It was a bad week for state of Alabama

Published 8:45 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2016

It was a bad week for Alabama. It was a bad week for education. It was a bad week for health. It was a bad week for criminal justice. It was a bad week for workers. It was just a bad week in the Alabama Legislature.

It was a bad week for education in Alabama. Senate Bill 229 passed the Alabama Senate.  Those of us who questioned the bill were clotured — our right to debate the bill was cut off. I got in only several minutes before debate was cut off. The cloture petition was adopted by a 25-9 vote. The bill was passed by a 19 to 8 vote. It was a bad week for education in the Alabama Legislature.

SB 229 is a destructive wolf in virtual sheep’s clothing.  Last year, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill providing for local boards of education to establish virtual schools in their system. School systems were given until August 2016 to develop a virtual school plan.  Virtual schools allowed students to attend by internet rather than in person. Under that law, every student in a virtual school was considered a student in the school system of his/her residence.  Therefore, the per pupil funds based on ADA (average daily attendance) stayed with the school system. SB 229 however, will shift 83 percent of the state’s education funds for certain students from local school systems to virtual schools sometimes located hundreds of miles away.

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This virtual school bill will ultimately result in huge mega virtual schools operated by businesses such as k-12, Inc. It will be about making money off our children rather than educating them. Also, most school children not in the mega virtual school will have less per pupil funding wherever they are located. As usual, poor and rural system will be hit hardest. It was a bad week for education in the Alabama Legislature.

It was a bad week for health in Alabama. The General Fund Budget bill (SB 125) is about $85 million short of level funding Medicaid. Because these state funds are matching funds for federal funds, there will be a reduction of $255 million in the budget for medical care.

This means some hospitals and other medical providers will close, especially in rural areas. In addition, Alabama will lose another $740 million in RCO Federal funds because these funds are conditional on adequately funding Medicaid. Altogether that’s a loss of almost a billion dollars.  It was a bad week for health care in the Alabama Legislature.

At the same time we are failing to level fund healthcare, we are moving a Senate Bill (SB 287) through the Alabama Legislature to borrow $800 million to build four brand new prisons.  Although some of the current 13 Alabama prisons will be closed, the net result will be an additional 3000 prison beds. They say they will pay this $800 million back on cost saving.  That’s impossible. We will pay through the nose. This is pure sleight of hand.

It is sad that we are providing almost a billion dollars more for prisons but cannot provide $85 million to level fund healthcare. In addition, we are willing to lose a billion dollars over $85 million while going in the hole for $800 million for prisons. The Alabama Senate also passed another bill to put more people in prison (SB 284). Alabama already has the third highest rate of incarceration in the whole world. However, it is so important to put more people in jail that they cut off debate by a vote of 23-8 and passed the bill by a vote of 26-6. It was a bad week for criminal justice in the Alabama Legislature.

It was a bad week for workers in Alabama. The Alabama Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent labor unions from effectively representing their members.  The Alabama House of Representatives had already passed this proposed Constitutional Amendment (HB 37). This legislation is called “right to work” but it is really a right to prevent workers from working with security. Debate was cut off by a vote of 23-8 and the bill was passed by a vote of 25-9-1. It was a bad week for workers in the Alabama Legislature.

It was a bad week in Alabama for the United States Constitution. A bill (SB 10) called for a new Constitution Convention under Article V of the U. S. constitution.

The bill stated that the convention would be limited to consideration of a balanced budget Constitutional Amendment.  However, there is nothing to prevent a Constitution Convention from considering any issue that comes before it including freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of gun ownership, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, right to a jury trial, right to privacy, etc. They tried but failed to cloture those of us opposing this bill.

The vote to cut off debate was 20 to 6.  They needed a minimum of 21 affirmative votes to cut off debate. I expect efforts to pass this dangerous bill to continue. Twenty eight (28) states have already passed it and only six (6) more are needed. It was good that it was stopped for the moment. It was a bad week in the Alabama Legislature.

Debate is critical when considering any issue. It is especially critical in democratic institutions. When we cut off debate, we close the door of opportunity to learn, to make things better, to better serve our people.

Cutting off debate after just a few minutes is what really made last week so bad for Alabama.