Alabama court cost constitutional amendments

The Alabama constitution is one the longest of any state (or nation for that matter), with some 827 amendments already in place. Much of this stems from the need to issue an amendment for single-county or single-city exemptions from constitutional provisions, such as the provision in Section 96 that prohibits the state from enacting a law that would vary court costs from one county to another.

The legislature shall not enact any law not applicable to all the counties in the state, regulating costs and charges of courts, or fees, commissions or allowances of public officers.

The result has been, starting with Amendment 2 in 1911 (court charges in Jefferson County), dozens of amendments exempting individual counties from the general restriction found in Section 96 with respect to court costs. These range from general statements to very particular and specific costs. Three such amendments, showing the range of amendment types with respect to court costs, will be voted on in November:

  • HB 735 / Covington County Local Amendment Provides for the law library fee in the county and to ratify, approve, validate and confirm any court costs levied pursuant to local law enacted prior to the adoption of this amendment. The amendment text itself is over 500 words long.
  • SB 344 / Marion County Local Amendment “The Legislature, by general or local law, may fix, regulate, and alter the costs and charges of courts in Marion County and provide for their distribution.”
  • SB 581 / Etowah County Local Amendment 2 “The Legislature, by general or local law, may fix, regulate, and alter the costs and charges of courts in Etowah County and provide for their distribution. Any local law authorizing the levy of additional court costs in Etowah County enacted prior to the effective date of this amendment is ratified and confirmed.”

Under the state’s constitution, while the amendments listed above required approval of the three-fifths of the full Alabama House and Senate, the amendments (because they impact only one county) require the approval of only a “majority of the qualified electors of the affected county who vote on the amendment.” (emphasis added)

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