Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
On Friday, May 19, 2017, the Alabama Legislature completed its annual regular session with continuing arguments on redistricting, a Monuments Bill to preserve Confederate sites, streets, schools and other public markers, childcare center licensing and prison construction.
Before the session began, two major leaders lost their positions. Speaker of the House Hubbard was convicted and jailed for corruption. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended and then removed for urging Alabama official to disregard and oppose the U. S. Supreme Court decision sanctioning same-sex marriage. During the session, Governor Robert Bentley resigned over an alleged affair with a female staffer rather than face impeachment. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey became Governor.
The Legislature approved an Education and General Fund budget without many changes from previous years. A proposal to finance four new prisons, to respond to serious overcrowding in current corrections facilities was left stranded at the end of the session. Governor Kay Ivey may call a special session to deal with building new prisons. A proposal to increase the gas tax by 6 cents to bring Alabama in line with other states passed out of a House Committee but never reached a floor vote. The revenues are needed to support construction and improvement of roads and bridges in all Alabama counties.
The bill for a state lottery for education and other gaming reforms died when Governor Bentley gave up his office. The lottery and other revenue raising measures like the gas tax will be coming up again in the next regular session or special sessions.
The Legislature passed a bill that no monuments on public property for more than 40 years could be moved. The bill sets up a Historical Landmarks Commission to decide on monuments built during the period from 40 to 20 years ago. This bill was passed in reaction to the actions of other places in the South, like New Orleans, that moved monuments and statutes of Confederate leaders and generals from public places to private museums.
This legislation would prevent cities and counties from re-naming schools, streets, bridges and other facilities named for Confederates who fought the nation to maintain slavery in the Civil War. This legislation was passed by Republican super-majorities in both houses and is now siting on Governor Kay Ivey’s desk. If she does not sign it in ten days it will quietly die. Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) and other civil rights and social justice organizations are urging the Governor not to sign this flawed and backwards moving bill. ANSC is urging its members to write or email Governor Ivey to urge her not to sign the Monuments Bill.
The Legislature failed to pass bills that would have regulated all day care centers and removed the waiver for centers connected to religious organizations. They did pass a law protecting faith based adoption agencies from placing children with same-sex couples, which Gov. Ivey signed. They did not pass a bill to allow carry of concealed weapons in all public places, which makes the state a little safer, although many in the Republican majority were pushing for this expansion of gun laws.
At the end of the session, the Legislature passed slightly modified redistricting plans for the Legislative Districts for the 2018 elections. The Federal courts found that the current plan was “stacking and pacing” Black voters in certain districts and some counties were divided in the process of formulating districts. The new plans drawn by the Republican majority, without input from Black and Democratic legislators, is not very different from the current plan. The Black Legislative Caucus leadership are planning to go back to court to fight these new plans.
During the legislative procedures and maneuvers to pass the redistricting plan, one House member, Lynn Greer, circulated an email with a story about “disciplining monkeys who were trying to eat bananas”. Many of the Black legislators felt this was a racist commentary about them and demanded an apology. Greer made a half-hearted apology before the session ended.