Discussion of Amendments on Nov. 4th Ballot
By Ken Freeman
I have studied these amendments extensively and I believe that I understand them well. I have discovered that sometimes there can be a big difference between accurate and totally truthful. Some of these Amendments contain much more than meets the eye.
So if you will allow me I will uncover some of what, in my opinion, are the hidden implications and possible unintended consequences buried within these Amendments and possibly give you some food for thought on election day.
Amendment #1- the “foreign law bill” This is, in my opinion, a straightforward and honest Amendment that says what it means. The authors of this Amendment told me that they felt it was necessary because increasingly over the years there has been more and more pressure from foreign entities such as the United Nations, foreign governments, and some organized religions (which combine both religion and “law” within the tenets of their religion), to force their laws and beliefs upon American citizens. Amendment #1 is designed to protect Alabama citizens from such intrusions by foreign entities. The “Fair Ballot Commission Statement” clearly defines the purpose of the Amendment when it states, “If passed, Alabama will have in place a Constitutional provision that says Alabama citizens will not be subject to foreign law if application of the foreign law would violate Alabama law or result in violation of their rights.”
Please vote YES on Amendment #1
Amendment #2- the “armory amendment”- My opinion: do I think that the National Guard Armories need maintenance and repair? Yes. Do I strongly support our troops? Yes. But in talking to those in the Guard and those knowledgeable about it, I find that they need money for salaries, equipment and training far more than they need money for construction of Armories. This bill would do nothing to help with those issues. Another big concern to me is the source of the funding- the raid on the ATF (the Alabama Trust Fund) which serves as Alabama’s emergency savings account. The Alabama Trust Fund is intended to only be used to cover dire shortfalls in revenue in some critical area. In my mind this does NOT reach that standard. On the Alabama Legislative website-The “Fair Ballot Summary” also states, “Amendment 2 will have no direct impact on taxes, but would redirect the distribution of income from the ATF… which could reduce interest income to the State General Fund and local governments.” True, there may be no direct effect on taxes but there certainly will be an indirect effect. When local governments lose income from these “redirected funds” what do you think they will do? They will be greatly tempted to increase local taxes to make up the shortfall. Is this really the best way to help our Guardsmen and our citizens? I don’t think so.
We recommend a NO vote on Amendment #2
Amendments #3 and #5- the “gun rights, hunting and fishing amendments”- One would think that in a highly conservative, gun loving, hunting and fishing friendly state like Alabama nearly everybody would be in favor of these “feel good” Amendments- but not so. Distrust of government runs so deep here now that bills like these come under suspicion. “We already have these rights protected in both the US and the Alabama Constitutions,” folks keep telling me. “If it ain’t broke- don’t fix it,” I keep hearing. The fear among many I spoke with is that when you pass any new legislation, as opposed to legislation that has already stood the test of time by litigation, you open up the possibility of a challenge in court and some liberal judge actually taking away the very rights that you were trying to protect. They say, “So you had better be certain that it is worth that risk when you vote to change the Constitution.” A No vote means things stay the same.
We are divided on these two- You decide for yourself if it is worth the risk.
Amendment #4- the “unfunded mandate bill”- Amendment #4 is, in my opinion, a very deceptive Amendment and by far the worst of the lot. Hidden within the Amendment’s language are several “traps” and “misdirections” which need to be fully understood for what they really do and what a devastating effect they can have on the state of Alabama if passed.
First misdirection: The ballot language itself: this ballot language makes it sound like the threshold amount is $50,000 for each individual school board in order to be an unfunded mandate. But this is not the case. The truth is that this is a statewide “cumulative” amount of all local funds required to be spent by all school boards on that issue. Alabama has 67 counties, most of which have at least one city and one county school board. This means that the true threshold amount is only $373 per school board or $746 per county. Any expenditure over this small amount would make it an unfunded mandate. Therefore, practically every piece of legislation controlling education in Alabama would require a difficult to obtain two-thirds vote of the Legislature to implement, thus destroying legislative oversight- any piece of legislation that is except for “compensation, benefits …of any employee of a board of education.” The writers of the Amendment pulled that section out and arranged it so that these items would still only require the much lower threshold of a majority vote!
Second trap: Remember, in law, every word or even the placement of a comma or lack thereof has both meaning and consequences. One has to assume that every word inserted, or left out without explanation, is intended to convey meaning. Amendment #4 starts out by inserting the additional phrase, “or a city or county board of education” into the old version of Amendment #621 anywhere it had, “municipality or county, or instrumentality thereof.” But halfway through the Amendment it changes to adding only the phrase, “or board” each time the other entities appear in a sentence. Without continuing to use the proper term, “or city or county board of education” and substituting only the words, “or board” without explanation, one might well ask, which board does it now apply to? Does this mean water boards, sewage boards- what boards? It does not specify. Are all boards going to now require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature in order to regulate them? Is this just sloppy legislation or is it an intentional power grab? Either way, the results will be the same.
Next the law refers to a bill qualifying as an unfunded mandate only until, “or until a law provides for a local source of revenue within the municipality, county, instrumentality, or board for the stated purpose and the affected municipality, county, instrumentality, or board is authorized by ordinance or resolution to levy and collect the revenue….” Municipalities already have taxing authority. Counties under certain circumstances can vote to raise taxes. Does this not put local “boards” on the same level under the Constitution as these other entities and provide the future vehicle for raising revenue by local boards taxing local citizens? Ask yourself- Do we really need another level of taxation stacked on our citizens’ backs?
We strongly recommend a NO vote on Amendment #4
The “Big Picture”: Our system of government was designed with many “checks and balances” to ensure that no one branch or division of government could take too much power and operate above and beyond the direction of the people. The responsibility of oversight, distribution of funds, and ultimately the power to check, balance, and control Alabama’s public education resides with the Alabama Legislature. We badly need to maintain this check and balance on the State School Board and State Superintendent Bice. But what this Amendment would do if passed, is prevent the Legislature from exercising any control over education without a super-majority vote on nearly every issue pertaining to education. A two-thirds vote is much more difficult to obtain than just a simple majority. And if, as many people believe, the balance of power within the Legislature shifts this November toward gridlock, the situation would be very similar to what has happened at the Federal Level. Even if the public outcry reached such a level that the Alabama Legislature decided to try to undo some of the damage done to education and to our children, say for example by Common Core, they would be powerless to do so because everything they attempted would be classed as an unfunded mandate and require a two-thirds vote. This is, many believe, the true purpose of this amendment.