The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

January 12, 2013

Ala. counties could get power to reject changes

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's counties could accept or reject changes that the state Legislature makes affecting local government under a proposed change to the state's constitution.

The proposal, called ratification, was the newest of four options unveiled Friday by the Constitutional Revision Commission, a 16-member panel appointed to reshape the state's 1901 constitution. If the commission's recommendations are approved by the state Legislature, residents would likely vote on the proposed constitutional changes in 2014.

The Anniston Star (http://bit.ly/SqZdHW) reports that commission members are now debating what powers county governments should enjoy.

Alabama grants its counties relatively few powers. As a result, lawmakers have been forced to pass state laws or make amendments for matters as local as creating a county insect control program. County commissioners and advocates of changing the constitution have pushed for years to give local governments more authority.

The commission's staff unveiled four options Friday. One option, called ratification, would allow county commissions to ratify state laws that affect the setup or functions of local government. Counties would also be allowed to legislate on local matters, though their decisions would have to be ratified when the state Legislature is in session.

"This would be a form of checks and balances," said Howard Walthall, a Cumberland School of Law professor who advises the commission.

The director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, Sonny Brasfield, said county commissions should be able to stop unwanted changes to their structure and staff.

But Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, disagreed. He said the Legislature created a county manager position for Jefferson County during a debt crisis.

"Generally it's been one of the best things for Jefferson County, despite opposition from the County Commission," DeMarco said.

Another option, called delegation, would assign some powers to county governments. A third possibility would allow counties to manage their own affairs when the state Legislature is out of session. Legislators would then review those decisions when they reconvene.

The commission rejected a fourth option that would have given different powers to counties based on their population. Commission members could vote on the three options during the next meeting in February.

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