The Senate Committee on Constitution Ethics and Elections met Thursday morning, just before the start of the Senate session to take up several bills.
First on this morning’s agenda was SB 10 from Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), which would call for an Article V Constitutional Convention to require Congress to balance the budget. The bill passed through the Senate last year but stalled in the House.
Concern was voiced from several members of the committee, most based in the idea that calling for a convention may open Congress up to moving on issues wholly separate from that of balancing the budget.
“If we think they’re disciplined enough to just look at this one thing, that’s not going to happen,” said Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).
Others disagreed, noting that the act of calling for a convention would act as an “awakening” to policymakers in Washington.
“Ultimately Washington does listen and does pay attention,” said Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose). “The best politicians in the nation are in Washington. I think it’s important in the process and survival of our Republic that this kind of system becomes viable.”
The committee voted and gave the bill a favorable report. A favorable report was also given to SB 101, which makes a constitutional amendment requiring referendums be added to primary or general election ballots. The measure would theoretically cut costs in having to hold special elections for such items.
Further, the committee OK’d a bill from Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) to allow municipalities to enter into a pilot program replacing paper voter lists with electronic lists, likely held on a tablet. Voters would be able to swipe their ID card, sign and vote. The measure would likely save money, as the cost of purchasing a tablet is significantly less than the cost of printing the lists.
SB 181, from Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), puts the idea of reorganizing the office of lieutenant governor and stripping that position of its control over the Senate before the people for a vote. In Dial’s opinion, such a move would free up the lieutenant governor to act more as an assistant governor and allow the Senate to elect its own president.
“This is a destructive abolition of the lieutenant governor’s office,” said Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), adding that it makes the office a “ceremonial position” only.
Votes were tallied and Dial’s legislation failed to garner a favorable report.
The most contentious issue up for debate at Thursday morning’s hearing was SB 186, which would streamline how felons’ voting rights are reinstated.
“Obviously, I think there’s a reason you lose your rights,” Pittman said. “So I’m very hesitant to remove that.”
Discussion was robust, as many noted the need to include the secretary of state in the process of drafting the bill more efficiently and lumping the bill with a similar piece of legislation that would more thoroughly define “moral turpitude,” crimes that now deny felons the ability to regain their rights.
“This bill shouldn’t be contingent on waiting on some other bill to come,” Smitherman said. “That’s not acceptable to me. It’s a game of delay and shift around.”
Eventually the decision was made to carry the bill over until next week when Coleman-Madison, as well as the secretary of state, will be in attendance for the discussion.