The wall is crumbling.
Last week, a small group of senators held firm against an ethics bill, HB317, that would, among other things, exclude full-time and part-time “economic developers” from laws requiring them to register as lobbyists.
Heading into what should be the final week of the 2018 session, sources say that small group has dwindled to just three senators.
“I think the fix is in,” said one senator.
As APR has previously reported, HB317 is very unpopular outside of the State House, and is particularly problematic with those who combat political corruption in the state.
The head of the Alabama Ethics Commission issued a strong statement against the bill and has not backed away from it. The head of the Alabama Attorney General’s white collar crime unit has been oddly quiet, even as his boss insists that the office is supportive of the bill.
The issue with the bill, from the start, has been twofold: that it allows “part-time” economic developers — a distinction that opens the door to a wide range of individuals — and that there’s no revolving door limitation to bar lawmakers from jumping from the State House to a job as an economic developer.
Closed-door meetings over the past two weeks ended in an impasse last Thursday, after officials from the AG’s office clashed with attorneys from the Ethics Commission over basic definitions in the bill.
Over the weekend, additional talks produced a brand new bill and a brand new problem.
While the substitute bill is rumored to take out the two problems and limit the exceptions to the law to only site selectors — a group of roughly 70 full-time employees around the state — and inserts a provision that should shut the revolving door, senators have been given no assurances that the bill they vote for will be the final bill.
Because HB317 in its original form has already passed the Alabama House, the substitute bill, if approved by the Senate, would have to go back to the House in order for the changes to be reconciled. If the House doesn’t vote to simply concur with the new Senate version, a conference committee meeting — with three members from each house — will be held to reconcile the bill.
It’s that process that has senators wary.
“I want some assurances that if we vote this thing out, that the House will concur and the bill that goes to the governor will be the bill we vote out,” said Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery. “I’m not certain at this point that that will be the case.”
That would be a rather unprecedented move, though — for the Republican leadership to pull a bait-and-switch on members of their own party, and particularly over a bill that is very unpopular with the general public.
“We’re going to need some assurances — some strong assurances,” Brewbaker said of the coming vote. “Otherwise, I can’t see this thing passing.”
How Alabama’s government stays broken
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or even any kind of scientist — to figure out that Alabama’s state government is broken.
I mean, really, just look around. At the poverty, the poor education, the racism, the arrested public officials, the in-your-face public corruption and the complete disregard for the welfare of the majority of the people in the state.
But, while the overall awfulness of Alabama’s governance might be easy to diagnose, the underlying causes — the daily examples that explain just how it stays so broken — are far harder to put your finger on. Because they are mostly wrapped up in mundane occurrences that take place within the walls of the State House or the capitol or the Supreme Court chambers or some other government building.
Things like SB117/HB140.
Those are the official names for a bill in both the senate and house that will “clarify existing law relating to disposal of solid waste.”
Sounds innocent enough, right? Just gonna get this minor landfill situation straightened out. No biggie.
Ah, but see, SB117/HB140 is the prime example of Alabama’s broken government.
It is the prime example of how your lawmakers aren’t working for you. It is the perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong in this state.
Basically this landfill bill would make it OK to cover existing landfills with artificial covers, instead of the six inches of earth that is currently required.
Now, this still doesn’t sound like a big deal. And it won’t be one if you don’t mind third-world diseases, the smell of rotting meat, frequent fires, coyotes and feral dogs roaming your streets and rats. Lots and lots of rats.
Applying six inches of earth each day to cover the garbage dumped at landfills prevents those things, the EPA figured out long ago. And it set those parameters in the rules it recommends to states. Alabama agreed, and the state adopted that rule, along with others, into law several years ago.
Regular landfills have to cover with six inches of earth every day. Construction landfills have to do so once per week.
This is a simple law.
But if you operate a landfill, it’s an expensive one. And a time consuming one.
