‘No emphasis’ given to social issues in statecomment (0)
May 3, 2012
By Sondra Washington
A few years ago, Alabama legislators could blame gambling bills and supporters for the lack of pro-family legislation being considered in the Statehouse. Although there is no pro-gambling legislation in sight, moral and family values supporters have the same complaints. This time, business is to blame.
“Time is running out and pro-life bills have stagnated as they did last year,” said Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program. “It makes me feel as though the House and Senate leadership are not as passionate about pro-life issues as they are about business. … They’ve not given any emphasis to the social issues like the pro-life bills. They have also been passing a lot of alcohol liberalization bills that they say are going to help business. I say they are going to produce more alcohol-related problems as far as families being broken up, lives being destroyed and jobs lost.”
On April 26, Alabama representatives passed House Bill (HB) 354, which allows people to “produce a limited amount of home brewed beer, mead, cider and table wine for personal use.” The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, was passed 44–33 and is now in the Senate Small Business Committee.
“We need people to contact their senators and let them know that we oppose this bill because how do you regulate what someone is brewing in their homes,” Godfrey said. “It exposes young people and children living in the homes to alcohol — not only having alcohol on hand but the production of alcohol.”
Of all the pro-life legislation lawmakers filed this session, only one bill has passed one of the legislative houses, and abortion opponents are fighting for it to be considered in the other.
Recently Senate Bill (SB) 10, which would allow Alabama to opt out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act permitting taxpayer dollars to be used for elective abortions, passed from the Senate.
Although experts say the House still has enough time to present and pass the bill, it cannot be considered since Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said the House Health Committee will not meet again this session. McClendon heads the committee in which the bill would have to have passed out of before other representatives could vote on it.
“That is extremely disappointing,” said Eric Johnston, a Birmingham attorney and president of the Southeast Law Institute. “If Alabama doesn’t take care of this procedural problem, we will be stuck with it. ... The House Health Committee needs to meet or the bill should be assigned to another committee.”
Another sore spot for pro-family supporters this session is the lack of progress on HB 414 sponsored by Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, which makes possession of 10 or more slot machines or gambling devices a felony. The bill passed from the House Judiciary Committee April 5 but has not moved since.
“If HB 414 doesn’t pass, we expect the gamblers to open up again soon because the penalty is so small,” Johnston said. “It’s just a misdemeanor. It is not a deterrent for the crime. The best solution to the problem is to make it a class C felony and that makes it a significant deterrent from crime because you not only lose your machines you lose your property and everything. … If that bill passes, it will be a significant tool to close down these places.”
One more feverishly debated issue at the Statehouse is the wording in legislation proposed to amend Alabama’s immigration law.
HB 658 sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and co-sponsored by 41 other representatives recently passed from the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed, this bill would revise last year’s Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.
Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, filed a similar bill, SB 541, which recently passed from the Senate Job Creation and Economic Development Committee and awaits a third reading.
Johnston does not believe Alabama’s law needs to be changed just yet.
“Arizona’s (immigration law court case) will be decided in June, and until that happens we don’t need to amend our law,” he said. “We need to wait and see what the Supreme Court says is constitutional, and then we’ll have guidance. Right now, we are just guessing.”
Neither of the state’s budgets has been passed from the Statehouse. The General Fund Budget passed the House, and the Education Trust Fund Budget passed the Senate. Yet some lawmakers have proposed a way to help the state generate more money for education.
Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, along with seven co-sponsors, filed HB 360, which would become the Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012 and would allow school systems to shorten their 180-day school calendar by increasing the number of hours children are taught per day. This shortened schedule could affect tourism areas around the state like Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, providing longer summer vacations and camping seasons.
Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, filed a similar bill, SB 517, which has not moved since being sent to the Senate finance and taxation education committee.
HB 360 has passed the House and Senate tourism and marketing committee and is pending a third reading on the Senate floor.
Meanwhile, Godfrey hopes Alabama legislators will focus more attention on pro-family legislation over the remaining seven days of the session.
“I hope they will get some of these pro-life bills passed,” he said. “I hope they will slow down and stop some of these alcohol liberalization bills. … At the end of this session, I hope we can rejoice in the passage of conservative, family values legislation.”
Johnston added, “I think there is a lot to be done. The budgets are still out there. … There are a lot of other bills that are caught up in a log jam. They are going to run out of time and these bills (are) not (going to) pass and what is their excuse going to be.”