The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 4, 2012

What to choose? A guide to the ballot measures

By David Palmer
Special to The News Courier

— Voters face a variety of topics in statewide amendments, some strictly local in nature and others with far-reaching implications.

Amendment 3 pertains to Baldwin County, particularly the Stockton community. The amendment proposes to prohibit annexation by local law of any property within the Stockton Landmark District into any municipality. The amendment ended up on a statewide ballot because of a few votes in the House opposed to the idea.

Amendment 1

State Amendment 1 provides Alabamians with an opportunity to reauthorize Forever Wild Land Trust for another 20 years.

The program is funded through a 10 percent investment income of the Alabama Trust Fund and secures land for preservation. Forever Wild also makes the land accessible to the public for hunting and fishing.

Forever Wild’s initial success years ago, said state Sen. Paul Bussman, was to preserve endangered wetlands around Mobile and Baldwin County.

Since that time the program has preserved thousands of acres of land and provided public access to nature areas for families who enjoy the outdoors.

“It’s been a well-managed program that a lot of Alabamians have enjoyed,” Bussman said. “It uses only a portion of the oil and gas money and gives plenty of access to land for families across the state.”

Amendment 2

Few issues on the state ballot carry more weight than Amendment 2.

State lawmakers and Gov. Robert Bentley are widely behind Amendment 2 as a means of allowing the state to remain competitive in luring new industries and encouraging expansions of those already here.

“Amendment 2 will help attract more new jobs to Alabama. Passage of the amendment will allow the state to refinance bonds at lower interest rates, saving the state millions of dollars. In turn, that will free up funds to provide economic incentives for companies considering moving their facilities to Alabama — or expanding the facilities they already have in Alabama. The end result will be more new jobs,” said Gov. Bentley in a prepared statement concerning Tuesday’s vote.

The amendment simply provides the state more flexibility in issuing general obligation bonds for industrial incentives. The amendment raises the cap on bonds to $750 million and makes it easier for the state to refinance bond issues and gain savings from lower rates.

Reps. Mac Buttram and Jeremy Oden and state Sen. Paul Bussman — favor Amendment 2.

“It almost triples what’s available for economic development incentives.  I think this will help communities across the state a great deal in bringing new industries and encouraging more expansions,” Oden said.

Amendment 4

Of greater concern is Statewide Amendment 4. The amendment proposes to amend a portion of the state Constitution of Alabama of 1901, which contains racist language relating to separation of schools by race.

The Alabama Education Association and a few other groups have raised concerns that amending this portion of the constitution could open the door to the state dropping its obligation to fund public education.

Many state lawmakers say that fear is unfounded and are advising voters to approve the amendment as a means of cleaning up the language in the constitution.

“The amendment would help us with our (industrial) recruiting. We don’t need to have this kind of language showing, and I’m tired of hearing that we’re not going to support education. I strongly in favor of supporting our schools at the state level and I don’t think you’re going to find a different opinion among the leadership,” Bussman said.

Amendment 5

This amendment is another strictly local issue affecting only those who live in the city of Mobile or the Prichard area.

The amendment specifically calls for the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System to acquire the assets, liabilities, and infrastructures of the Water and Sewer Board of the city of Prichard. A yes vote would dissolve Prichard’s current water and sewer board. The amendment has no effect on taxes or services anywhere in the state outside of Mobile and Prichard.

Amendment 6

Aimed at providing Alabamians with an “opt out” alternative to Obamacare, Amendment 6 prohibits any person, employer or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system.

The amendment also says that no one, an individual or employer, would face penalties or fines for choosing not to participate in health care system.

Amendment 7

Known as the secret ballot amendment, this one targets union activity where union members may be forced to publicly vote for or against a measure. The amendment is aimed at protecting an individual’s privacy in voting whether to accept or reject unionization.

Amendment 8

Many of the current lawmakers, who came into office two years ago, were upset by past legislators who were empowered to vote themselves a pay raise, no matter what economic conditions affected the state.

Amendment 8 takes the power away from lawmakers to randomly vote themselves pay raises and ties compensation to the median household income in Alabama. The amendment also requires tracking of expenses by lawmakers.

Amendment 9

Another amendment aimed at correcting an outdated article in the state constitution.

Buttram said through the years the nature of business in Alabama has changed or evolved. He said the wording of the constitution is at time irrelevant regarding the types of businesses in Alabama such as corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies.

From a legal perspective, Buttram said it is important that the language of the constitution is concise and reflects changes in business that occurred in the last 111 years. The amendment also continues the Legislature’s power to regulate and impose a business privilege tax on corporations and other entities.

Amendment 10

Like Amendment 9, this is what lawmakers call a “clean up” bill of the constitution. Amendment 10 updates Alabama’s current banking practices. A yes vote also prohibits the state from becoming a stockholder in any bank or banking corporation.

Amendment 11

While this issue was originally intended for Lawrence County, it became a statewide amendment because it has merit in communities across the state.

The amendment, if approved, would prevent any municipality located outside of Lawrence County from imposing a municipal ordinance or regulation, including a tax, on properties or communities within Lawrence County.

Bussman said the matter in questions relates specifically to Lawrence County’s key industrial park, which borders Morgan County. Police jurisdictions often extend beyond city limits and can cross into neighboring counties.

Bussman said Decatur and Morgan County have industrial parks that are nearly filled and Lawrence County needs to protect its interests from any encroachment.

— David Palmer is the editor of The Cullman Times.