The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, would give the state’s 67 counties power to establish their own personnel systems, animal control programs and traffic safety initiatives, among other agencies. Under the Alabama Constitution of 1901, most counties need permission from the Legislature to set up those agencies – or to perform most government functions other than road maintenance.
Marsh’s amendment comes at the end of a two-year review of the state constitution, which many county-level officials hoped would lead to more home rule for counties. Still, it doesn’t give counties power over taxation or zoning, something home rule advocates had hoped for, and something many rural property owners had feared, when the constitutional review process began.
“It deals with no-brainer powers, things a majority of citizens would be shocked to know we don’t have already,” said Sonny Brasfield, director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.
The amendment would need the approval of both the Senate and the House, and approval of the voters on a statewide ballot, to become part of the constitution.
Brasfield said the bill gives counties power mostly over their own administrative affairs. His association has long complained that county officials have to go to Montgomery for approval of the simplest issues, such as awarding a badge to a retiring sheriff or deputy. Marsh’s amendment explicitly grants counties the power to give those badges, and to take other specific actions such as setting up a one-stop office for selling car tags or establishing employee appreciation programs.
Even a simple luncheon, to recognize workers for their safety, is something that would need approval from Montgomery under the current system, Brasfield said.
Historically, the biggest opponent of home rule legislation has been the Alabama Farmers Federation, or ALFA. Some of the state’s farmers and other rural landowners have expressed concern that full home rule would lead to higher property taxes or runaway regulation of rural land.
Brasfield and Marsh both said the current version of the amendment is the result of negotiation with ALFA, but ALFA isn’t endorsing the final product.
“We’re neutral on the bill,” ALFA spokeswoman Mary Johnson said. “Our concerns were taxation and restrictions on property, but those issues appear to have been resolved.”
Marsh, the bill’s sponsor, said last week that he expects the amendment to see more changes as it progresses through both houses, due to the touchy nature of home rule.
“I’m hesitant to even call it a limited home rule bill, because that makes some people nervous,” he said.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.