Looking at one day in the Alabama Legislature

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What’s happening in the Alabama Legislature? I get this question all the time.  My answer is usually laced with examples. So I could not wait to share with you what happened in the Alabama Senate during just one day of the week of April 17, 2014. There were so many examples, so I cannot try to tell everything.  I will share enough for you to smell the stringent odor of increased governmental violence, death, denial of voting rights, state discrimination, etc.  I want you to experience what happened in the Alabama Legislature on this day.

I am certain that this group of bills was selected for strategic rather than legislative purposes. The Republican dominated government just had a Republican governor resign to avoid further prosecution and possible impeachment.  This followed on the heels of the suspension of the Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice, which followed on the heels of the conviction and removal from office of the Republican Speaker of the House.  The scheme involved consideration of a number of emotionally charged bills to divert the public from the stringent odor of pervasive corruption.  Some called it “a day of rebranding the Alabama Republican Party.” The party had run on transparency and accountability but demonstrated neither. That’s what happening in the Alabama Legislature.

One bill, Senate Bill 12 (SB12), would allow execution by firing squad. This bill was amended to delete the firing squad provision and substitute death by nitrogen hypoxia. Hypoxia has never been used in any execution of human beings. We don’t know how it will work. This bill also limits all criminal liability of persons participating in executions no matter what.  Some of us tried to debate this bill, but debate was quickly cut off by a cloture vote ending all discussion. We could not even debate life-and-death matters.

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A second bill, SB187, would speed up the appeal time for persons who are sentenced to death.  It is not enough to sentence people to death, but now we must rush to death.

Specifically, this bill would require those on death row to exhaust all procedural rights on appeal at the same time as substantive rights. If the attorney representing a person on death row made serious mistakes at trial, the issue would have to be raised during the initial appeal. The lawyer handling the appeal may well be the very person who made the mistakes.

Moreover, if it is not a death penalty case, Alabama will not be required to exhaust procedure and substantive rights simultaneously.  It seems like death row defendants ought to have more rights not less because, with their deaths, the result would be final and mistakes or wrongful convictions could not be fixed after death.  It is so hard for persons on death row to secure attorneys, not speak of competent ones.  It is another rush to death. Debate was quickly cxut off with a cloture vote so discussion was not allowed.

The Alabama Senate considered SB24 to make it even easier to secure, carry and use guns. Alabama is already an “open carry state,” which means, we can carry weapons openly nearly anywhere. In these cases, at least we can see that others have weapons and adjust accordingly. This bill would allow concealed weapons in all kinds of places without a permit as currently required.  If we have a concealed weapon, people don’t know how to adjust their interactions. The United States may have the highest rate of gun violence in the entire world.  We also have one of the highest rates of violence whether by gun or otherwise.

The Senate also considered SB108, which would reduce the right to vote of Alabama citizens.  Basically, it provides that only those who voted in a party primary can vote in that party’s primary run off. In other words, if Republicans did not vote in the Republican primary, they cannot vote in the Republican primary run off.  Neither can Independents nor Democrats.  Regardless of the reasons, citizens will not be able to vote in a primary run off held weeks later.  This bill denies voting rights to Republicans, Independents, Democrats and new voters.  An amendment was put on the bill to reduce the oppressive impact of this bill.  In addition, this bill is unnecessary because the Alabama Republican Party controls its own procedures and rules. There is no requirement for legislative action.

This was just one day in one body of the Alabama Legislature.  In a subsequent Senate Sketches, I will share what happened on the very next legislative day during the week of April 17, 2017.  What is happening in the Alabama Legislature is laced with the stringent odor of spewing violence, death, compromise of voting rights, use of state money to discriminate, and more.Few things are as good as they appear.  Few things are as bad as they appear.

One day in the Alabama Senate tells us something about the Alabama Legislature but not everything.  However, bad or good, it’s just one day.