Bringing transparency to legislature

Published 7:10pm Monday, March 11, 2013

Thomas Edison tried two thousand different materials in search of a filament for the light bulb. When none worked satisfactorily, his assistant complained, “All our work is in vain. We have learned nothing.” Edison replied very confidently, “Oh, we have come a long way and we have learned a lot. We know that there are two thousand elements which we cannot use to make a good light bulb.”

There has been a lot said over the past two weeks concerning the tactics used by Republicans in the Alabama legislature to pass the so-called Alabama Accountability Act. And like Edison, hopefully they have learned what will not work on the people of Alabama.

I’m sure that you’ve also read about how Democrats have responded by filibustering legislation and using the rules to slow down the legislative process. We are using the filament that will shed light on how the legislative process has been abused.

I want to explain the rationale of Democratic actions.

First, let me be clear; this is not about being vindictive or trying to “punish” Republicans for running over Democrats in the legislative process. However, Republicans have been running over Democrats since they took control of the legislature in 2010.

In fact, the Republicans have clotured debate (meaning they voted to stop discussion and to vote on final passage of legislation) more time in the past two years than Democrats clotured them in the previous four years.

If we wanted to punish Republicans or “get back at them” for wielding their power over us, we would have started doing this two years ago. But, that is not what this is about.

This is about bringing transparency to the legislative process.

What happened two weeks ago was unprecedented. And now the press is reporting that the version of the bill that was voted on within the conference committee is not the same version that the House and Senate passed later that day. Everyone was left in the dark.

This is just one more reason why we should not have rushed this bill through the legislature. Instead we should have slowed down the process in order to know the issue on which we were voting.

But the Republican leadership was more concerned with pushing their radical bill through the legislature than they were with obeying the law or keeping the public (or even their own education advisers) informed as to what they were doing.

The Republican leader of the Senate, Sen. Del Marsh, said in a press conference that, “It’s a strange thing the way you have to turn things and bend them and make them work….” It is clear that the leadership in Montgomery no longer thinks they have to abide by the rules or the law.

They have a supermajority in the legislature. They can do whatever they want, and that was what they wanted to prove when they rammed this bill through the legislature.

Due to this, we, as Democrats have to respond however we can.We do not have the numbers in the legislature to force any kind of compromise or to stop a bad bill from becoming law.

But what we do have are the rules of the legislature, and we intend to use them to shed light on all bills.

For the foreseeable future, we will filibuster every bill and have each one read at length. We will offer amendments or substitute bills as needed, and take points of privilege as often as we can.

This is not about stopping bills from becoming law. At any time, the Republicans can simply cut off debate by voting to cloture us and moving forward with the state’s business. But they will have to cloture us because we are not going to simply sit down, shut up, and allow the abuse of power to continue.

We intend to make sure that every bill that comes before the legislature is properly vetted and has been debated and read so that we will know what we are voting on. A democracy is supposed to be open and transparent but if the Republicans in the Alabama legislature will not operate in an open and transparent way, then we will do what we can to force them to be open and transparent.

The people of Alabama deserve to know what their elected officials are doing and how the laws that our legislature pass will affect their lives. We are turning on the lights.

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