(Part 2 of 2 parts)
In addition to two local amendments, Walker County voters will encounter six statewide amendment proposals for the Nov. 3 General Election ballot, including numerous changes to the court system and permission for the Legislature to remove racist or unnecessary language from the state constitution.
Amendment 1 only provides "that only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote. The Fair Ballot Commission charged with informing citizens about statewide amendments hints a certain amount of duplication and lack of change.
"The state constitution grants the right to vote to U.S. citizens who meet certain requirements," the commission stated on the Secretary of State's Website. "This amendment does not change those requirements. If a majority of voters vote 'yes' for Amendment 1, the state constitution will grant the right to vote to 'only' those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements. If a majority of voters vote 'no' for Amendment 1, the state constitution will continue to grant the right to vote to 'every' U.S. citizen who meets the requirements."
Marsh told WBRC that he doesn't think non-citizens voting is a big problem in the state. However, he said it would "send a message to Washington," adding "a lot of states don't police this."
Amendment 2 would involve a series of changes in the state judicial system, as described by the commission:
• Provides that county district courts do not have to hold city court in a city with a population of less than 1,000.
• Allows the Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the chief justice, to appoint the administrative director of courts.
• Increases from nine to 11 the total membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and determines who appoints each member. (The Judicial Inquiry Commission evaluates ethics complaints filed against judges.)
• Allows the governor, rather than the lieutenant governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary. (The Court of the Judiciary hears complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission.)
• Prevents a judge from being automatically disqualified from holding office simply because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission.
• Provides that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.
WAFF reported that last measure "strikes the Legislature’s ability to impeach judges. The Judicial Inquiry Commission and the Court of Judiciary would be charged with removing judges."
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who sponsored the legislation, told WBRC the proposal allows for a renewable contract for the administrator. Because the administrator oversees the entire state court system, there needs to be stability, Orr told the station. He noted that there has been changes every six years because a chief justice puts in their own chief justice, creating a "revolving door" in the position.
WAFF quoted Orr as saying of the administrative directors, “There have been 11 in the last 22 years.”
Orr also told WAFF that a chief justice may pick someone who is not qualified to serve as the administrative director, or possibly a campaign manager.
“Some of the administrators that have been brought in have no experience in the administrations, and we’re talking about a budget of well over hundreds and millions of dollars in the judiciary, thousands of employees, just lots of moving parts,” Orr told WAFF. “It’s a very complex job, and having a better prepared civil servant to serve in that role is certainly something that we seek to have.”
Amendment 3 would "provide that a judge, other than a judge of probate, appointed to fill a vacancy would serve an initial term until the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the next general election after the judge has completed two years in office."
The commission states this would change the initial term of a judge that is appointed to fill a vacancy due to death, resignation, retirement, or removal.
According to the commission, "Under current law, the initial term of office for a person appointed to fill a vacancy in a judgeship shall last until the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the next general election held after the person has completed one year in office or the remainder of the original term of the judge elected to the office which is vacant, whichever is longer. The term of the appointment could vary widely due to the years left in the original term. At the election, the judicial office shall be filled for a full term.
"Under this amendment, a judge appointed to fill a vacancy shall serve an initial term lasting until the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the next general election held after the person has completed two years in office. At the election, the judicial office shall be filled for a full term.
WBRC was more concise: "If approved, it would extend the time appointed circuit and district court judges could fill a vacancy before facing election. Under current law, district and circuit judges appointed by the governor serve an initial term of one year or the remainder of the original term, whichever is longer. This amendment would change that initial term of the appointed judge to at least two years before they must run for election."
Under Amendment 4, the Legislature would be authorized "to recompile the Alabama Constitution and submit it during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide a process for its ratification by the voters of this state."
Alabama’s constitution can be changed only during a constitutional convention or when a majority of voters approve a constitutional amendment, the commission noted.
"If a majority of voters vote yes' on Amendment 4, the Alabama Legislature, when it meets in 2022, would be allowed to draft a rearranged version of the state constitution," the commission stated. "This draft could only (1) remove racist language, (2) remove language that is repeated or no longer applies, (3) combine language related to economic development, and (4) combine language that relates to the same county. No other changes could be made.
"Even if passed by the Alabama Legislature, this rearranged version would not become law until it was approved by a majority of voters."
WBRC noted similar proposals failed with voters in 2004 and 2012, while the state constitution still contains a number of phrases that are still considered racist in nature. The state constitution is also known for its bloated nature, containing more than 1,000 amendments.
Amendment 5 relates only to Franklin County, while Amendment 6 only relates to Lauderdale County. Both would create a special "Stand Your Ground" law for churches in their counties.
"Alabama’s 'Stand Your Ground' law allows a person to legally use physical force against another person under certain conditions. The law does not require the person to retreat before using physical force," the commission noted.
None of the state amendments will be at any additional financial cost to the state, according to the commission.
Local Amendment 1 would deal with allowing the Walker County probate judge to exercise equity jurisdiction on the level with circuit courts if the probate judge is a member of the Alabama State Bar. That would allow the probate judge to decide some cases that are currently transferred to circuit court.
Local Amendment 2 would allow elected and appointed officials in Walker County to participate in state retirement instead of the supernumerary program. This would essentially open up retirement to the sheriff and the next revenue commissioner, as Revenue Commissioner Jerry Guthrie plans to retire under the supernumerary program. The county has said it could save millions of dollars with the transition.
For more Election 2020 coverage from the Daily Mountain Eagle, visit www.mountaineagle.com/election2020.