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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lawmakers move forward with term limits, stronger veto power and removing racist language

A committee of Alabama senators approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow voters to decide if they want to remove racist language from the state constitution, limit how many terms a state lawmaker can serve, and give the governor stronger veto power.
"These represent monumental reforms," said Bryan Taylor, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections.
The panel also passed out proposals that would require those utilizing robo-calls during campaigns to disclose who is paying for them, lowering the threshold for independent and third party candidates to get on the ballot in the state, and requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports.
Taylor, R-Prattville, said term limits and giving the governor stronger veto power should make government more accountable and, he believes, lessen the influence of special interests.
Taylor said the proposal by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would "remove the most appalling segregationist" language from the state's 1901 constitution if approved by voters. Even though those sections are not utilized now, Taylor said the move would be "deeply symbolic" and help improve the state's image nationally and internationally.
"Like it or not, Alabama still has a reputation for racism," said Taylor, referring to grainy footage of the civil rights struggle in the state. "That seems to be what a lot of people think of when they think of Alabama."
He said the state deserves better.
Orr said the language should have been removed years ago and, if passed by the Legislature, would be on the ballot in the November 2012 general election.
A proposal by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would limit members of the House and Senate to serving three consecutive full terms.
Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, wants to require the vote of three-fifths of lawmakers to override a veto by the governor. Currently, a simple majority can override a veto. But Brewbaker said any proposal that gets to the governor had to have the support of a simple majority to get there.
Brewbaker said there are not three "co-equal levels of government" now because the Legislature is clearly dominant and that his bill would give the governor an effective veto.
The committee passed another bill that would lower the threshold for third party or independent candidates to get on to the ballot in Alabama. If the Legislature approves the proposal, candidates would be required to get the signatures of 1.5 percent of eligible voters who voted in the last election. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the 20 percent required now is the highest in the nation.
Ward, the sponsor, said the high threshold disenfranchises people by making ballot access difficult.
The committee carried over a bill that would provide for members of the military to vote electronically because the sponsor, Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, was not at the meeting.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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