Ah, but luckily, those laws are environmental laws. And in Alabama, we figured out long ago that environmental laws can be cumbersome and expensive, so we set up a bit of a … let’s just call it a workaround.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
You’ll find we do this a lot — set up an entity that lies somewhere between the laws and the enforcement of the laws whose only job it seems is to give free passes to the bigwigs and corporations who violate those specific laws.
We do it with the Ethics Commission. With the Public Service Commission. And with ADEM.
It’s genius, really. The laws are still on the books and no one has to overtly roll back protections that would lead to rotting garbage attracting disease carrying rodents by the thousands.
Instead, just get ADEM to quietly stop enforcing the law.
Which is exactly what ADEM has done in this case. It was allowing landfills all over the state to cover garbage with tarps and various other materials. The tarps and other covers inevitably got holes in them, and a Noah’s Ark-level of animals descended upon the landfills to dine and spread the garbage all over adjoining neighborhoods.
The neighbors, tired of the smell and the disease and the roaming animals, sued, citing in their legal filing horror stories of living near these maggot farms that smelled like death.
They sued ADEM for failing to do its job, and for essentially rewriting the law to allow businesses to do whatever they wanted to do.
And lo and behold, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals agreed with them. In a lengthy, detailed decision entered last October, the five-judge panel noted that ADEM didn’t have the authority to rewrite the law.
The case is now before the Alabama Supreme Court, but everyone knows that the Appeals Court judges are correct.
But why bother with trying to win over judges when you can instead just change the laws through the crooks in the Alabama Legislature?
And so, here we are, with a handful of lawmakers in both chambers of the legislature willing to attach their names to legislation that will allow businesses to ignore the standards imposed by the EPA, ignore the standards that are commonplace in most other states and change Alabama law to benefit a handful of landfill owners at the expense of thousands of Alabama citizens.
And this, kids, is how Alabama’s government stays broken.
Opinion | It’s time for Alabama Democrats to learn from Alabama Republicans
Democrats never seem to learn from Republicans.
All around the country, and all around the state of Alabama, Democrats are still playing by the rules. Still listening to the cries and outrage from the other side. Still entertaining the idea that compromise and diplomacy are important to Republicans on some level.
Still watching Lucy jerk that football away at the last moment.
It’s time that stopped.
It is time — actually, well past time — for Democrats to adopt the attitudes of their GOP colleagues, and just do whatever the hell you want to do.
Whatever goal you set, go achieve it. Whatever policy is important, implement it. Whatever action you believe is right, take it.
This is how Republicans have governed now for years. It is how they have wrestled control of the U.S. Supreme Court — just don’t hold a hearing for a duly appointed candidate — and how they have stolen elections — keep blocking attempts to secure elections. It is how they control half of Congress — thanks, gerrymandering! — despite representing nearly 20 million fewer people and how they have managed to offset a growing minority vote — put up every roadblock short of a poll tax.
In Alabama, it has how they adopted the AAA act to funnel tax money to private schools — just completely rewrite the bill in the dead of night — and how they passed the most restrictive abortion ban — just ignore promises and public opinion. It is how they have stopped attempts to pass gambling legislation — by straight up lying about the law — and how they have steadily cut into ethics laws — pretend that no one can understand the laws they wrote themselves — and how a House Speaker convicted on 12 felonies still isn’t in prison three years later — just don’t send him.
They don’t care.
About rules. About the law. About public perception. About basic decency.
And it’s time for Democrats, especially in Alabama, to adopt the same attitudes.
Because if Republicans can behave this way to implement racist bills and roll back ethics laws and protect the income of the elites, then Democrats shouldn’t think twice about doing it to protect rural hospitals or new mothers’ health or workers’ rights or decent public schools.
Now, this will be a big change for Democrats, so let me explain how this would look in practice, using the ongoing saga of Confederate monuments.
Republicans shoved through an absurd bill last year that protects the state’s monuments to those who fought to enslave other human beings, and they’re shocked — shocked and outraged — that African Americans in Alabama might find it offensive to honor the men who enslaved their ancestors.
