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VOL. 124 | NO. 68 | Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Tenn. May Use Web to Notify Constitution Changes

By ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A proposal to amend the Tennessee Constitution to allow greater restrictions on abortions could for the first time allow the state to notify citizens about a change in the document using government Web sites.

By going to the online-only notification, the state would save an estimated $20,000 needed to pay for the traditional notification in statewide newspapers. Supporters fear the cost of using newspapers could cause the measure to fail amid a state budget shortfall approaching $1 billion.

The constitution sets a publishing requirement for proposed amendments, but does not specify how residents should be informed.

The House Health Committee voted Tuesday to advance the proposed constitutional amendment on abortion limits to a full floor vote. The measure includes the online notification provision.

An unrelated proposal to amend the constitution to ban a state income tax was halted in the House Budget Subcommittee last week over concerns about the sponsor's effort to notify the public on Web sites.

Members of the panel argued that not all of their constituents have access to the Internet and wouldn't have a way to find out about the proposal until it reached the ballot.

The Senate has already passed the abortion resolution. If the measure also passes the House it would need to gain two-thirds majorities in both chambers during the next two-year General Assembly before it could appear on the ballot in 2014.

House Finance Chairman Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the abortion resolution should have the same notification requirements as all previous attempts to amend the constitution.

"We need to be consistent with the way these things have been done," he said.

But Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and the panel's vice chairman, said he doesn't think a lot of people get notification in the paper.

"I think a lot more people would have access to the Internet," he said. "If they don't have it on their own, then through the public library and other places."

When the state was dealing with a previous economic downturn in 2004, then-Secretary of State Riley Darnell had his agency pick up the tab for the notification for two proposals to amend the constitution. Voters in 2006 approved the measures that banned gay marriage and allowed a property tax break for elderly homeowners.

Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who was a sponsor of the tax break measure when he was a member of the House, said he has not been approached about making funds available for this year's proposals.

"I have not been asked by the legislative leadership to find that money," he said. "We'd certainly be open to do anything that might help the Legislature meet what it deems are the priorities of the state."

Sargent said he was surprised Hargett hadn't been contacted.

"If no one's asked him, then I would think someone should be asking," he said.

___

Read SJR0127 at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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