The sixth week of Alabama’s regular legislative session is over, and state lawmakers already have a dozen of their 30 permitted workdays under their belt without much to show for it.
The Senate, for example, has passed legislation ending marriage as we know it and protecting historic memorials from roving leftists, but neither of the state’s budgets — the general fund or the education trust fund — has passed either chamber. Other important efforts — such as passing pro-consumer measures and holding the governor accountable for his own misdeeds — haven’t yet gained real momentum. The clock is ticking fast on making change happen in Alabama’s capital.
The end of marriage
Legislators in Montgomery may not have solved any of the state’s priority problems yet, but they’ve sure sent signals that when it comes to “fixing” what’s not even broken, the State House is on the job.
This has definitely been the case with marriage. This year, the Alabama Senate has passed a bill that would end marriage as we know it in the state. Sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, the bill would get rid of the traditional marriage licensing process for couples and instead replace it with a system that doesn’t, as Albritton says, “invite the state into those matters.” Under the legislation, instead of applying for a license, having a ceremony and then having the county’s probate judge issue a license, couples would merely sign a marriage contract and file it with the county, similar to a deed.
Why this change? What problem does it solve? It depends on who you ask, and Sen. Albritton certainly won’t tell you the truth. The reality is that some — including Albritton — think that in the wake of the legal acceptance of gay marriage, states should back away from endorsing the institution. Several of Alabama’s probate judges, charged with issuing marriage licenses in each of Alabama’s 67 counties, have taken this bigoted view and refused to issue licenses to any couple, gay or straight, as a way to stick to their fundamentalist guns and obey the law of the land at the same time.
Albritton wants to back this view with law, taking the state out of marriage in a way that behooves only his intolerant cohort, not all people of the state of Alabama.
When you ask Albritton himself, though, he won’t mention same-sex marriage: that’s politically gauche. On Goat Hill, as in the South more generally, bigotry comes with a smile and a glass of sweet tea. So, Albritton’s excuse? Big government.
“When you invite the state into those matters of personal or religious import, it creates difficulties,” Albritton has said of the legislation. No word on what those difficulties are.
Albritton’s bill so fundamentally changes the institution of marriage in the state that it even garnered some opposition from a fellow Republican, Sen. Phil WIlliams, who said he doesn’t agree with “the idea of reducing [marriage] to the idea of a contract between two parties.”
“To take it and reduce it to a contractual arrangement like a mortgage or a deed feels a little concerning,” Sen. Williams said.
The bill has moved on to the House for consideration.
Statues over students
Another non-issue the Legislature has taken upon itself to correct is that of historic memorials. In the wake of the removal of the Confederate flag from many public places after the massacre of black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist, Alabama lawmakers are now prepared to protect the state against roving, activist leftists ready to remove every historic memorial in sight.
After significant debate, the Senate passed a bill that would prohibit the removal or alteration of memorials built more than 20 years ago and would also make moving monuments newer than that a lengthy, multi-stage process. Let’s be clear, Alabama: History doesn’t change, interpretations do, and this bill doesn’t protect history: it protects the interpretation of history built decades ago.
The monuments bill will move on to the House for consideration.
Leashing in lenders
While lawmakers have spent lots of time on legislation we don’t really need, there are several bills pending in the Legislature that truly do deserve the time of day. The first would curb predatory lending.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, predatory consumer lending is a huge problem in our state, with thousands of payday and title lending facilities (four times as many locations as McDonald’s restaurants) putting Alabamians in debt they could not have foreseen — loans with interest rates sometimes as high as 456 percent. To solve this problem, Rep. Bob Fincher and Sen. Arthur Orr have filed bills aimed at capping interest rates and comprehensively reining in predatory lending in the state, respectively.
Alabama’s consumers deserve this legislation. Last week I wrote that the passage of Fincher’s bill capping loans at 36 percent annually “would be a huge victory for grassroots nonprofits such as Alabama Arise.” Alabama Arise has said “It’d be an even bigger victory for Alabama consumers,” and they’re right. Alabama deserves better.
Both bills have yet to be debated by either the full House or Senate.
Buckle up, Bentley
The real silver lining of this legislative session thus far has been the willingness of state lawmakers to move forward with the impeachment of Gov. Robert Bentley. The House committee considering the articles of impeachment met last week to discuss the process and decide whether to have their special counsel — who helped impeach Bill Clinton — continue their investigation of the “Luv Guv.” After a sometimes fiery debate, lawmakers did just that: moved the process forward, and now Bentley is shaking in his boots.
If impeached by the House, Gov. Bentley would be automatically removed from office pending his trial in the Senate — an institution presided over by his potential replacement, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey. That’s a bumpy road for the governor to tread, and it’s a road that — according to several sources close to Bentley’s office — have him considering a pre-emptive resignation. As I’ve written before, though, given his blatant disregard of the law, of his duties and of his constituents, it’s long past time for the governor to go. Don’t let the mansion door hit you on the way out.
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