State lawmakers have headed back home to their districts after ending what was one of Alabama’s most historic regular legislative sessions. Beginning in February, the annual meeting of legislators considered not just the typical bills, but also unprecedented measures such as the potential impeachment of now former Gov. Robert Bentley.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, a Republican, acknowledged this in his remarks concluding this year’s State House meeting.
“As I move into the next session as speaker, I hope that it’s more dealing with legislative issues than all of the outside stuff, if you will, that we’ve had to deal with,” he said. “I think that has added a lot of stress and pressure to the members that this Legislature normally doesn’t have to contend with.”
In the meeting’s final days, lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill mandating insurers cover a particular type of autism therapy. While the legislation eventually passed, singular opposition by Sen. Trip Pittman of Baldwin County led to the adoption of an age cap, leaving those over 18 without such required coverage.
Another major sticking point of the session was a bill redrawing many of the state’s electoral districts. After a federal court struck down the Legislature’s previous plan as having unconstitutionally diluted African-American voting power, state lawmakers were forced this session to remedy the issue, charged with drawing boundaries that wouldn’t produce similar problems.
GOP lawmakers, who hold a supermajority in the State House, attempted to do so, passing a new map, but according to some of the same officials who led the charge against the first plan, they did not succeed, and instead iced African-American legislators out of the renewed discussion.
“The Legislative Black Caucus felt we were not involved in the process of drawing these district lines, being that we won,” said Sen. Bobby Singleton, a black Democrat. “We did have some working relationships with Sen. [Gerald] Dial and others, but not to the extent we felt totally included.”
Late in the session, tensions boiled over when Rep. Lynn Greer, a white Republican, circulated an email to fellow lawmakers that compared legislators to monkeys in a cage trying to get to a banana.
“From time to time,” Greer’s email said, “ALL all of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME! This is meant as no disrespect to monkeys.”
Black lawmakers responded immediately, saying they found the email to be racist and insensitive.
“There is no place in the State House for this type of emails to be circulated,” Rep. John Knight said in a press conference on the issue, with fellow black Democrats standing behind him.
“We resent it and we will not tolerate it. Our voices have not been heard, and we have been subjected to the most racial insult that I’ve ever seen.”
After an apology and prolonged, heated debate on Greer’s email and ensuing apology, the House moved on, eventually passing the contested redistricting plan largely along party lines.
Although it’s possible the Legislature may meet in a special session regarding prison construction sooner, according to the House speaker, the next regular legislative session begins next year.