Another exciting week played out on the floors of the Alabama Statehouse this week, though it likely was overshadowed by the tabloid drama just across the street in the Capitol. While I was shaking the dust of a weekend at the hospital off my shoes, waiting patiently for my little man to make it home with a freshly patched heart, Alabama’s governor was busy at the business of firing Alabama’s top cop and subsequently explaining his alleged soap-opera affair to a pack of bloodthirsty journalists.
With that in mind, let’s stick to the Statehouse and leave the Lifetime flick that is our governor to the talking heads, pundits and columnists.
Alabama lawmakers were only in Montgomery for two days this week, likely already waxing down their surfboards to hit the Gulf Coast for a spring break that will allow them to avoid the Statehouse until April 5. On March 22, the House of Representatives passed the contentious bill providing a path for grandparents to reinstate visitation access to their grandchildren.
Despite earlier debates bringing to light concerns that passage of such legislation would undermine the rights of able-minded parents to decide with whom their children can and cannot spend time, the bill passed with limited debate and will now go before a Senate committee to be cleared for discussion on that body’s floor.
A couple of floors up, in the Senate, lawmakers passed two bills congruent with Senate Republicans’ stated agenda. HB34 from Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw) will provide tax breaks to state ports, putting Alabama on even footing with surrounding states. Carried in the Senate by Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper), supporters claim the move will make Alabama more competitive in recruiting big industry to the state and, thereby, add much-needed jobs to the workforce.
The Senate also cleared SB260 from Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), which would protect state park funds from being looted to prop up the beleaguered General Fund budget. The move is certainly not a trivial effort — over the last five years, lawmakers have moved some $15 million from state parks’ funds into the General Fund.
Scofield’s legislation would allow parks to keep all outside revenue collected, from avenues such as merchandise sales, entry and license fees, and more, and only allow for state funding to be reduced if the parks collect more than $50 million annually from said revenues.
On March 23, Senate Republicans cleared another hurdle in their attempts to roll back reproductive rights in the state with passage of SB205 from Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville). The legislation prohibits abortion clinics from being located within 2,000 feet of a school and bars the Alabama Department of Public Health from renewing the license of any clinic in violation of the new edict.
Sanford has plainly stated the reason for the legislation was to shut down operations of a clinic in Huntsville which sits across the street from a middle school. The clinic has already moved once, so that it could be in compliance with a law passed in 2013, and the new law would require it to move again or completely halt operations.
The Senate also passed a General Fund budget this week that leaves the state’s Medicaid program wanting, to the tune of roughly $85 million. Such a shortfall would force Medicaid to cease several essential operations and effectively neuter the state’s regional care organization program, announced earlier in the session.
Gov. Robert Bentley has already announced plans to veto the bill, but Alabama’s constitution allows a veto to be undone by a simple majority vote. And Alabama Republicans in both houses, who refuse to take up additional revenue-generating measures and have said time and again that fully funding Medicaid would come at the expense of other agencies, would easily be able to trump the governor’s executive action.
Another blow was landed against the governor when a vote was stalled on his hallmark Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act, which would secure $800 million in bonds, backed by a 1 mill tax reserved for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Human Resources, for the demolition of most of Alabama’s prisons and the construction of four new facilities.
In committee hearings this week, the Mobile delegation declined to allow the people of Mobile County to vote on a constitutional amendment that would raise the county’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The bill, proposed by State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Mobile), was brought forth as a constitutional amendment in an effort to circumvent a bill passed earlier to bar cities from setting their own minimum wage. Mobile County Republicans voted down the measure, effectively killing it before it could go before the full House.
Two committees passed bills allowing electronic bingo machines similar to those used at gambling halls in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery to be operated at VictoryLand in Macon County and GreeneTrack in Greene County.
Perhaps the most stunning move came when the House Health Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that says a person becomes a person at the moment of fertilization. If the bill is able to clear both chambers, it would effectively outlaw abortion in the state. Similar bills have been overturned elsewhere, so the state is likely gearing up to waste more taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit that will ultimately end in defeat.
The bill makes no exception for incest or rape or even mortal danger to the mother. One supporter even went so far as to say that a mother and fetus are wholly separate and that mothers only provide “the egg and the incubator.”
For this reporter, April 5 can’t come soon enough — it’s getting down to the wire and, if nothing changes, taxpayers will likely be on the hook for another round of special sessions this year.