It was my first foray into the frenzy of college football. Neyland Stadium is fairly overwhelming, especially for a child. Wrapped up in the excitement of the game day atmosphere only SEC rivalry games can provide, I was nonetheless stuck between a crimson rock and a big orange hard place. Third Saturday of October - if you don’t know what it really means, you clearly ain’t from around here.
As a native of East Tennessee – Union County - and with my loyal Big Orange fan mother and grandmother next to me in the stands, I had opted for the UT sweatshirt, which nonetheless left me gripped by pangs of betrayal considering my father was a long-time Alabama devotee, also sitting next to me.
The ladies seemed satisfied. Dad offered little more than a good-natured smirk. Alabama was ranked second in the nation. Tennessee wasn’t on the charts.
The end of the first quarter seemed to be an ideal time for a potty break, and it did not go unnoticed when I returned sans the Tennessee sweatshirt, revealing the Alabama t-shirt underneath. Dad’s smirk disappeared. Roll Tide, y’all. The Crimson die had been cast, and I haven’t wavered since.
Final score: Alabama 56, Tennessee 28.
* * * Most wouldn’t waste breath nitpicking the nuances of team loyalty. Ultimately no one is affected, even if you flip and flop like a fish out of water depending on how a season unfolds and what the rankings reflect. But the same cannot be applied to matters of public policy… and it especially shouldn’t be a prime characteristic of a state’s chief executive, namely being chronically fickle and unapologetically wading in a pool of contradictions.
When Gov. Robert Bentley spoke of “school choice,” specifically the “right” for parents to send their children from a failing public school to a public school which isn’t in academic peril, it made sense. It seemed fair. Most Alabamians wouldn’t advocate condemning a child to a dismal and unfulfilling scholastic life.
But when the Alabama Senate reverted to the depressing days of shady deals struck in smoky back rooms, gutting a “school choice” bill and supplanting it with a naked grab to subsidize private school education, remarkably Bentley didn’t blink. Like an awkward, pimple-ridden teen desperate for acceptance from everyone, he readily jumped on board with the new bill, despite his advocacy for public school choice. The new bill of course not only forces taxpayers to subsidize a private education for others, it would amount to corporate welfare for profit-driven private businesses and further deplete already woefully scarce resources for our public schools.
On Monday, Madison County Democratic Party Chair Clete Welti asked this question: "So, if we accept that 'corporations are people', then states should be, too. What if Alabama was court-ordered to attend a twelve-step program?"
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Or, "Her"… or, whatever you individually believe. Anyway, we promise that we really want some progress and prosperity in our state. We are willing to trade Gov. Bentley, Shadrack McGill, Mo Brooks, and Clay Scofield for one Elizabeth Warren… C’mon that’s pretty fair… alright, we’ll throw in Gerald Dial, Scott Beason, and…
Okay, how about just removing our shortcomings? Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
We know the list is unbelievably long.
We are willing to make amends by promoting equal opportunities, preserving and expanding civil rights, and changing our perspective to endorse inclusion, diversity, and science. We will begin to use math and facts to guide our politics and policy. We will make amends through action, not empty apology. We forsake self-righteousness, prejudicial judgment, and intellectual laziness.
8. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. We realize that citizenship is about taking action in the process of our democracy which includes voting, activism, and statesmanship. We will not vilify our opposition or distort their views for our political gain. We get that politics is about solving common, secular problems. We believe in community and integrity in public service. We are done slinging mud and want to have healthy debate about the real issues that face us.
9. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Instead of saying, “they did it, too”, we refuse to manipulate rules or use deceit to pass an agenda. When we change our minds due to new facts or evidence, we admit that we may have been wrong and do what is best for the people.
10. We put our service to the people above cronyism, partisanship, or personal material gain. We have the courage to let others know, even those in our own Party, when ethics are violated. We refuse to use Machiavellian tactics to destroy our opponents or advance our philosophies.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Again, regardless of anyone’s religion or lack thereof, we understand that honest evaluation of our motivations, tactics, and goals will help us realize our great potential as a state. We may be tempted to react to fear, apathy, or prejudice in a hasty manner for political expedience, but we will think… think… think…, instead. We will analyze, research, collaborate, and build consensus before we act… we will fully consider the consequences of our actions.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to those Afraid, Apathetic, or Prejudiced, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. We will be the best Alabama we can be and we will share our message with Mississippi and other states that appear to embrace politics and policies that impede their growth and economic opportunities. We realize that we can do much better and that it is time for us to take control of our government. We are sick and tired of being manipulated by lobbyists, special interests, and big money donors.
We believe in a government that genuinely serves and protects all people. We call that equality. We are at the bottom end of wealth disparity and we want to earn our share of the pie. We’ll pay attention to facts and math rather than drink from the bottle of fear, apathy, and prejudice. We commit to taking first things first. Things like fixing our economy and education.
