- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabamians in November will vote on a proposal aimed at protecting hundreds of local laws - from sales taxes to annexations to draft beer regulations - from being invalidated because of a legal dispute over legislative procedure.

Sen. Cam Ward says hundreds of local laws are vulnerable to court challenges unless lawmakers approve Amendment 14.

The concern came after a judge struck down a Jefferson County sales tax law, after finding the House of Representatives was misapplying a procedural vote required to pass bills before state budgets are approved. The Budget Isolation Resolution in the Alabama Constitution requires a vote of “three-fifths of a quorum present.” However, the House for years has interpreted it as three-fifths of “members present and voting.”

Ward said they fear a flurry of lawsuits that could overturn local laws passed under the now-disputed procedure.

WT

Alabamians in November will vote on a proposal aimed at protecting hundreds of local laws - from sales taxes to annexations to draft beer regulations - from being invalidated because of a legal dispute over legislative procedure.

Amendment 14 seeks to change the Alabama Constitution to validate the laws passed under the now disputed procedure.

Here’s a look at Amendment 14:

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WHAT DOES THE AMENDMENT DO?

The proposed constitutional amendment seeks to protect hundreds of local laws from potentially being overturned by the courts after a judge said lawmakers had not fulfilled a procedural vote required by the Alabama Constitution. Amendment 14 would validate local laws passed before Nov. 8 to protect them from court challenges.

“At last count we had close to 700 local laws that could be repealed if it did not pass,” said Sen. Cam Ward, the Alabaster Republican who sponsored the amendment.

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WHAT CAUSED THE CONCERN?

The concern came after a judge struck down a 2015 Jefferson County sales tax, after finding the House of Representatives was misapplying a required procedural vote required to pass bills before state budgets are approved.

The Budget Isolation Resolution requirement in the Alabama Constitution requires a vote of ” three-fifths of a quorum present” to bring bills up for a floor vote before state budgets are passed. However, the House for decades has interpreted that as three-fifths of “members present and voting.”

Members in 105-member House approved the BIR for the sale tax bill by a 13-3 vote, with 35 members listed as abstaining. Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo said those 13 “yes” votes did not satisfy the BIR requirement in the Alabama Constitution. Graffeo said the BIR requires a yes vote from three-fifths of all House members present, with at least a 53-member quorum present. Therefore, he said the minimum needed for a BIR is 32 votes.

Lawmakers will often abstain on votes related to local issues partly as a show of “local courtesy” and partly to avoid campaign attack ads by political opponents that they frequently voted to raise local taxes during their legislative careers.

The ruling is now on appeal before the Alabama Supreme Court.

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WHAT DO SUPPORTERS SAY?

While the Jefferson County ruling was directed at one particular law, Ward said he fears a flurry of other lawsuits, or a class action, that could invalidate hundreds of other laws passed under the same procedure.

Ward said it could have wide-ranging impact on public safety, schools, courts, economic development organizations, and other critical services statewide. The proposed constitutional amendment would keep the laws in place and rescue lawmakers from having to repass hundreds of local bills approved under the disputed procedure.

“It’s a simple question. Do we keep the existing laws we have in place?” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. “This touches every county. All we’re doing is ratifying the existing laws that we already have. A “no” vote says, ‘Let’s move into chaos,’”


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