Senator Works to Save Local Bills

MONTGOMERY — A proposed constitutional amendment in the Statehouse to keep hundreds of local pieces of legislation from potentially being undone is facing the same deadline challenge that a lottery proposal did.

If it doesn’t pass and get to voters, more than 600 local laws could be invalidated by courts, Sen. Cam Ward said Wednesday.

The list of local bills that could be undone goes back more than a decade and in the Tennessee Valley includes tax referendums, changes to city limits and the distribution of TVA money.

“The ramifications would be very far reaching and you would have a pure disaster,” Ward, R-Alabaster, said.

Eric Mackey, the head of the state’s school superintendent association, said this morning some school districts’ local tax revenue could be impacted, but each piece of legislation would have to be overturned individually.

The issue, according to Ward, is that a trial court recently ruled that the way the Alabama House has been counting votes on its budget isolation resolutions is unconstitutional. Budget isolation resolutions are procedural votes in each chamber that allow bills to be discussed and voted on before the Legislature has passed the General Fund and education budgets.

The House and Senate rules differ on the definition of the three-fifths vote required to pass a budget isolation resolution, Ward said. A recent court challenge on a local bill led a state trial court to declare local bills passed by the House invalid. If an appeals court upholds that decision, more than 600 bills could be struck down, Ward said.

“Declaring all these local bills unconstitutional would have an enormous impact,” Ward said. “You’d see a lot of counties that would suffer financially…

“Money for your sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, county governments, school funding, annexations would all go away.”

Ward sponsored Senate Bill 7 in this special session. It calls for a constitutional amendment put before voters to essentially declare the local bills valid, as well as the Legislature’s voting process moving forward.

The bill passed the Senate last week and was sent to the House, where changes were made. The bill was sent to a conference committee of Senators and House members to work out differences in the two versions of the bill, but that meeting didn’t happen Wednesday.

That was the deadline to get proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot, Secretary of State John Merrill said Wednesday. He said that unless the law was changed or he received an attorney general’s opinion telling him otherwise, a constitutional amendment allowing for a statewide lottery would not be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Ward on Wednesday night said he was hoping Merrill would reconsider. Ward, an attorney, said he believed state law allowed a few more days to get an amendment on the ballot.

He said the conference committee was going to go ahead with work on the bill today.

“I’m not so sure the Secretary of State is going to be so hard and firm on that (deadline rule),” Ward said.

As lawmakers continue to hash out a proposed lottery and the best way to use the state’s nearly $1 billion BP settlement, Ward said his bill is a bit of a political pawn.

“What you’re doing, people are holding my bill hostage,” he said. “If you don’t (pass it) all 67 counties are hurt.”

The words “budget isolation resolution” aren’t sexy, Ward said, and he can’t see a special election being called on the topic. But not getting the proposal to voters could have disastrous ramifications.

“Not everyone is in love with lottery, not everyone is in love with BP, but all sides see that we have to (do) this,” Ward said.

Ward has a list of local bills that could potentially be challenged and undone. It includes:

• Limestone County’s TVA in-lieu-of-tax money distribution changes made in 2012;

• Hartselle’s 2015 ad valorem tax increase referendum to support education. The referendum was approved by voters.

mary.sell@decaturdaily.com. Twitter @DD_MarySell.

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commented 2016-08-25 19:42:51 -0500 · Flag
Consider that the Alabama Supreme Court let the Alabama Accountability Act stand when it was undisputed that it had been enacted illegally doesn’t suggest that they’re likely to be such sticklers with 600 other bills.