We believe in “Live and Let Live”. We will implement equality. We won’t shut the door on our past, but we’ll learn from it. We are done with “The Southern Strategy”, a gateway drug that encourages ignorance, confusion, and bigotry. We embrace recovery.We will put principles before personalities.
Alabama, we’re glad you’re here. Just keep doin’ the math… Keep coming back, it works if you work it.
It seems like only a few weeks ago we were right here, joining together and ready to fight for a better Alabama. Same beautiful spring weather. Last year, we were successful in preventing a great many bad bills from passing—I think we caught Montgomery by surprise.
They weren’t expecting us last year. This year, they were. Now it seems they believe they can just do whatever they want to do. They might even think we will give up, when we see how much power they have. Will we give up? No! Because we’ve learned a few things also. We’ve got power they’ve never even dreamed of.
We won’t give up because we know the truth about their agenda. We won’t give up because we know silence leads to death. We won’t give up because we know we have a duty to stand together, and that when any one of us is threatened by injustice, all of us are called to speak.
Madison County Democratic Party Chair Clete Welti asks this question: "So, if we accept that 'corporations are people', then states should be, too. What if Alabama was court-ordered to attend a twelve-step program?"
Here are his answers to steps 1 through 6:
1. We admitted we were powerless over Fear, Apathy, and Prejudice - that our lives had become unmanageable. We fear “Big Government”, but we receive over two dollars for every one dollar we pay in Federal taxes. “Big Government”, in case you weren’t sure, includes the Defense Industry, NASA, and that nice lady in the Probate office.
17.6% of Alabama lives below the poverty level. Less than 32% of people in Alabama have above a high school education.
No one said (No, not even President Obama) that they are coming for your guns. Gun sales in Alabama have skyrocketed, anyway. We’re afraid they might take ‘em and afraid that we’ll need more AR-15s to fend off horrible drone attacks, or possibly, gangs of heavily armed intruders. Or, Yankee in-laws. Or, that really big deer that takes 47 rounds to bag.
Gay people can’t ruin your marriage, that’s entirely up to you.
Only 64.8% of registered Alabama voters showed up to the polls in 2012. The other 35.2% of registered voters forgot that actually voting was the next step in the process. Over 25% of Alabama didn’t even bother to register, but loudly complain about how the system is broken and how their vote wouldn’t matter anyway.
Our 1901 Constitution, the longest in the entire world, is a blatant codification of segregation and racism; we are highly prone to display distrust, fear, and hate of people who don’t look, act, or think like us.
Earlier in our history, we were blatantly prejudiced, but we’ve been forced to integrate and keep bigotry to ourselves. Mostly, we are full of resentment over this and we’re still trying to find a way to elevate ourselves over others who we believe are inferior due to race, sexual preference, gender, religious view, or football team affiliation.
Continually ranked 49th in the nation, thank God for Mississippi, we think we may have a problem and grudgingly admit our lives are somewhat unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. We call that Power…”Math”. As much as we like to rely on faith, rhetoric, folklore, and Fox News, we came to understand that facts, rational thought, and unbiased statistical analysis may be useful. Math allows us to look at things objectively, provided we look at the whole equation… not just the parts that reinforce our predetermined perspectives. Sanity, by the way, is the first step toward serenity, which is in the same neighborhood with enlightenment, happiness, and success.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Well, it gets a little complicated here. Although, we are mostly Judeo-Christian, we realized that we are part Wiccan, Jewish, Muslim, and host of other religions. In fact, we’re really not 100% sure of God’s gender based on the plethora of faiths that constitute our state. Anyway, we know this much… it’s okay to make up your own definition here. More importantly, if you don’t believe in God, that’s your right and that right is respected. Your Higher Power can be whatever you choose… That’s probably the best thing about being an American… we call that "Freedom."
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Okay, we’ve got a bit of a checkered past. We’ve done our best to repress and oppress pretty much everyone that wasn’t a white protestant anglo-saxon male throughout our history. Lately, we’ve put more emphasis on the BCS championship than we have on ensuring affordable higher education. We have higher rates of obesity, infant mortality, diabetes, and disability than most of the nation. We have proudly and stubbornly ignored all constructive criticism of our state because we believe we invented grits, hospitality, and college football rivalry. We can’t seem to collect enough revenue to run our state, but we give corporations millions to come here and exploit our labor and natural resources. Yeah, we are as messed up as a soup sandwich, but we got a lot of Southern Pride.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. We can do better. We know that politics and policy based on fear, apathy, and prejudice will never move us forward. We are ready for change and we are ready to realize our full potential. We can still eat grits and enjoy college football, while making great money, because we received an excellent public education and we can still love our gay Hispanic neighbors whose lifestyle we just don’t get. Maybe, we can learn to focus on progress in our community, rather than hypocritical moral judgment and a bunch of punitive legislation….
