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House Speaker calls session ‘most productive’comment (0)

June 16, 2011

By Sondra Washington

Alabama lawmakers recently wrapped what House Speaker Mike Hubbard is calling the “most productive legislative session in decades.” Standouts among the more than 100 bills passed this year address the state’s immigration, abortion and alcohol laws.

On June 9, Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law House Bill (HB) 56, which transforms the way the state deals with illegal immigrants. Sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and co-sponsored by 24 other representatives, the bill requires proof of citizenship and residency before voting, prohibits giving illegal immigrants public education benefits and penalizes employers who hire “unauthorized aliens.” The law also criminalizes “concealing, harboring [and] shielding” unauthorized aliens who are required to “possess certain documents” at all times and requires law enforcement to verify this under “certain circumstances.”

The new law is causing major concerns among the Hispanic community and the churches reaching out to it. Carlos Lemus, who has served as Hispanic missionary to Autauga and Chilton Baptist associations for the past eight years, is concerned about the future of his church, in which he says 90–95 percent of the members are undocumented.

“This will affect ministry in a negative way, no doubt about it,” Lemus said. “I believe the only intention is targeting Hispanics, not any other groups, regardless of what these representatives are saying. … I have families who have been here for 10–15 years, and these families are kind of scared because it’s uncertain for the future.”

Believing that police officers will enforce this new law “in their own way,” Lemus is also concerned about how he will be treated in Alabama while trying to do his ministry work even though he is an American citizen.

“I will be afraid to drive a church bus with some children for Vacation Bible School right now or in the future for any other event we have together,” he said.

Disappointed that only non-Christian organizations have reached out to ministries like his around the state, Lemus said Christians need to consider how God’s Word addresses issues like these.

“We are not a pest,” he said. “We are human beings. Even though we are legal here, this situation looks like we are not welcome. It looks like we are second-class members of the convention even though we are giving our contributions to the Cooperative Program. On this issue, we are standing alone.”

Certain parts of the law are to be enforced immediately, while other sections will be enacted as late as next April. But Lemus plans to continue his ministry no matter what happens.

“I’m willing to go to jail to do my ministry,” he said, referring to the story of Paul and John in Acts 4:18–20. “I will obey God’s Word before man’s laws. It’s what the Bible teaches.”

Another bill that passed and caused a stir in the Alabama Statehouse was HB 18, sponsored by Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville. Known as the Alabama Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, this law prevents abortions at or after 20 weeks since scientific research has proven that “an unborn child is capable of feeling pain” at that point.

Several other pro-life bills seemed to have promising futures with lawmakers this year, but only HB 18 passed. Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) executive director Joe Godfrey said he is excited about the success of HB 18, but he feels some of the other pro-life bills could have passed if they had not been “placed on the backburner.”

“This is the first time that many pro-life bills have gone through committee and passed at least one house,” Godfrey said. “That was encouraging, but we are hoping that next year we can see more and stronger pro-life bills come through.”

Godfrey was also disappointed in the number of alcohol bills that passed into law during this session.

“In the name of business and economic development, the conservative leaders in both houses felt the need to pass bills that liberalize alcohol sales,” he said.

Although Godfrey said several Sunday alcohol sales and draft beer bills passed, he believes the most significant was a brew pub bill that allows any wet county or municipality to build a brew pub, which only large cities could do previously.

“The whole idea is that it expands alcohol sales in Alabama,” Godfrey said.

“There is this constant barrage of more and more alcohol bills.”

Another bill Godfrey praised legislators for passing is HB 361, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana.

This law allows an “ignition interlock device” to be installed in the vehicles of people convicted of driving under the influence. With this system in place, drivers can not crank their cars until they breathe into a device which checks their blood alcohol levels.

“In states where (similar laws) have been enacted, it has been shown to reduce alcohol-related accidents and fatalities,” Godfrey said.

Religious organizations providing substance abuse treatment also celebrated this session when HB 513, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, passed exempting churches and ministries from Alabama Department of Mental Health certification if they offer only religious services.

Alabama Teen Challenge, a faith-based organization, which helps people overcome addiction, shared excitement on its Facebook page.

“Thank you to everyone who contacted your elected representative on our behalf, to Sen. Greg Reed and Rep. Galliher for sponsoring our bill, and attorney Eric Johnston.”

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