Amendment 1 ends Alabama cotton refunds, but adds to constitutional reform debate

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July 16, 2014

By Margaret Koenig

2014 measures
Seal of Alabama.png
July 15
Amendment 1 Approveda
November 4
Amendment 1 Approveda
Amendment 2 Approveda
Amendment 3 Approveda
Amendment 4 Approveda
Amendment 5 Approveda
EndorsementsFull text

The first hurdle to ending refunds of cotton assessments to Alabama farmers who choose not to participate in the checkoff program was cleared in yesterday's primary runoff election, with the passage of Amendment 1.[1] The measure eradicates the constitutional provisions that had required cotton commissions to offer refunds to those who choose not to participate. Removing that provision allows Senate Bill 256 to take effect, which will create the necessary statutory powers to enable cotton commissions to levy assessments without refund provisions.

Placed on Alabama's primary runoff ballot, low voter participation was expected on this niche issue. Just over 235,000 voters out of the approximately 2.85 million active registered voters cast a ballot on the issue, making the approximate voter turnout on this issue 8.3 percent.[2] The measure managed to exceed the expectations of an overall voter turnout of 5 percent for the election, in general.[3]

According to William H. Stewart, author of a commentary on the Alabama Constitution, "Numerous amendments to the Alabama Constitution now show the use of this document to allow very specific agricultural producer and agricultural marketing groups to enhance their economic status through the kinds of activities described here."[4] These types of programs are common at the state and national level and are often called checkoff programs. They are not generally constitutional matters.

Alabama Cotton Commission logo.jpg

Amendment 1 was not a highly contested ballot measure in terms of its subject matter. Most farmers' organizations supported it, and state media outlets largely chose to remain neutral on the matter. However, many used Amendment 1 as an opportunity to highlight the cumbersome and inefficient nature of Alabama's 1901 constitution and to call into question the practice of enshrining matters like agricultural assessments in the constitution. The Montgomery Advertiser described the cumbersome nature of the state's constitution as "an anchor — not the kind of anchor that provides a solid base, but the kind that impedes progress and has to be dragged along by a state perpetually struggling to move forward."[5]

Three more legislatively-referred constitutional amendments await voter approval or dissent on the November 4 ballot. While one targeted at preventing international or non-state or federal laws from being used in court decisions will likely give rise to spirited debate about its substance, another regarding sewer services and broadband internet in Franklin County will be further ammunition for those who want an overhaul of the 1901 constitution. The third measure would require supermajority approval by a city or county board of education when such a board seeks to increase local expenditures by $50,000 or more.

Amendment 1's approval revises Amendment 388, which was originally passed by voters on November 19, 1980. That amendment received overwhelming approval at the polls, with a vote of 462,809 in favor to 97,691 against.[6]

See also