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. We are ready! We see how Massachusetts got universal healthcare and how other states have high speed rail. We are ready for a diversity of industry that will bring well paying jobs. We are ready for collective bargaining and an education system that ranks highest in the nation. We understand why church and state should be separate… We get that women should have the same rights as men. Oh yeah, we also understand that brown folks don’t all speak Mexican and that gays are… well, they’re people and they should have the same rights, too. Oh, and we take back that part where we condemn you to hell for, well, whatever…
As Alabama continues its slide into financial ruin, many of you may be unaware how severely curtailed some of our necessary state functions already are. We continue to pile on the tax incentives to corporations without demanding proof of economic effectiveness, and at the same time we add new crimes at a fast clip. Increased demands on law enforcement and prisons are oddly excused from state requirements to locate funding for the effects of legislation.
Drug possession is arrested heavily in Alabama, without regard to whether the possession results from addiction and/or other illnesses, like chronic pain with inadequate treatment or mental illness. The great majority of arrests have nothing to do with sales—less than 10% in our state. It is illegal to have the active illness of addiction, and extra illegal to be addicted and black. If you are a woman and happen to become pregnant while addicted, you can be additionally prosecuted for the “chemical endangerment” of a child. This is a gender-specific crime—there’s no penalty to the man who contributed to initiating pregnancy within the body of an addicted woman. The only sure-fire way for a woman to avoid those additional charges is to abort.
Who will pay the cost of our medical police state? Just as with sales tax, the burden of funding will fall increasingly on the shoulders of those least able to pay. We already have multiple “pre-trial diversion” programs in Alabama that allow arrested persons to enter various treatment programs, at their cost, instead of going through the court system, at our cost. I’ve talked with attorneys who are glad to have these options for their clients, but they admit the programs are mismanaged in many cases and that addicts are placed in them often without regard to likelihood of ability to complete such a program. Upon failure, they enter prison according to their pre-signed guilty admission and still owe the costs of the diversion program.
Alabama should certainly be ashamed. We operate under one of the most regressive, unfair and debilitating tax systems in this nation. Yet invariably our fellow citizens of the conservative persuasion inexplicably brag about it… often in the face of those who suffer most from this codified curse.
Repeatedly Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) has led the charge to make a dent in the suffering by introducing legislation to repeal our state’s oppressive sales tax on groceries, yet it has always failed, often at the hands of lawmakers who always crow about what “righteous and God-fearing” people they are and how the Bible guides their actions.
According to the most recent figures, 19 percent of Alabamians are living in poverty, which is nearly a fifth of the state’s entire population (U.S. Census Bureau). Nearly a third (28 %) of Alabama children are living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau). Alabama consistently ranks in the top 10 states with the most pervasive levels of poverty.
But to now add insult to injury and to epitomize Alabama conservatives’ morals, Rep. Wes Long (R-Guntersville) is proposing legislation that would eliminate the sales tax on ammunition. It’s the type of headline you’d think would only appear in The Onion. Loaves and fishes… or bullets? This is Alabama “morality” for ya!
This misguided, immoral approach is reprehensible enough but:-How can we afford further losses in revenue when our leaders take every opportunity to remind us that the state coffers are tapped out?
-How can we continue to stick it to struggling families who simply want to avoid starvation while giving ammunition-collectors a tax giveaway?
-What is moral or just about using state government to pad the pockets of ammunition manufacturers and retailers at everyone else’s expense? Isn’t that “redistribution of wealth” which self-professed conservatives relentlessly express such dramatic butthurt over?
-Since tax giveaways don’t occur in a vacuum, how will the resulting loss in revenue be replaced? Or what additional cuts to government services will have to be implemented due to the resulting lower revenues?
-Or to frame it as a simple question of equality, why should those purchasing ammunition receive preferential treatment?
I would never be so self-righteous, arrogant or ignorant to profess that I know what Jesus would do in such a situation. And I would certainly never push bad public policy while hiding behind a Bible like an insufferable coward. I would, however, institute a Misguided Jackass Tax with a strict provision stating that Wes Long can pay for all of the resulting loss in revenue out of his own damn pocket.
After the antics that unfolded Thursday in the Alabama Legislature, no citizen of this state should trust their lawmakers again… and we certainly shouldn’t trust our representatives with our tax dollars.
For months Republicans in the “super majority” assured us that a bill they were pushing, specifically called “school flexibility,” was not to open a back door to private school vouchers or charter schools. They insisted that we trust them, though their Democratic counterparts voiced honest concerns… then they effectively pulled a cheap, dishonest hoax on every citizen in our state.
With no warning, and cowardly behind closed doors, Republicans leaders completely altered the so-called “school flexibility bill,” drastically ballooning the legislation to include publicly-funded private school tax freebies. The provision was added even after the House had passed a much different form of the bill.
The conspirators then rushed the bill to the floor of the Senate – inexcusably calling for a vote before the bill could be properly vetted – then passed it, at which time Governor Robert Bentley promised he would sign it into law and said he was proud of it. Rep. John England (D-Tuscaloosa) insisted a majority of lawmakers hadn’t even read the latest version of the bill.
