By Lee Davis
Everywhere you go, there is a lot of talk about the 2016 election.
While the hotly contested presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be gathering the lion’s share of attention, there’s a vote much closer to home that could have a direct effect on all Over the Mountain municipalities.
A proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution would legitimize the method the State House of Representatives has used to pass local bills. Without it, the nearly 600 laws passed in that manner would be in danger from court challenges.
State law since the mid-1980s has required legislators to deal with state budgets before any other laws during the legislative session. To bring up a bill before the budgets, they must pass what’s called a Budget Isolation Resolution. It takes a three-fifths majority vote of legislators to bring up a bill before the budgets.
The controversy is over how that three-fifths is counted on local bills, which require the support of fewer legislators. The House has considered a BIR passed if three-fifths of the legislators voting approve it. State law says three-fifths of a quorum is needed.
Supporters of the proposal – which is Amendment 14 on the Nov. 8 ballot – say passage would help ensure that local bills already passed won’t be overturned by courts based on the legislators’ voting-counting method.
“This guarantees that local bills voted on by local delegations (in the House of Representatives) to support local projects will be protected,” said Hatton Smith, CEO emeritus of Royal Cup Coffee.
Smith pointed out that voters tend to be skeptical of amendments on the ballot and vote no if they fear they might raise taxes. “This amendment will not raise anyone’s taxes. All it does is protect bills that have already been passed,” he said.
The right of individual counties to determine their own policies is another reason to support Amendment 14, Smith said.
“We want Jefferson County to determine what’s best for its citizens and Shelby County to determine what’s best for its citizens and every other county in Alabama to have that opportunity,” Smith said.
According to material published by its supporters, Amendment 14 would help protect $25 million for Jefferson County transportation, roads and bridges and $10 million for economic development. It also would lock-in more than $5 million combined for the four independent Over the Mountain school systems in the county.
Other local laws protected by the amendment fund local police and fire departments, the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, the Birmingham Museum of Art and numerous public athletic facilities and youth sports associations.
Smith also said that Amendment 14 could help with funding for a stadium for the UAB football program, which will resume play in 2017.
Michael Davis, a registered Montgomery lobbyist familiar with Amendment 14, said the proposal’s lower position on the November ballot is a concern of many of its supporters.
“Amendment 14 is the last (state) amendment listed,” he said. “Often, if people don’t know about an amendment they will vote ‘no’ or not vote at all. That’s why it’s important for supporters of 14 to get the word out about why they think it should be passed.”
Davis also emphasized that Amendment 14 would not be a tax increase. “It’s just a legal procedure involving how the House of Representatives votes,” he said. “Nobody’s going to pay more taxes if 14 passes.”
State Sen. Jabo Waggoner agreed Amendment 14 should be passed.
“It affects funding for courts, school and fire departments,” he said. “It’s really far reaching and affects every county in Alabama.”