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MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Trust today’s Alabamians to draft modern constitution

Letting the people decide something terrifies those who don't want change, especially if they are benefiting from the way things are.

That's what is happening with a proposal to move toward rewriting Alabama's outdated state constitution by calling a convention. The proposal died last week by a 7-7 vote of the House Constitution and Elections Committee, with Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, among those voting against it.

The 1901 constitution was a successful effort to take the vote away from blacks and centralize power in Montgomery, where a few privileged groups could take control. More than a century later, many of the worst provisions have been changed by amendments, federal or state law, and court orders. But the constitution remains inflexible, giving Montgomery too much control.

More than 700 amendments have made it a complex document that few people fully understand — which is just fine with those who do understand it and know how to manipulate it, but dangerous for the rest of us.

Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, pointed out to committee members that some of them would not have been there if federal law had not overridden the 1901 constitution. Thank goodness for the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which enfranchised blacks.

But other committee members said their constituents worry that a convention could lead to higher taxes, legalized gambling and the loss of property rights. The fact is that it could, but it doesn't have to, and many present laws aren't fair.

The issue is whether Alabama is going to trust its own people to draft a new state charter that reflects our current values and priorities and gives government the ability to function well in the 21st century. Surely today's Alabamians can do a better job than an all-male, all-white group born in the 19th century.

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