Daunting Dozen: A quick guide to the 12 amendments on Calhoun County's ballot
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Nov 05, 2012 | 13299 views |  0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Nov. 6 ballot includes 11 statewide constitutional amendments and one local amendment for Calhoun County.
The Nov. 6 ballot includes 11 statewide constitutional amendments and one local amendment for Calhoun County.
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MONTGOMERY — Glen Browder is an old hand at reading legislation. But even he feels a bit intimidated when confronting one of Alabama's lengthy constitutional amendment ballots.

"There are times when I don't vote on an amendment because I just couldn't figure it out," admits Browder, a former Congressman and retired Jacksonville State University professor of political science.

Browder and other Alabama voters will hunker down in the next few days to try to make sense of the 11 amendments to the Alabama Constitution before the election Tuesday. Those amendments — oh, and there's a 12th amendment, to be voted on only in Calhoun County — are the fine print you'll see when you finish voting for candidates and turn your ballot over.

Some Alabamians don’t even bother to vote on those. And for those who consider it a civic duty, wading through the ballot wording can be a chore. Browder says he sits down with a sample ballot the night before the vote to research each measure and make up his mind. He advises others to do the same.


Click here for sample ballots for local counties

"I wouldn't want to go into the polling place and try to figure everything out there," he said.

JSU political science professor Lori Owens said she turns to the League of Women Voters, which produces an issues guide with summaries of each measure on the ballot.

"They do a very good job of presenting what will happen if each amendment passes and if each amendment fails, without a lot of bias," she said.

With two days left until the vote, The Star has put together a brief guide to the amendments, based on our own reporting (for local and truly statewide measures) and accounts in other media (for votes affecting other counties.)

AMENDMENT 1: FOREVER WILD

If approved, this amendment would extend Forever Wild, a program that uses state oil and gas revenues to buy undeveloped land for use as public parks and preserves. The program was originally approved by voters in 1992, but with a 20-year time limit.

PRO: Supporters of the amendment say Forever Wild has been one of the state's most popular programs. It's responsible for the creation of public wilderness areas like Coldwater Mountain's bike trails. Supporters say those areas bring in tourist dollars and more than make up for the money spent on the program.

CON: Opponents of the amendment tend to agree that Forever Wild is a worthy program, but think new land acquistions could be put on hold until economic conditions and state revenues improve.

AMENDMENT 2: STATE BONDS

Years ago, legislators voted to give the state the authority to issue up to $750 million in bonds, to pay for infrastructure improvements designed to lure new industry. But they didn't give the state the authority to refinance those bonds. Since the economic downtown, interest rates have been much lower than before 2008, and state leaders say refinancing the bonds could free up about $130 million.

PRO: Supporters say new jobs could depend on the measure. They note that it costs tens of millions of dollars to recruit a major industry like Airbus, which recently announced a plan to build a plant in Mobile. And the state has already issued $720 million in bonds, leaving only $30 million before the state reaches its limit.

CON: Opponents liken the measure to debt-limit increases at the federal level, noting that the measure will give the state more incentive to borrow money. Some have also criticized the amendment because it doesn't specify where future bond money would be spent.

AMENDMENT 3: STOCKTON LANDMARK DISTRICT

According to the League of Women Voters and Associated Press accounts, this amendment would give the Baldwin County city of Stockton "landmark district" designation, which would prevent it from being forcibly annexed into another city by an act of the Legislature.

PRO: Stockton would be protected from any future outside takeover, and would retain the right to vote to voluntarily annex if residents choose to.

CON: It's not clear whether any substantial opposition to this amendment has arisen.

AMENDMENT 4: VESTIGES OF SEGREGATION

This amendment would remove passages of the Alabama Constitution that demand segregated schools and a poll tax. Those passages were superceded by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and federal laws a half-century ago, but proponents say erasing them from the state's governing document would help Alabama repair its reputation.

A similar amendment failed in 2004, after some conservatives objected to the fact that it removed passages that state Alabamians have "no right to education." Without the no-right provision, opponents maintained, judges would be able to dictate school spending.

The 2012 version of the bill leaves the "no right to education" wording in place. Some say it effectively reinstates that wording, after it was struck down in a state court, but there's some disagreement about the exact effect the "no right" wording would have.

PRO: The stakes for Alabama's reputation are twice as high this time, supporters say. With conservatives' concerns addressed in the new bill, the argument goes, Alabama can't afford to be seen as voting for segregation once again.

CON: This time it's some black political leaders and education policymakers — including the Alabama Education Association — who oppose the amendment. They note that the "no right to education" wording also has racist origins. The "no right" wording was passed in 1956, by lawmakers who said it was a way to preserve segregation.

AMENDMENT 5: PRICHARD WATER WORKS

This amendment would dissolve the Water Works and Sewer Board in the city of Prichard and give its assets to the Mobile Water Works.

