Bill to provide limited county powers stalls
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 27, 2014 | 3855 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — A statewide amendment that would provide Alabama's counties limited control over their own affairs stalled in the state Senate Wednesday, after critics told a committee it would take the state down a slippery slope.

"I really don't see any need for this bill other than to open up a can of worms," Macon County resident Frank Dillman told senators.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, sponsored the bill, which would have given Alabama's counties powers over some of their own administrative functions, including the ability to set up their own animal control and traffic safety programs or the power to award badges to deputies when they retire. Under the Alabama Constitution of 1901, most counties have few powers beyond the ability to pave roads. Other county functions require approval from the state Legislature, either as law or as a Constitutional amendment.

Critics of the Constitution have long called for the counties to have more local control, known as "home rule." Rural landowners have often blocked those efforts, concerned that counties would acquire the power to raise taxes or regulate land use.

Marsh's bill specifically bans counties from doing either of those things, but would give counties control over some smaller administrative actions that now have to be passed as laws in Montgomery. Supporters of Marsh's bill say those county bills are clogging up the Legislature.

"In 2009, nearly half of them, 158 of them, didn't get passed," said Craig Baab, senior fellow for policy development at Alabama Appleseed. "That means county administrators can't do their jobs."

Baab told senators that the Alabama has passed 88 Constitutional amendments relating to local officials' pay.

Sonny Brasfield, of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said that in last legislative session, lawmakers passed six bills to move local polling places, as well as bills to authorize the burying of dead animals or to allow a county to charge a city for housing prisoners.

"These local bills are all very expensive," he said. "I'll remind you that they have to be advertised for four weeks in a newspaper of general circulation."

Opponents of the bill, said they believed it would open the door to more county powers.

"How many county commissioners have the ability to know what they have the authority to do, and where that authority stops?" said Rose Shannon, a Republican activist from Talladega County.

Shannon claimed counties already have the power to adopt home rule if they wish, under a law passed in 2005. That bill allows counties to perform weed abatement, litter control, junkyard regulation and a handful of other powers if they get those powers approved in a referendum.

A "yes" vote in committee would have moved the bill to the full Senate for a vote, but Marsh asked committee members to carry the bill over to a future meeting, so he could make amendments to address opponents' concerns.

"Any time you mention home rule, you have a problem," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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