Senate bill would let the people enact laws by popular vote

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Major questions like same-sex marriage, education standards, and voting requirements could be put before Alabama voters if lawmakers pass a bill now sitting in the Senate.

Senate Bill 73 would amend the state constitution to establish a process for enacting general laws and constitutional amendments by voter initiative measure, rather than through legislation.

Sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, the bill requires lawmakers to treat proposals with enough valid voter signatures like any other bill put before the legislature. If lawmakers reject the proposal, or fail to act on it by the end of the session, the question would be put before voters during the next election. Lawmakers could also write their own alternative proposal for popular vote on the same ballot.

If SB 73 passes, Alabama would join 24 other states with an initiative or referendum process.

While states often use ballot initiatives to decide on taxes, state spending, and administrative issues, voters in several states used a process similar to the one in SB 73 to decide major, controversial issues: (Examples courtesy of Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan project sponsored by the Lucy Burns Institute)

  • Mississippi voters in 2004 decided that marriage could only take place and be valid only between a man and a woman.
  • Michigan voters decided in favor of stem cell research during the 2008 election. That year, Michigan also used a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana; Massachusetts voters did the same two years later.
  • In 2011, Ohio residents voted for exemption from national health care mandates.
  • In 2012, Maine became one of the first states to approve same sex marriage through a popular vote, rather than a court decision or legislative act.

With just 14 days left in the 2015 legislative session, Senate Bill 73 still awaits debate in the Senate Committee on Constitution, Ethics and Elections.

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