By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” It seems that Republicans in the Alabama legislature are learning the meaning of this saying the hard way after they failed to show up for work this past Tuesday and ended up burning a legislative day and costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars to do zero work and accomplish nothing.
The state constitution says that in order for the legislature to conduct business, a quorum of legislators must be present, meaning that a minimum of 18 senators must be present in order to legally conduct business.
But this past Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey called the Senate into session and claimed a quorum had been made when the official record showed that only 16 senators were present.
This was not only a violation of the state constitution, but also a waste of time and the taxpayers’ money. The taxpayers still had to pay for legislators to meet that day, even though the majority of senators were not there. It also cost the legislature an entire meeting day.
Each year, the legislature is required to meet for 30 days within 105 calendar days. The Senate was officially in session, but because there were not enough legislators there to conduct business, no bills were voted on. This little “snafu” in the Senate cost the legislature an entire meeting day that could have been used to debate the state budgets or any number of critical pieces of legislation that need to be passed before the legislative session ends in late May.
This waste of time and taxpayer money is not just Lt. Gov. Ivey’s fault, though she certainly could have prevented it if she had correctly counted the number of senators in the room.
The ultimate blame for this lies with the Republicans in the Alabama legislature. In both the House and the Senate, the Republicans have a Supermajority, meaning that there are more of them than are needed to have a quorum and shut off debate.
If not a single Democrat showed up, the Republicans could still legally open the legislature and conduct business in accordance with the state constitution. The Republicans have absolute power, and can govern without any input or negotiation with Democrats.
But last Tuesday, only 15 of them bothered to show up for work in the Senate. Is this the leadership the Republicans promised in their “Handshake with Alabama” in the last election?
The Republicans in the Alabama legislature wanted the power to govern, and they have been given that chance. But last Tuesday, they couldn’t even be bothered to show up. This is not leadership!
I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate reasons for a legislator to miss a legislative day. Medical reasons or family emergencies happen, and there are plenty of times when a legislator might have to step away to meet with a constituent or attend an important meeting that happens to conflict with the legislative schedule.
But to not have enough people there to be able to conduct business is unheard of. And it is irresponsible of the Lt. Governor and the Senate leadership to open the Senate and start conducting business when they did not have enough members present to be able to actually vote on legislation.
Furthermore, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature have already once this year used secret meetings to change legislation (the so-called “Accountability Act”) during what was supposed to be a public legislative conference committee. So I think a little concern is justified when these same Republicans open the Senate for business but about a third of them are not physically there.
The Republicans in the Alabama legislature wanted the power to govern, but they do not seem to want the responsibility. They have offered almost no proposals for job creation, have waged a war against public education, and taken nearly a half-billion dollars from the state’s savings account to keep our Medicaid program from collapsing. Now it seems they can’t even bother with showing up for work.
The Republicans wished for power and absolute control. Be careful what you wish for…
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.