Even State Superintendent Tommy Bice immediately responded by calling them out. He stated he did not support such a bill, nor had he been able to read it either. According to Bice, the version of the bill passed hadn’t even been seen by the Alabama Department of Education. The Alabama Association of School Boards also withdrew its support for the bill.
The bill, which will assuredly become law, offers a whopping 80 percent tax credit to families who want to send their child to a private, for-profit school if their child is currently attending a “failing” school as defined by the U.S. Dept. of Education. The credit isn't based on a family's financial need either as wealthy families would receive the same tax giveaway.
How can a state whose leaders insist our state coffers are empty afford to cut off even more revenue for offering such tax breaks?
How is it equitable to force taxpayers to subsidize a child’s voluntary, non-essential private school education?
How does it not qualify as “redistribution of wealth” to take from Alabama taxpayers and give their money to a private, for-profit business operating as a school? Isn’t that an undeniable example of “corporate welfare?”
And if our state has the resources to dole out such freebies, then why aren’t we applying those resources to improve our “failing” public schools?
Like adulterous lovers sneaking around seedy parts of town and meeting at scummy fleabag hotels to evade public scrutiny in an effort to conceal their dirty deeds, no different are the actions of the majority party in the Alabama Legislature. If these lawmakers genuinely felt they were doing the right thing for Alabamians with this bill, then they wouldn’t be completely altering legislation in secret, passing bills without giving ample time for review, and they certainly wouldn’t have been lying to the citizens of Alabama all these months.
Citizens of Alabama should always be inquisitive when it comes to the actions of their elected leaders. With the passage of this bill we must go further and regrettably treat every bill introduced in either chamber from this day forward as suspect. Our trust has been violated and exploited to pass a bill which does little more than line the pockets of private school owners and further erode support for our public schools.
Every so often, I get the irresistible urge to try and figure out why we do what we do and think what we think. What about you? Sometimes this happens on long drives during legislative sessions—I just returned from a 2 day advocacy meeting. Between listening to the radio and practicing my yodeling, I had some ideas about laws—the purpose of laws, what makes them fail and what makes them work well. I’m writing about it so I can remember my ideas and get some feedback from you.
My other purpose is to find some general principles, separate from partisanship and ideologies,which could be used as a starting point for conversations with those on an entirely different end of the political spectrum. Even though, in the midst of a session, it feels like there isn’t time to step back and get a big picture look, we really don’t have time NOT to. Under pressure, we get driven into our respective corners. Nothing will change about that unless we can change our own thinking.
Let’s play think-tank and reinvent the wheel. I’m quite sure all this has been much better thought out by people who actually study the law, but most voters are NOT legal experts! I’ve done this exercise before, and my ideas have definitely changed over time. Warning: this is a LONG post. Before you read on, maybe take a few minutes to jot down your own ideas about lawmaking or pull out your own blog posts about the same thing. What do you see as the core myths about laws, their valid purposes, and why they succeed or fail? What are your personal tests when you read a law? Please draw a line through any thought with a political party or label in it, just for today, and see what comes up instead.
Everything you thought about our legislature and women’s health is wrong. Not only do our legislators plan to make abortion “safer”, they want to increase demand! They want to make it hard for women to get birth control, so they will have more unwanted pregnancies and seek abortion more often. Since the “safer” clinics under HB 57/SB 130 will be imaginary, having been shut down, these abortions may be done by unlicensed providers or DIY methods. That’s great, because it gets them a twofer, a dead fetus AND a dead momma. I wonder if they’ve considered another benefit—an increased arrest rate for women who are addicted to drugs, get pregnant, and don’t abort—a boon to our burgeoning prison industry. A winner, all around, right? Pro-choicers, rejoice!
Except they’ve misunderstood us a bit. Pro-choice does NOT mean pro-unplanned pregnancy or pro-abortion. Women don’t yearn to have abortions any more than men want to have prostate procedures or open-heart surgery. We know the best option is prevention—safe, accessible contraception with good public education about safe sex.
Let’s read HB 108. We have a new category of employers created—religiously affiliated or motivated employers. Under the definition section, it turns out that any “entity that has 10 or less shareholders, members, or partners who have religious beliefs which oppose contraceptive or abortifacient drugs, devices, or methods” is included. 10 or less—that means 0 to 10, right? So a business with 100 shareholders, all atheists, is religiously motivated but one with 100% anti-contraception shareholders is not. Interesting twist!
Businesses meeting the criteria can refuse to provide insurance coverage for any form of birth control. Let’s say they fix their typo, and it becomes 10 or more shareholders, members or partners. A business with 1000 shareholders, 990 of whom have no religious objection to birth control, could refuse to cover contraception for its employees. Considering where we live, how many businesses would fall into that category?
