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Lawmaker renews bid to rewrite state constitution

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Rep. Jack Venable worked for years to rewrite Alabama's Constitution one article at a time — an effort that stalled with the Tallassee Democrat's death in 2005.

A Republican legislator, Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood, who was first elected in a special election in 2005, has taken up Venable's fight. DeMarco is sponsoring bills to rewrite the portions of the 1901 Constitution that deal with banking and corporations.

The rewritten banking article was approved Wednesday by the House Constitution and Elections Committee and now goes to the full House for debate. Committee members said they would consider the rewritten article concerning corporations next week.

If approved by the Legislature, the rewritten articles would have to be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

Committee chairman Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, said his panel next week will also consider a bill to allow Alabama residents to vote on holding a statewide convention to rewrite the constitution.

In several past sessions, the House approved articles that Venable had rewritten, but those efforts died in the Senate.

DeMarco, 39, said he always thought Venable had the right idea to attack constitutional reform one article at a time. He said he borrowed from what Venable had already done on the banking and corporation articles — updating the articles and removing archaic language. That included language in the constitution that says bank customers can turn in their money in exchange for silver or gold, a practice that refers back to the silver standard of the early 20th century.

"I feel the article by article rewrite provides safeguards to the public," DeMarco said.

Howard Walthall, a Samford University law professor who teaches courses on state constitutions, said he supports both DeMarco's efforts and the bill calling for a constitutional convention.

"I'll help anybody trying to reform the constitution either way," said Walthall, who had worked with Venable on his efforts to rewrite the document article by article.

Walthall said the problem with Alabama's 106-year-old constitution is that it is filled with details that should be in code books.

"It's very difficult for ordinary people to use it. We need to simplify the document," Walthall said.

Mike Waters, a Birmingham attorney who represents various banks, said representatives of most Alabama banks favor the rewrite of the banking article. He said much of the banking language in the 1901 document is outdated.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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