PRO: According to the League of Women voters, supporters believe the switch will lead to lower water rates in the long run.

CON: Opponents say it's not clear that water rates will go down, and they have expressed concern about the potential loss of jobs for those now working at the Prichard water board.

AMENDMENT 6: HEALTH CARE

Based almost word-for-word on a similar amendment in Arizona, the amendment purports to ban any attempt to require people to buy health insurance — wording that, if enforced, would block implementation of a key provision of President Barack Obama's health care reform plan.

The amendment is unlikely to have any real teeth. It was written more than a year before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, including the insurance-buying mandate. Legal and policy experts say the point is largely moot now.

PRO: For people who just don't like health care reform, it's a chance to give the Obama Administration a bloody nose. Of course, Obama himself is on the ballot Nov. 6 as well.

CON: Experts say the law would likely still apply to the state, and could gum things up if, say, a university decided to require its students to have health insurance.

AMENDMENT 7: LABOR UNION VOTING

Widely touted as the "secret ballot" amendment, this measure would ensure that voting is done by secret ballot for "public office, public votes on referenda or votes on employee representation."

It's that last bit — about employee representation — that really matters. No one is proposing an end to ballot secrecy in state elections, but business leaders and organized labor have been at each others' throats for years over a union organizing method known as "card check." In a card check, workers can start the unionizing process if a majority of workers sign cards saying they want to form a union. There's usually a secret-ballot vote after the card check — but this amendment would ban the card-check step on the grounds that it isn't secret.

PRO: Supporters say the secret ballot is the standard for the democratic process everywhere. They say the non-secret nature of card check can lead to intimidation of workers who don't want to unionize.

CON: Opponents of the measure say the opposite. It's employers who hold the power to intimidate, they say, and card check has been a federally approved method of pushing for a union vote for decades.

AMENDMENT 8: LAWMAKERS' PAY

Several years ago, lawmakers increased their own pay by 62 percent — and increased public criticism of the Legislature sevenfold. The pay raise, enacted shortly before the 2008 economic crash, included yearly cost-of living increases, raising current legislative pay to more than $50,000 per year in 2012.

Amendment 8 would change the pay system so that lawmakers are paid the median household income for Alabama. It's a pay cut, but only by about $7,200.

PRO: The amendment's supporters see it as a kind of accountability system. If Alabamians get richer, lawmaker pay goes up. And because pay is indexed to median income, legislators can't go in and vote themselves another 62 percent boost.

CON: Legislators say there are lots of hidden costs in their job, including the cost of driving constantly to meet people in their districts. If the cost of serving exceeds the pay, they say, only well-to-do people will be able to serve. The amendment does allow for per diem when lawmakers are in Montgomery, and some lawmakers think their colleagues will milk that system for additional cash.

AMENDMENTS 9 and 10: CORPORATIONS AND BANKS

Amendment 9 would rewrite the Alabama Constitution's article on corporations, and Amendment 10 would rewrite the article on banking.

The amendments are the first changes to come out of the Constitutional Review Commission, a group tasked with rewriting Alabama's massive constitution, article by article. But they're less a complete write-though than a blue-pencil edit, striking out century-old wording about telegraphs, the gold standard and rule changes for businesses existing in 1901, when the Alabama Constitution was written.

PRO: Advocates of the amendment say that even though much of the old wording is unenforceable, it's an embarrassment. What's more, these two amendments are touted as the start of a long-awaited reform of the entire constitution.

CON: Critics of the amendments say they were rushed through both houses relatively quickly. The last time the state did major constitutional revision — a complete rewrite of the judicial article — the need was glaring and the process took months. At least one lawmaker said he's worried about unforeseen consequences from the changes, though he couldn't name specific problems with the amendment.

AMENDMENT 11: LAWRENCE COUNTY

This measure would prohibit cities entirely outside of Lawrence County from imposing fees or regulations within Lawrence County. According to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, the city of Decatur has police jurisdiction that stretches into Lawrence County.

PRO: According to the Decatur Daily, some Lawrence County residents think the measure would keep Decatur from imposing regulations there without political repercussions.

CON: The Daily editorialized against the amendment, saying that public safety services from Decatur could help the area attract industry.

CALHOUN COUNTY AMENDMENT: ABSENTEE BALLOTS

If voters approve this amendment, the job of processing absentee ballots would be placed in the hands of the Calhoun County Commission. At present, absentee ballots are processed by the Circuit Clerk's Office, and under state law, the circuit clerk gets roughly $8,000 in extra pay for each election. Most counties operate under a system similar to Calhoun County's.

PRO: Supporters of the measure say the county can do the job more cheaply. If other counties follow suit, the change could save the state lots of money, they say.

CON: Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks says the processing of ballots is complicated and could be something the county is not prepared to take on. (Hooks is retiring and won't be affected whether the amendment passes or fails.)

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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