There are some things going on in the Alabama Legislature this year of which we can be proud. Well, maybe “proud” is a strong word. But the guys and gals on Goat Hill are attempting to work on some issues that will actually matter and help our great state and all of us who call it our “sweet home.”
This session, they will finally address the failing prison system.
Of course, it is because they have no choice but to address the matter or the Department of Justice (DOJ) will step in and take over. But even though they may have a federal gun to their collective head, they are still making it a priority and trying to get things done, so we’ll take it.
“This problem has been kicked down the road for the last time,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in May 2019, following a damning report released by the DOJ a month earlier. Ivey created a “study group” to examine this “can” overflowing with an “excessive amount of violence, sexual abuse and prisoner deaths,” which kind of did just kick it down the road a little more.
But Ivey’s panel released its final report a couple of weeks ago, with suggestions to introduce vocational and other programs to reduce recidivism and address mental illness and addiction, as well as staffing problems, among other things. Coupled with her plan to build three new private men’s prisons and some legislative action this session, perhaps we will start to see some resolution on this troubling issue.
The other main event this session will be gambling.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) says it will give Bama $1 billion in exchange for what is essentially a monopoly on gaming in the state. A “clean lottery” bill is mixed up in all this gambling talk, too.
Most of the legislators (and even the governor) who have made public comments on PCI’s “Winning for Alabama” plan have said they still need more time to “review the facts,” so who knows if we will see any movement on this at all.
I am in the camp that thinks it feels a bit icky to guarantee any entity in the business of making money exclusivity. But I’m also in the camp that if no other gaming interests are knocking down our doors, then it should be considered.
And since we are literally surrounded by lotteries in every bordering state, it seems foolish to continue watching our money go to our neighbors because we can’t agree on which pot the money from a proposed lottery should go in. One thing we do know for sure is it’s going to continue to fund Tennessee’s, Georgia’s, Florida’s and Mississippi’s educational programs and/or general funds, and not ours.
There are also really good bills addressing Alabama’s woefully inadequate public records act (Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster), which as it stands now, essentially amounts to “if we don’t want to give this public information to you in a timely fashion or at all, you are going to have to spend a fortune suing us for it.”
And they are also once again considering eliminating the antiquated 4 percent grocery tax (Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville). Alabama is one of the few remaining states that still engages in this practice, which disproportionately affects the poor.
This has been introduced for many years, but has always failed because there is no revenue source to replace it. It now brings in about $400 million to $500 million a year. Some have suggested replacing it by shifting funds from the Educational Trust Fund, while others say eliminating the federal income tax (FIT) deduction on the top 1 percent of earners would fill the hole. Obviously, both of these alternate plans would have detractors, so we shall see.
Maybe none of these things will ultimately make it to the governor’s desk, but at least these lawmakers are fighting the good fight on things that really do matter.
Then, there are those who are introducing resolutions or bills that will accomplish nothing or address issues that aren’t even issues. These bills are nothing more than slightly elevated forms of trolling or just something that red meat politicos who have their sights on higher office can throw to their base.
The first of these is a resolution from Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, declaring porn a public emergency. Which will do what exactly?
The lawmakers from the tony Birmingham burbs have tried addressing this issue before, which begs the question: What are they doing up in the ’Ham?
Back in 2017, former Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, wanted to require dealers of computers, smart phones or any other device with Internet access to put filters on these devices that would block pornography. You could, however, make a written request to the seller to remove the porn blocker and pay $20.
If this silliness had gone through, I was going to leave my job to pursue a new career in reviewing all of the written porn filter waiver requests. Unfortunately, that did not happen, so I am stuck here writing about new forms of this insanity year after year.
Williams also tried to tax porn at one point. He was also arrested on federal bribery charges related to a healthcare bill. A cynic might think some lawmakers introduce these ridiculous bills they know will go nowhere (porn filters/taxes) to muddy the waters so you won’t look at what they are really up to.
State Sen. Gerald H. Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has introduced a bill requiring schools across the state to play the “Star-Spangled Banner” at least once a week during school hours and at school-sanctioned sporting events. I love our national anthem and belting it out before screaming “Play ball!” as much as the next American, but how would this be enforced? And what would be the penalty if you didn’t do it?
But more importantly, is this really an issue? When’s the last time anyone went to a high school football game anywhere in this state and didn’t rise for the national anthem? And what if the schools wanted to mix it up a bit and play “My Country Tis of Thee” or “America the Beautiful.” Hopefully, they would be allowed to make a written request and pay $20 to make that happen.
It’s just so stupid. And it’s just to make a point that “we ain’t going to let Colin Kaepernick and his pals ruin ’Merica and, in turn, the great state of Alabammer.”
Speaking of issues that are not even issues, State. Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, has introduced the GIRL Act, which is an acronym that stands for “Gender is Real Legislative” Act. This bill aims at preventing students in K-12 public schools from participating on sports teams that conflict with their biological gender.
Pringle himself has said this has never once been an issue in any of the over 1,600 public schools in Alabama. He says this measure is more “preventative.” Might I suggest to the good representative hailing from the greatest city in Alabama to get back to addressing something that’s actually an issue, like the public records act with Sen. Ward, which you cosponsored last year! We could call it the PIRL Act if the catchy acronym is what you crave (“Public Information and Records Legislative” Act).
It’s a shame some of our legislators feel like introducing these silly bills or resolutions addressing nonsense and/or non-issues will win them some points on someone’s scoreboard somewhere. And sadly, it probably does.
But we have way bigger problems to address in this state.
Please get back to work on the things that really matter and actually make us proud.
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