Alabama HB 57, our latest TRAP bill (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), is on the fast track to a vote. I don’t know if we can stop it up front—possibly we’ll be doing the all too frequent routine of wasting precious state tax money as it gets slapped down in court. Puts me in mind of a game my kids used to play with me, called “You can’t make me—oh, yes, you can.” Except they actually learned not to play it after awhile.
Because the bill sponsor knows she can’t say the bill is designed to close down abortion clinics, she has hidden the real intention and said the bill is only about making abortion safer. The more we can challenge the incorrect premise, the more chance we have of either preventing the bill from passing or laying groundwork for a court challenge. We’ve already had legislators betray their intentions publicly, and Governor Bentley has said he plans to defend the rights of the “unborn.” As a physician, he is surely aware that removing access to safe and legal abortion does not end abortion. Instead, it increases the death toll no matter how you define life, when women die from botched, unlicensed abortions along with their unborn fetuses. We all know HB 57 is not about safety—let’s make sure everyone else does too.
We need to move quickly. I believe it may be possible to get some physicians to weigh in by pointing out how the bill sets inappropriate precedents for legislating medicine and small business. After all, this is really a turf war—legislators are once again trying to practice medicine without a license.
Here is the letter I would like each of you to copy and paste, then give to at least one physician PLUS find two friends who will do the same. Each one win two. Of course, you can do more if you like! Help your doctor friend locate his/her state legislators, and provide a copy of the bill itself to read. For best results, call your contacts after a few days to be sure they have followed through. For bonus points, offer to mail the letter yourself. Please let me know how it goes.
Right now, the lists just contain phone numbers. They're copies of the lists available at the Alabama Legislature Web site. As we have time, we'll be filling in the legislators' email addresses, if available. I'll also correct the links on the legislators' names: right now, they don't go anywhere.
I hate to release an incomplete list, but with things moving so quickly in Montgomery, I thought it was more important to have something up - even if it's not perfect.
When you write diaries about pending legislation, please point the readers to this page as part of your call to action. Also, always try to include the bill number in your post.
As always, if you have any trouble writing your own diary, please contact an admin for assistance.
Much of the 2013 legislation introduced by members of both parties in the Alabama legislature ranges from the silly, to the unnecessary, to the downright delusional. And Republican Mike Jones pulls of a legislative hat trick HB8, as does Senator Gerald Allen with his Firearms Freedom Act (SB43).
Jones started the gun legislation stampede off with a bang when he introduced HB8, an Alabama constitutional amendment to protect the right to "keep and bear arms" (read full text):
Article I, Section 26 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, provides that every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself or herself and the state.
This proposed amendment would provide that every citizen has a fundamental right to bear arms and that any restriction on this right would be subject to strict scrutiny.
This proposed amendment would also provide that a citizen cannot be compelled by international treaty or law from taking actions that prohibit, limit, or otherwise interfere with the fundamental right to bear arms.
It's silly because - contrary to what many GOP elected officials believe - the "right to keep and bear arms" is already in the US Constitution and what's in that august document trumps any silliness added to Alabama's state constitution.
A couple of red flags with this bill:
Strict Scrutiny is a standard of judicial review where the courts weigh a government's ability to "weigh the government's interest against a constitutional right or principle." Some Alabama sheriffs have expressed concern that this section might require them to issue concealed carry permits to virtually anyone who applies. Under current law, sheriffs have more latitude.
So the unnecessary part of the bill is to restrict the discretion local law enforcement. And we thought the GOP was all about local control!
"International treaties." Really, GOP? Is it remotely possible for you guys to introduce any piece of legislation without an delusional dash of anti-UN paranoia? This isn't so much of a red flag as it is just more stupid Republican unicorn hunting.
This bill would exempt from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution a firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition manufactured and retained within the borders of Alabama.
The important thing to understand about the so-called "Firearms Freedom Act" is that it is not homegrown Alabama legislation: it's a nationwide effort on the part of the "tenther" movement. If that sounds suspiciously close to the "birther" movement, well... its is. Those groups cross-pollinate pretty regularly.
The "tenthers," though, are far more dangerous. Read more about them here, but here's a taste of their worldview:
Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) has been an opponent of the Federal Reserve, Agriculture Department, and Justice Department, and claims the Federal government should only focus on crimes such as counterfeiting, treason, and piracy. Broun wasn’t specific, but he intimated that the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Food and Drug Administration should be eliminated. Broun’s argument is that the main function of the federal government is national defense.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), recently said that Federal child labor laws are unconstitutional and claims that states have the right to regulate commerce and that the Federal government is usurping states’ authority.
Multi-national corporations would just LOVE to be freed from the constraints of child-labor laws, minimum wage regulations, food safety requirements, and anti-pollution laws. In the "tenthers," they've found an eager horde of foot soldiers who seem determined to turn the United States of America into a North American version of Somalia.
Not surprisingly, the Alabama GOP leadership seems to think that's a good thing.
