’s current water and sewer board. The amendment has no effect on taxes or services in Cullman County or anywhere in the state outside of Mobile and Prichard.

Amendment 6

Aimed at providing Alabamians with an “opt out” alternative to Obamacare, Amendment 6 prohibits any person, employer or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system.

The amendment also says that no one, an individual or employer, would face penalties or fines for choosing not to participate in health care system.

“I think this comes down to a constitutional issue. It doesn’t prevent anyone from participating, but it also says that no one can be forced into a health care system,” Bussman said.

Amendment 7

Known as the secret ballot amendment, this one targets union activity where union members may be forced to publicly vote for or against a measure. The amendment is aimed at protecting an individual’s privacy in voting whether to accept or reject unionization.

Amendment 8

Many of the current lawmakers, who came into office two years ago, were upset by past legislators who were empowered to vote themselves a pay raise, no matter what economic conditions affected the state.

Amendment 8 takes the power away from lawmakers to randomly vote themselves pay raises and ties compensation to the median household income in Alabama. The amendment also requires tracking of expenses by lawmakers.

“I’m exicted about this amendment,” Bussman said. “We’ve needed this as a means of being accountable to the public. I’m hoping this will pass and put an end to some of the practices  we’ve seen in past years.”

Amendment 9

Another amendment aimed at correcting an outdated article in the state constitution.

Buttram said through the years the nature of business in Alabama has changed or evolved. He said the wording of the constitution is at time irrelevant regarding the types of businesses in Alabamam such as corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies.

From a legal perspective, Buttram said it is important that the language of the constitution is concise and reflects changes in business that occurred in the last 111 years. The amendment also continues the Legislature’s power to regulate and impose a business privilege tax on corporations and other entities.

Amendment 10

Like Amendment 9, this is what lawmakers call a “clean up” bill of the constitution. Amendment 10  updates Alabama’s current banking practices. A yes vote also prohibits the state from becoming a stockholder in any bank or banking corporation.

Amendment 11

While this issue was originally intended for Lawrence County, it became a statewide amendment because it has merit in communities across the state, Oden said.

The amendment, if approved, would prevent any municipality located outside of Lawrence County from imposing a municipal ordinance or regulation, including a tax, on properties or communities  within Lawrence County.

Bussman said the matter in questions relates specifically to Lawrence County’s key industrial park, which borders Morgan County. Police jurisdictions often extend beyond city limits and can cross into neighboring counties.

Bussman said Decatur and Morgan County have industrial parks that are nearly filled and Lawrence County needs to protect its interests from any encroachment.