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Abortion, bingo, Commandments all to come before voters

Your guide to the six amendments — and one referendum — on the Nov. 6 ballot

Abortion, the Ten Commandments and other public questions lead the list of issues Alabama voters will get to weigh in on next Tuesday.

There will be four statewide amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot, mercifully short compared to past years’ votes. Voters in Calhoun and Cleburne counties also have local issues to decide.

Here’s a quick look at what’s in the mix.

Statewide Amendment 1: Ten Commandments

The latest volley in a quarter-century of conflict over the display of the Ten Commandments on Alabama public property, this amendment would allow the display of the Commandments in schools or other public buildings as long as they’re “intermingled with other historical or educational items.” The amendment doesn’t allow use of any public money to defend Ten Commandments displays in court. Critics of the amendment say that could put local governments in a bind, forcing them to depend on outside help to defend against lawsuits — and potentially still leaving them on the hook for their opponents’ court costs if they lose.

The amendment also declares that everyone in the state is at liberty to worship according to the dictates of their conscience, but freedom of religion is already written into the Alabama Constitution — and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A YES vote means schools and other public bodies could display the Commandments as part of a historical display, but without any expenditure of public money to defend those displays in court.

A NO vote keeps the status quo.

Statewide Amendment 2: Abortion

This amendment declares that the state supports “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children” and provides that “the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion.” The amendment would be a step toward a statewide ban on abortion, though that ban wouldn’t be immediate. Both supporters and critics of the amendment say lawmakers would still have to pass legislation before abortion would be prohibited.

That legislation would likely face a court challenge; federal courts have shot down most of the state’s recent abortion restrictions, though the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court might increase the state’s chances of winning a case on appeal. At present, the Alabama Constitution is silent on abortion, with no constitutional provisions for or against it.

A YES vote would declare that the state doesn’t recognize a right to abortion. An actual ban on abortion would require an additional vote by lawmakers.

A NO vote would keep the status quo.

Statewide Amendment 3: University trustees

Alabama is bracing for the possible loss of a congressional district after the 2020 census, a reflection of the fact that the state’s population growth hasn’t kept pace with that of many other states. Amendment 3 would allow the University of Alabama to weather that change without having to eliminate a seat on its board of trustees. The board now includes three trustees from Tuscaloosa’s district and one trustee each from the other districts.

The amendment would also eliminate a requirement for UA trustees to retire at age 70 — a once-common age limit that lawmakers in recent years have eliminated from various state positions — and would eliminate the state superintendent of education’s automatic seat on the board. Most other Alabama colleges have already eliminated that position.

A YES vote would allow the university to continue appointing trustees from the districts as they existed on Jan. 1 of this year.

A NO vote would keep the current rules in place.

Statewide Amendment 4: Special elections

This amendment would cut down on the number of special elections held when members of the Alabama Legislature die or resign. If the amendment passes, any legislative seat that becomes vacant after Oct. 1 of the year before an election year would remain vacant for rest of the legislative term — meaning some districts could have no representation during a regular legislative session.

A YES vote means legislative seats that become vacant in the final 13 months of a term will remain vacant.

A NO vote means special elections will go on as they always have.

Calhoun County Amendment 1: Bingo restriction

This amendment would ban bingo halls in Calhoun County from operating within 1,000 yards of a residence. The amendment was inspired by Big Hit Bingo, a bingo operation that once existed at the end of White Oak Drive, a private drive on the far north end of the county near Southside.  Neighbors of the bingo hall said it brought too much traffic to the area and shouldn’t be in a residential neighborhood. The bingo hall closed before the amendment was placed on the ballot.

Some advocates of the amendment have objected to the ballot wording, saying it’s confusing. While the ballot measure repeats a portion of the law legalizing bingo here, the game is already legal in the county. What’s new is the limit on bingo halls near homes.

A YES vote would ban bingo halls within 1,000 yards of a residence. It wouldn’t affect any existing bingo operation in the county.

A NO vote would leave bingo as it is: legal and regulated in rural areas of the county, without a restriction on proximity to residential homes.


Calhoun County Amendment 2: Police jurisdiction

This amendment would further tweak Calhoun County’s somewhat complicated rules on police jurisdiction outside city limits. Normally Alabama cities can enforce the law in an area adjacent to the city, but within a few miles of city limits. The city of Lincoln caused a stir in recent years after the city’s growth greatly expanded its jurisdiction. A 2016 constitutional amendment blocked cities outside Calhoun County from enforcing the law in the county – blocking Lincoln police from operating here.

Southside and Glencoe are actually partially inside Calhoun County, which means they can still exercise police jurisdiction in the county. The amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot would change that. But that amendment could also block Piedmont — a Calhoun County city with some territory in Cherokee County — from having a police jurisdiction as well. (Oxford spans more than one county, but it has a special exception in the amendment.)

A YES vote would block Southside, Glencoe and perhaps Piedmont from enforcing their municipal law in rural Calhoun County areas near town.

A NO vote would keep the status quo.

Cleburne County referendum: County powers

Alabama has historically given counties little power over their own affairs — though county governments can claim a few new responsibilities if their voters approve those powers in a referendum.This referendum would allow the County Commission to regulate things like overgrown yards, animal control and noise nuisances.

A YES vote would give the county the option to regulate issues such as animal control. Even if the referendum passes, the County Commission would still have to hold public hearings and hold a vote to approve those powers.

A NO vote keeps the status quo.

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