From the Public Policy Office: Laws of Alabama

From the Public Policy Office: Laws of Alabama

Did you know? Laws of Alabama

Have you ever heard that Alabama has the longest Constitution in the world? Have you ever wondered why? While we can neither confirm nor deny this rumor, we can explain why our Constitution is so long, and growing. In so doing, we hope you gain a better understanding of the laws and rules within our state, from cities to counties to the state, that affect you every day. With this knowledge, you will be able to determine which body is responsible for specific laws and will be better able to initiate change.

Home Rule vs. Non-Home Rule

Before we address the different laws that apply to you, it is important to understand Alabama’s form of government. Most know that Alabama has a state government, county governments, and municipal governments. However, you will notice that the state laws predominate below. This is because Alabama is a non-home rule state, meaning that county and municipal governments only have authority to do what is expressly allowed by state law. In a non-home rule state, authority is concentrated in the Legislature, while a home rule state provides county and municipal governments with broad, implied powers. Because Alabama is a non-home rule state, local constitutional amendments are added when a county or municipality requests authority to take some action, creating Alabama’s lengthy Constitution. (See article here).

The Laws and Rules of Alabama

Like the other 49 states, Alabama has various laws and rules at multiple levels of government that provide governance to the citizens and residents of the state. Here is a non-exhaustive list and brief explanation of each (federal laws excluded):

  • The Alabama Constitution of 1901

Rumored to be the longest in the world, the Constitution comprises 287 sections and 926 amendments. Organized by topic, “The Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended” includes the amendments under the appropriate topic, providing a much more searchable document. The Official Recompilation comprises 18 Articles plus Local Amendments. The 18 Articles are general governance for the state, while the Local Amendments apply to a single county or a specific, named municipality. Most of the amendments are local, and are necessary because Alabama is a non-home rule state.  

New amendments to the Constitution must pass both houses of the legislature and then are voted upon by the people at the November general election every two years. The Governor has no power over constitutional amendments.

Local Amendments are constitutional amendments that apply to only one county or to a city or town in multiple counties. Typically, these are only voted upon by the members of the county, city, or town affected and not by the state. However, if one legislator objects before passage, all state voters must vote upon the proposed local amendment, which is why we voted on tolls and bridges in Baldwin County in November 2016.

  • The Code of Alabama

The Code of Alabama comprises the general laws of the state, as constrained by the Constitution. Sections 1 through 44 are statewide laws, while section 45 contains the local laws that apply to a specific county or municipality (see note on home rule above).

The Code is amended by passage in the Alabama Legislature of a bill by majority vote in both houses and action by the Governor. The Governor has three options: 1) veto the bill, 2) sign the bill, or 3) send the bill on to become law without his or her signature. If the Governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature can override the veto with the vote of a majority of those elected.

Local Laws are similar to local amendments in that they affect only one county or political sub-divisions within one or several counties. Local laws provide specific grants of power to the named governments, with topics including retirement systems for county and municipal employees, business licenses, taxes, and Sunday alcohol sales.

Administrative Regulations are the regulations made by different regulatory bodies to clarify specific laws in the Code of Alabama. For example, the Alabama Real Estate Commission issues administrative regulations on a variety of topics to further explain the real estate laws, including licensing, education, and others.

  • County and Municipal Governments

Counties take action by resolution of the county commission. While all county resolutions are not organized into a body, some, like zoning regulations or ordinances, may be. Municipal governments pass municipal ordinances, which may be organized into a city code of ordinances. These resolutions, regulations, and ordinances provide further guidance to citizens and businesses located within these local governments. REALTORS® should consult these documents for information on business licenses and zoning for particular lots, among many other items.