On January 22, 2013 Governor Robert Bentley signed Executive Order 37, which mandates a consolidation of all State law enforcement agencies. The goals are laudable: cost savings, efficiency, removal of superfluous administrative posts and ending duplication of work by various branches. The Governor has worked closely with Alabama DHS Director Spencer Collier for some months to develop the plan and ensure smooth implementation. The Executive Order is the big picture; further tweaking is left to SB 48, which currently resides with the Senate Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability.
This bill is one of the centerpieces of the GOP Legislative agenda for 2013, and it purports to save the State about $240 million over the next ten years. The question is, will it? Like so many bills that will be introduced this year, this is not an original piece of legislation, but a clone of similar measures taken in Massachusetts in 1993. As anyone would expect, merging 20+ agencies into a centralized bureaucracy is not the work of minutes. It will undoubtedly include grand new buildings, a ton of new letterheads and data dumps, reworking of computer systems, political infighting and obstruction, turf wars, lots of new equipment from car logos to uniforms, and a LOT of upfront money.
Logistically and philosophically, because the department was newly created, they were able to implement their own regulations and a new mission. Although the statute provided for a one year transition period, the problems related to consolidation, which were largely cultural, took approximately 10-20 years to subside.
While Statewide police consolidations are relatively new and rare, towns and cities have been doing the same thing on a small scale for a while, now. One report on a consolidation in Louisville, Kentucky shows a decidedly different outcome from the anticipated cost savings:
... Take the story of Louisville, Kentucky, for example...
In fact, the merger was a budgetary disaster. Conrad estimated that consolidation cost about $85 million. New communication equipment cost nearly $70 million and allowances for new healthcare plans and other benefits ended up costing another $10 million. Hardly a windfall.
Now to address SB 48, which supposedly will smooth the way for this massive undertaking and iron out any kinks:
Right away I'm guessing this kink-ironing process won't happen because the Bill leaves great, gaping holes in easily-foreseen problem areas and completely fails to address what I think are areas of major concern.
For instance, we have Section 5 (e) and (f):
"(e) The department succeeds to and is vested with all investigative functions of the following investigative and enforcement units, and a reference in any law to these investigation and enforcement units shall be deemed a reference to the Department of Investigation:
(1) The State Fire Marshal.
(2) The law enforcement unit of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
(3) The investigative unit of the Alabama Forestry Commission.
(4) The investigative unit of the Department of Agriculture and Industries.
(5) The investigative unit of the Office of Prosecution Services.
(f) The Director of the Department of Investigation shall have overall supervision and management of functions transferred to the department pursuant to this section, including the power to change the title of any position or to reorganize or rename any of the divisions, units, or functions specified in this section. Any change of title shall not alter the compensation of any person in the Merit System."--SB48, current text
Power to change title and function of agencies like the Forestry Commission, the Marine Police, and the Agriculture and Industries Investigations units (in other words, every environmental and industrial pollution investigative agency) could have some unintended consequences in a "streamlined" law enforcement climate.
I am thinking one unintended consequence might be the de facto disappearance of any such agencies a few years down the road, after the spotlights have gone off and business as usual proceeds in its usual Alabama fashion.
There isn't a single enforcement agency in the State that isn't underfunded, undermanned, and fighting desperately to have its resources increased. With the Office of the Attorney General running ALL investigations in the state, including Immigration - an issue dear to Republican hearts - I can see former fisheries wardens being pressed into service running down tomato pickers instead. Is there anyone who can truthfully say that their State Attorney General is bored and looking for cases to prosecute? Or rather, is it not usually the case that the AG has too few prosecutors, too little time, and a caseload at least as high as the local church steeple?
Alabama has an abysmal record in Environmental Protection, and quite a vigorous one when it comes to sweeping the civil rights of women and minorites aside. With all law enforcement in fewer hands, GOP controlled at the highest State level, will our priorities suddenly change? I think not.
Sitting on the Committee for Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability are the usual Alabama assortment of religious zealots like Phil Williams (R-10) who sponsored a "Covenant Marriage" bill, believes in fetal personhood from the moment of conception, and supports the Ten Commandments Bill, Clay Scofield (R-9), a farmer and a big fan of pre-abortion ultrasoundswho sponsored SB12: Under the measure, physicians and technicians who failed to administer the ultrasound prior to an abortion could still face up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine, Rusty Glover (R-34)member of the National Right to Life,and Bill "Rape is a slippery slope" Holtzclaw (R-2).
We also have Tea Party endorsed darlings like: Del Marsh (R-12), Senate President Pro Temand current Committee Chair, Gerald Dial (R-13) Majority Whip and author of a bill last year that would have created his own personal slush fund,and Jimmy Holley (R-31) anotherturncoat Democratwholeft the Party to join forces with the GOP.
