Legislators should have a sayPublished 12:33am Thursday, April 12, 2012
It’s tough when the people’s representatives cannot even debate an important bill before the Alabama Senate. It’s tough when they cannot even offer an amendment to a bill. It’s tough when they cannot even say anything on the legislative floor on such a critical issue. It’s tough for Alabama when we cannot truly represent the people in the districts we serve.
The bill in question was a supplemental appropriation for $45 million for prisons, officially known as Corrections. I knew the bill was going to pass the Alabama Senate but I wanted to have my say. It’s tough for Alabama when legislators cannot even have a say.
The bill was on a fast, sure track. The way was well greased. I knew that all amendments would be voted down. However, I wanted to offer an amendment. It’s tough when an Alabama Senator cannot even offer an amendment to an important bill.
Let me put all this in context. The Governor of Alabama declared 10 percent proration on all appropriations in the 2012 budget, cutting everything by 10 percent across the board. That seemed legally fair on the surface since the law required such an approach. It’s not, because some areas of government are more critical than others and to treat them equal is unfair.
Every agency was hurt badly because they had been deeply cut last year. Then we discovered the 10 percent cut was far more than was needed.
Then came a supplementary appropriation bill adding $45 million to prisons, using some of the left over funds from the excessive proration cuts.
Health care for children and for poor people is being cut deeply because this is matching Medicaid money. Mental health is being cut. Courts are being cut. Education is being cut by shifting general fund items to the education budget. The Department of Human Resources is being cut. Everything to help people is being cut. Yet, we could not even speak to the cuts on the Senate Floor.
Alabama has the third highest incarceration rate in the world. In other words, we put a larger percentage of our people in prisons and jails than all places in the world except three. Either Alabama has worse people than all but three places in the world or something is wrong with the system.
I know it’s the system, not the people of Alabama. Therefore, I wanted to speak to that concern on the Senate Floor. It’s tough for Alabama when Alabama State Senators cannot even have a say on behalf of their constituents.
Instead of correcting this monster of a system that puts too many in prison and jails, here we are taking food from babies, health care from children and resources from those otherwise in need to feed this prison monster. We should be starving this monster until it is transformed instead of feeding it. I needed to speak on the Senate Floor in opposition to feeding the prison monster. It’s tough for Alabama when Alabama State Senators cannot even speak to budget bills being considered on the Senate floor.
I wanted to offer an amendment that appropriated these funds to Medicaid, the Department of Human Resources, Mental Health and other areas of human need instead of prisons. I knew it would not pass but I wanted everyone to clearly see the priorities of prisons over people. It’s tough for Alabama when Alabama State Senators cannot even offer an amendment to a bad budget bill.
The sponsor of the bill spoke to the prison funding. Then he talked on the bill until a cloture petition was adopted to cut off debate. Then they voted to pass the bill. We voted against the bill but that is not the full say our people deserve. It’s tough for Alabama when Alabama senators cannot even speak on a bill but can only vote “no.”
The sponsor of the bill said Alabama would have to let out some of those in prison if the $45 million was not provided. I wanted to say Alabama has too many in prison who should not be there. So what’s wrong with letting out some of those who should not be in prison anyway? It’s tough when Alabama senators cannot say what needs to be said.
I wanted the senators voting for this bill to clearly vote against food for babies, health care for children and help for those in need in order to provide more money for prisons. I wanted people to see that our priorities are crazy because we prefer to feed the prison monster rather than feed our children.
It’s tough for Alabama when Alabama senators cannot represent the roughly 140,000 citizens in each of the Senate districts and the millions outside of the districts who share their priorities. It’s tough for us but it is much tougher for Alabama for we continue down the wrong road.