When voters head to the ballot box November 4th, they won’t just be voting for governor, attorney general and other statewide offices. They’ll also vote on five statewide constitutional amendments.
The amendments are often confusing, written in legalese that can be difficult to decipher. But this election, state lawmakers tried to offer voters some assistance. They created the Fair Ballot Commission — a panel tasked with writing clear language for the amendments.
Tim Lockette, capitol and statewide reporter for The Anniston Star, says other states have similar bodies that write the specific wording on the ballot. In Alabama, that isn’t happening. Instead the commission’s language will simply be posted on the legislature’s web site.
“I think it’s a move toward, or at least an experimental step toward perhaps having a ballot commission that actually writes the ballot,” Lockette said.
Instead, this is what voters will see:
“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to prohibit the State of Alabama from giving full faith and credit to public acts, records, or judicial proceedings of another state that violate the public policy of the State of Alabama and to prohibit the application of foreign law in violation of rights guaranteed natural citizens by the United States and Alabama Constitutions, and the statutes, laws, and public policy thereof, but without application to business entities.”
Lockette says essentially the amendment would prohibit foreign laws from being used in Alabama courts. But he says with the exception of some precedents in English law, foreign laws aren’t used that often anyway.
Lockette did take note of the phrase “judicial proceedings of another state,” and questioned if this could be a way out of Alabama recognizing same-sex marriage. Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), who sponsored the bill, said that wasn’t his intent but it could affect some custody battles. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) is the only member of the legislature in a same-sex relationship. She called the bill a joke.
“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, relating to the Capital Improvement Trust Fund, to increase the amount of the General Obligation Bonds authorized herein; to provide for additional payments from the Alabama Trust Fund to fund any bond issued; to provide for competitive bidding of the bonds; and to provide for the distribution of the proceeds for plans, construction, and maintenance of Alabama National Guard armories.”
This amendment increases the state’s bonding authority by $50 million to update Alabama National Guard armories.
“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of 1901, to provide that every citizen has a
fundamental right to bear arms and that any restriction on this right would be subject to strict scrutiny; and to provide that no international treaty or law shall prohibit, limit, otherwise interfere with a citizen’s fundamental right to bear arms.”
This amendment establishes a “fundamental right to bear arms” and has puzzled some because the U.S. Constitution and the Alabama Constitution already provide a right to bear arms.
The Anniston Star’s Tim Lockette says he spoke with a National Rifle Association spokesman who told him this amendment would offer an extra layer of protection if the makeup of U.S. Supreme Court changes significantly.
“It would seem to be perhaps a distant threat,” said Lockette. “But apparently it is on the minds of some gun rights advocates.”
“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to prohibit a general law, whose purpose or effect is to require a new or increased expenditure of at least $50,000 of local funds annually, from becoming effective with regard to a city or county board of education without enactment by a two-thirds vote.”
This amendment would force the legislature to gain a two-thirds majority to pass legislation that requires school systems to spend more than $50,000.
Lockette says this is an issue that is on the minds of school superintendents, fearful of state mandates when they’re already having trouble making ends meet.
“Other local governments have this provision in place already through an amendment that was passed in the 1990s,” said Lockette. “Superintendents argue county commissions already have this so why shouldn’t they?”
“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of 1901, to amend Amendment 597, now appearing as Section 36.02 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to clarify that the people have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to reasonable regulations that promote conservation and management of fish and wildlife and preserve the future of hunting and fishing.”
This amendment is known as a “Sportsperson’s Bill of Rights” and like Amendment Three, has left some confused. There is already a “Sportsperson’s Bill of Rights” in the Alabama Constitution. This new amendment tweaks the language to tie regulation of hunting to ensuring its future viability.
“There’s also a clause in there that says that hunting by the public will be the preferred method of controlling wildlife populations,” said Lockette. “Which is pretty much what we already have.”
A Low Key Year
While statewide constitutional amendments may be the forgotten part of the ballot, there are usually one or two which attract attention. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year.
“I haven’t really heard that much about any of them,” said Lockette. “They’re sort of like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of this election year.” In other words, they don’t quite live up to their billing.
Lockette says several amendments would seem to appeal to conservative voters and you might expect candidates to latch onto them.
“We haven’t seen them in ads, but there’s still a week left,” said Lockette.