Then we have a few of the Usual Suspects like Trip Pittman (R-32) whose tractor company was subpoenaed for records regarding a $650,000+ State contract for the BP oil spill clean up, and Slade Blackwell (R-15) who (coincidentally?) authored a bill to put Cooper Green Hospital under financial oversight while owning a real estate company that specializes in real estate and development structuring for complex projects, partnerships, and joint ventures in the healthcare and infrastructure industries.
Forgive me, but at this time I am fearful of consolidating all the Law Enforcement in the State into the hands of the GOP. Their agenda, which boils down to State and Corporate Rights Uber Alles, and women, minorities and environment be damned - does not give me hope for a Better Future in Alabama.
If you thought the 2012 Alabama legislative session was a sorry spectacle of extremism and political cowardice, well.... hang on. AL House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Majority Leader Micky Hammond announced their 2013 legislative agenda last week.
Wow, this should be big news, right? The Republican legislative supermajority announces their plan to pay back the money they sucked out of the Alabama Trust Fund, solve the Medicaid & education funding crises, and drag the Alabama Constitution kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
Dream on. Hubbard & Hammond aren't even offering bread to go with their circus - since that might involve, you know, feeding poor people. No, all we get is a right-wing circus featuring God, guns, & and girl-parts:
-- The Alabama Firearms Protection Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would “require future courts to use strict judicial scrutiny in evaluating state laws that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms,” according to a statement on the agenda. Hubbard said the legislation would signal to Alabama residents the Legislature would do all it could to protect gun rights.
-- The Women’s Health and Safety Act, which leaders said would require “direct physician involvement” and “mandatory standards for nursing care and post-operative follow-up visits at abortions clinics.”
-- “The Religious Liberty Act,” which would allow “certain employers” to opt out of contraceptive coverage mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as health care reform or Obamacare.
But what about the $400+ million being taken out of the Alabama Trust Fund over the next few years to fund basic state operations? It's hard to believe that repaying that money isn't a priority for Hubbard & Hammond.
According to Hubbard, they're going to pay the money back by "cutting waste" and "streamlining government," both meaningless platitudes in this context. If it were as easy as that, then why did we "borrow" the money in the first place?
Over the next week, we'll be highlighting some of the pre-filed bills. You can see them for yourself at the OpenBama.org Web site.
Because Alabama’s 1901 Constitution prohibits “home rule,” the Alabama Legislature spends an estimated 40% of its time on legislative acts or constitutional amendments authorizing acts that local governments perform in other states. Already overwhelmed by state bills they have inadequate time to study, legislators must decide with no knowledge of local conditions whether to permit a county to sell bonds for industrial development, provide small raises to local officials, or increase their taxes for better schools or public transportation. This situation arises partly because Alabama’s constitution and laws place it under Judge Dillon’s rule. Unlike the federal/state provision in the U.S. Constitution that grants all powers not assigned to federal government to the states or people, Dillon’s Rule states that all powers not specifically granted to local governments are retained by the legislature.
Alabama counties and municipalities don't have this thing called home rule. What that means is that in Alabama, where politicians wield "states' rights" like a club against the mean old federal government, the state constitution denies those same rights of local control to our own city and county governments.
So, our legislators spends almost half their time down in the weeds dealing with weed ordinances, hog farms, rock quarries, sewage sludge operations and other trivial stuff. Why have legislators permitted this ridiculous situation to continue for over a century?
Well, those local issues are typically easier to deal with than the big problems the Leg. ought to spend time on -- like the budget, tax code and so forth. Local issues are also pretty lucrative. If there's a dispute over a rock quarry or a hog farm, both sides -- and their lobbyists -- have an incentive to get real friendly with legislators. And finally, because major lobbying groups love having the Legislature as the one-stop-shop to keep things just the way they are. It's so much easier to convince a handful of legislators that county X shouldn't have pesky zoning powers to regulate hog farms and dance halls than it is to deal with local county officials who, you know, have a much closer connection to local voters.
I’m a big believer in the importance of continuous learning—every day, at least one thing new, and usually several.During this just-finished Legislative Session, to rephrase Lewis Carroll, I’ve learned far more than 6 impossible things before breakfast! Those of us who have engaged deeply in following and struggling with the menu of bills have formed new and surprising coalitions, especially among women.Turns out conservative and progressive women alike don’t cotton to having the government up in our uteri. We managed to make enough noise to hold off a fair amount of damage.Yay, us!
Advocates protested a deadly plan to close state mental hospitals with no good safety net in place and were at least partly successful.We may have saved Medicaid (stay tuned), and thus our entire state healthcare system, from collapse.Not everything went the way we wanted it, but a lot did.It’s important to take some time to notice that speaking up does make a difference.
