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Alabama voters will consider constitutional amendment on local legislation

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Alabama’s March 5 primary election will feature a constitutional amendment, Amendment 1, concerning local legislation.

Amendment 1 would remove the budget isolation resolution restriction on local laws and local constitutional amendments, thereby allowing them to be considered before budgets are approved without the 60% supermajority vote requirement.

In 1984, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring the governor to present a proposed budget to the Legislature by the second day of the legislative session. It also required that the Legislature pass and present to the governor a bill making appropriations for the basic needs of the state and education before enacting any other legislation. A bill can be exempt from this requirement by a three-fifths (60%) vote approving a budget isolation resolution exemption.

Since budget bills are typically passed as one of the last items in a legislative session, the provision effectively requires other legislation to receive a 60% vote on a budget isolation resolution before moving on to a second vote to pass the legislation itself.

In Alabama, local constitutional amendments must be passed along with a resolution of local application. If the resolution of local application is passed unanimously, with zero “No” votes, the measure will be placed on the ballot only in the relevant county or jurisdiction.

If one or more members of the Legislature vote “No” on the resolution of local application, the measure must be placed on the statewide ballot and must receive majority approval from voters statewide and within the relevant county.

Before the passage of Amendment 3 of 2016, local constitutional amendments were voted on by the entire state of Alabama, unless a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote of the Legislature and a unanimous vote of a constitutional amendment commission determined that the amendment strictly affected or applied to only one county or jurisdiction.

Thus, statewide electors often voted on issues that primarily affected other counties or jurisdictions. After the passage of Amendment 3, local constitutional amendments appear only before the voters in that particular jurisdiction.

Amendment 1 was passed unanimously in the Legislature during the 2023 legislative session.

Senator Clyde Chambliss Jr., R-Prattville, who sponsored the amendment in the Legislature, said he proposed the change to remove an “unnecessary hurdle that has really had no effect on legislation.”

Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said the change would “remove questions about how you can effectively and constitutionally move a local bill forward,” and remove “any kind of question that could be raised about the number of votes that were required to get the bill to the point that it could be passed.”

From 2000 through 2022, 100 constitutional amendments were on the ballot in Alabama. Of that total, 81 (81%) were approved by voters. On average, the Alabama ballot featured 8 constitutional amendments during even-year elections. During even-numbered years, between 4 and 15 constitutional amendments were on the ballot.

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