The Constitution Revision Commission, a 16-member group the Alabama Legislature established during its previous session, meets in Montgomery today to examine certain articles of the Alabama Constitution of 1901.
The group’s first meeting last month was just to establish officers and a structure for the group.
The commission, which will suggest article-by-article changes to the constitution over the next three years, will at no point be addressing the state’s tax code. The commission’s founders say taxation was too hot a topic to address under the current political climate.
The refusal to address taxes has irked some reformer advocates, but has not stifled their support of what the commission is trying to do.
Lenora Pate, chairwoman of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, agreed taxes need to be addressed, but added that the commission was a step in the right direction.
“I see it as a very important legislative effort,” Pate said.
ACCR has lobbied the Legislature for years to reform the tax code and other parts of the constitution,
Specifically, the commission today will review proposed changes to Articles 12 and 13 of the constitution, which address private corporations and banking. The proposed changes were first part of two bills passed in the House during the previous legislative session.
“Since these changes had already passed the House, the commission thought they should go ahead and review them first,” said Derek Trotter, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.
Marsh, R-Anniston, proposed the legislation for the commission and is now one of its members. Attempts to reach Marsh Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Pate said she was pleased with the membership of the commission, particularly with its choice of chairman, Albert Brewer, a former Alabama governor and a board member for ACCR.
“I think under his leadership he will keep them on track,” she said.
To commission member and state Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the commission is a good first step but taxes must still be addressed.
“What is frustrating for me is it will not address taxes – it’s taking one of the biggest problems off the table,” said Todd, who is the only Democratic legislator on the commission. “We have a very regressive tax system in Alabama.”
Todd said the state currently relies too heavily on sales taxes and not enough on property taxes, placing more burden on poorer residents.
“The impact is the public school system is not funded adequately,” she said. “I’m not for raising taxes, but at some point we have to look at the tax structure.”
Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, vice-chairman of the commission, proposed the two bills that address Articles 12 and 13. He said the commission will look at the bills to see if any more revisions to them are needed before they are introduced in the Senate in legislative session next year.
DeMarco said the bills simply make the two articles more efficient by removing outdated language.
“When the constitution was written, it was a different age when it came to corporations and banking,” DeMarco said. “There were fewer types of corporations … it’s now a different age for how we conduct business and how we operate in partnerships.”
He said the articles in question also put great emphasis on railroads, which are now no longer a major factor in today’s economy.
“We’re just getting out the antiquated language so it reflects how the corporate world operates in 2011,” DeMarco said.
Pate said she and others associated with her organization have reviewed the two bills and have not found anything objectionable in them.
“I think those two bills have been vetted pretty thoroughly and I have every confidence those two articles are going to move forward,” she said.
William Stewart, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama who has written several books on state constitutional reform, said the changes proposed in the two bills would also help to shorten the constitution, which is the longest still-operative constitution anywhere in the world.
“If you revise any given article, then the one you have now … you would no longer have it,” Stewart said.
Like Pate, Stewart does not see the commission as a political stunt.
“I think it is legitimate political reform,” Stewart said.
He said the commission will work to remove racist language and streamline verbiage in the constitution, which in turn will make it easier to fully reform during a constitutional convention, should the opportunity arise.
“Streamlining is genuine reform … it’s not everything you’d want, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Stewart said.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.