I also had a personal lesson or two that forced me to reevaluate my role doing this blog.When I started it a couple of years ago, my main purpose was (and is) to advocate for single payer, Medicare for All, in our country. I’ve branched out into other areas that sometimes seem far afield, but they aren’t really—everything winds up connected to the whole of healthcare reform.We need to understand how reproductive rights work, for instance, and how to protect them, in order to make any national insurance system a good one.We need to understand how our current Medicaid systems work, and what would happen if they dissolved, to see how intrinsically the healthcare fates of the rich and the poor are intertwined.And we need to ponder carefully the difference between legislation of insurance coverage (good) and legislation of specific medical protocol (bad), so that we don’t make similar mistakes on a national level.
At the beginning, I did not consider myself a journalist—just an activist blogger. If you read the comments in the dictionary link I just gave, you will notice a certain contempt towards bloggers from some journalists.A surprising thing happened this spring that made me wonder what journalism really is.I ran smack up against a conflict of interest that prevented me from writing about some topics.My reaction, not necessarily the conflict, was what surprised me—I was unexpectedly distressed, to the point I got a bit of writer’s block.There were things I wanted so much to say to you, and I could not do it.I had to shut my trap.
As I write this evening, I am keenly aware of the seven legislative days Alabama has left in our regular session.So much is left to decide, especially about the budget. I hope you are also alert and continuing to make contact with our state senators, representatives and Governor.It puts me in mind of watching a storm front approach and expecting a tornado watch—we hope it will dissipate into nothing much, leaving no paths of hurt and hardship across our beautiful state.What will it be?Seven days of creation—creation of new revenue and hope for our future?Or seven days of destruction?
Searching for inspiration, I’ve started to read “The Impossible Will Take A Little While: a Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear” by Paul Loeb.The title comes from a lyric in a Billie Holiday song. I’m only at the beginning—I usually plow through a book in no time flat, but I plan to draw this one out.In the opening, the author recounts how a group of women at a peace gathering in the rain were disappointed at the small turnout, only to learn later that Dr. Benjamin Spock had seen them and was inspired by their determination, their standing in the rain, to speak out himself against the Vietnam War.
Are you a bit weary of fighting or verging on despair at what’s happening in Montgomery?If so, maybe we can take a moment to encourage each other, at the verge of this somewhat Biblical-feeling seven days.If you have a small and hopeful story to share, please add it to the comments for this post.
Here’s mine.Two days ago, my last patient of the afternoon had an eye injury.It’s the Murphy’s Law of Friday in pediatrics—the child who needs the most urgent evaluation requiring more than just a history and physical always comes last, and we go into mad scramble mode trying to line things up.I hate to send kids to the ER just because it’s Friday afternoon.
I examined the child and found a significant looking injury to the central cornea—because of the mechanism, I was really concerned that eye drops and reassurance might not be enough.I crossed my fingers and phoned the ophthalmologist on call.Her nurse relayed Q &A back and forth between us—she wanted to know the age of the child, whether he could cooperate with an exam and whether he had any other injuries besides the eye.Then the nurse said those blessed words every pediatrician longs for—“send him straight over to the office and we’ll take care of it.” I told the nurse to please give her boss a big hug from me and tell her we were grateful for her kindness.
It was only after I had given the mom instructions on how to get to the office and she had left that I realized there was one question the ophthalmologist hadn’t asked.Do you know?Try to think before you go down a paragraph, and don’t cheat.
The question she did not ask me was the question consultants ALWAYS ask me, occasionally before deciding when/ where to see a patient:“What insurance does he have?”
I asked our staff to fax the insurance referral so the consultant could get paid, and then I sat and smiled for a few minutes before typing his chart note.She didn’t ask!At that moment, late on a Friday afternoon when she probably was hoping to go home for dinner with her family, all she wanted to know was whether he could be still for an exam without ER sedation.
And that is how it should be, isn’t it? No wallet or insurance card biopsy needed.Just children, parents, and doctors, figuring out how to do the right thing.
Among the several bills pending Alabama legislative action this spring, I am sorry to say our state has decided to extend its long arm into the realm of conscience.There are two bills pending, SB 105 and HB 375, titled Health Care Rights of Conscience.If you live here, you need to know about them in detail—please read for yourself.
Conscience is no small matter—without conscience, we become sociopaths.We’ve learned the hard way in history how blind allegiance to any authority can lead to tragedy.The exercise of individual conscience through civil disobedience is a vital protection in democracy against a majority gone wrong.Without bravery like that of Rosa Parks, evil laws can be hard to change by ordinary channels.
The problem is that consciences differ between persons, sometimes wildly.If that were not the case, we would have no need of law at all, nor police nor courts.These are all required to protect us, by mutual consent, from the failure of individual conscience.If Rosa Parks had done something different—if she had used her personal conscience to rob someone of money she thought they didn’t deserve to have—she would have been rightly arrested and would not have inspired social change.That is why people who choose to perform civil disobedience must expect arrest—their acts are not meant to ignore the law but to expose it for examination.
SB 105 and HB 375 seek to override critical citizen protections by allowing individual conscience to run amok, without the restraint of social or professional ethics.