Chestnut reviews first session in Alabama Legislature

Published 8:05 pm Friday, June 9, 2017

With his first legislative session behind him, newly elected District 67 Rep. Prince Chestnut learned a lot about how things work and don’t work in Montgomery.

Chestnut was elected in April and joined the legislature after being sworn in on April 25. While he didn’t get to go through an entire session, this one certainly left an impression on him.

“I would say that it was very contentious. It was drama filled. There were lines drawn,” Chestnut said. “It’s the specific choices to deal with the very controversial matters that kind of set it that way, and of course the most controversial being the redistricting.”

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When Chestnut was sworn in, legislators were already in a heated debate about redrawing lines in 12 districts that were ruled unconstitutional by federal judges.

“We pretty much for a while seemed to be at a standstill when it came to those issues because while it didn’t really effect many of us who live in rural areas, it seemed like it was just a huge issue for the metropolitan areas throughout the state, specifically Birmingham and Jefferson County,” Chestnut said.

“That’s where the fight was, and that’s why we were spending until 11:59 at night many, many nights near the end.”

New district lines passed, but they will go back before federal judges for approval.

Chestnut said one of issues that concerns him is legislators knowing what bills say, including law makers that sponsor them.

“Everything seemed to move so fast, and what I realized what probably concerns me the most is that some legislators who actually sponsor bills, I’m not sure if they actually read the bills they sponsor,” he said. “Everything seems like it’s about party lines. It just seems a bit tribal to me.”

Some of the legislation he was glad to see pass were bills regarding autism coverage for insurance companies, midwifery and crimes of moral turpitude.

Chestnut said he was disappointed a bill on childcare regulations requiring all childcare facilities that are government funded to be licensed by the Department of Human Resources did not pass.

He was also disappointed a proposed gasoline tax that would have greatly benefited roads in Dallas County died on the House floor.

Despite the controversy throughout the session, Chestnut said it was a valuable learning experience.

“I had legislators who had been there for decades that were telling me this is probably the worst it’s been since they’ve been there,” he said. “I’m optimistic, and I’m glad I’m there.”

There has been talk of a special session being called, but Gov. Kay Ivey has not called for one yet.

“We have a new governor, and I’m not exactly sure that she wants to take that chance of calling a special session unless she is pretty firm on the fact that whatever she calls the session for she will have the requisite number of votes to get it passes,” he said.

“From what I have been told, a special session is being considered to deal with the prison [construction] bill.”