The bill they passed last year was a dumb bill, right down to the portion which levied a fine on cities if those cities removed or damaged a monument. The bill completely screwed up the fines portion, failing to penalize cities for moving or damaging monuments over 40 years old and failing to place a per-day fine on those cities. Instead, the Alabama Supreme Court said the cities would be subject to one $25,000 fine.
Birmingham has a monument that it desperately wants to move. It has already boarded up the monument in Linn Park, and the ALSC, in the same ruling, ordered the boards to come down.
And this is the first opportunity for Mayor Randall Woodfin to approach this with a new attitude.
Tear it down.
Write out one of those big “Price is Right” checks for $25,000, hold a press conference and award that money to Steve Marshall like he just won at Plinko.
At the same time, workers should be taking that monument apart piece by piece and moving it to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where it can be viewed for its historical significance instead of serving to honor traitors and racists.
No apologies. No shame. Don’t even entertain their complaints.
A similar approach should be taken by the city of Montgomery in regards to its occupational tax, which Republicans are attempting to stop through legislative action.
Montgomery is going broke, and it can’t put enough cops on the streets. Part of that is because every day about 70,000 people flood into the city to go to work, and then they leave each afternoon and spend their money in — and give their tax dollars to — surrounding cities and counties.
Montgomery has to do something to offset the costs, so an occupational tax has been proposed. But just as quickly as it was, the ALGOP — the kings of handouts to people who don’t need them — passed a bill to block it.
So, some creativity is required.
Instead of an occupational tax, pass a public safety tax.
If you work within the city limits of Montgomery, but live outside of those city limits, your paycheck will now be taxed an extra 1 percent to offset the cost of the police and fire services that you might use while in the city every day.
No apologies. No shame. Don’t listen to GOP complaints.
It’s a shame that things have to be like this, but they do. Democrats have tried for decades to force rational debate and to promote the value of compromise. Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, which have been attached to toddler-like brains that have justified atrociously selfish behaviors and awful governance.
At this point, it has gone on so long and been so successful for Republicans, the only thing that might break through is a taste of their own medicine.
Give it to them.
Opinion | Voter suppression is still a deciding factor in Alabama elections
John Merrill is going to write me a snarky letter, and that’s OK.
I’m going to write a snarky column about Alabama’s voter suppression — and Merrill’s role in it — and I don’t write these things expecting everyone to agree. I write them so at least a few people will at least consider that the way things are in this state aren’t the way they have to be.
And nowhere is that more true than with Alabama’s access to the ballot box.
Now, before Merrill and the other rightwing hacks start banging out replies, let’s get a few things straight. Because while all of them will be entitled to their own opinions, they won’t be entitled to their own facts.
A standard response from the right whenever these matters of ballot access pop up is to demand to know the identity of a single person who lacks the ability or necessary access to be able to vote. Name someone, Merrill loves to say, and I’ll go to their house and make sure … blah, blah, blah.
But this is not the point, and they know it.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center points out in a new report, what Alabama lawmakers have done is to place speed bumps between voters and the ballot in the hopes that with enough speed bumps they can discourage certain targeted groups from voting.
That’s the point of Alabama’s voter ID law. And it’s not hard to prove.
Correspondence between lawmakers in North Carolina — which has ID laws that Alabama lawmakers essentially copied — laid bare just how targeted and intentionally suppressive the ID law was in that state. A federal judge wrote that it targeted black voters with “surgical precision.”
The same thing is happening here. Because the same laws are being used here.
ID laws largely target poor, minority communities and young people, and they establish a barrier between those would-be voters and the polls. They also do absolutely zero to prevent fraud in this state.
It doesn’t matter how many roving caravans Merrill and his staff set up to get IDs to people. The fact remains that thousands of people are being forced to take an extra step, and/or pay extra money, to cast a legal vote.
Under our old system, which allowed dozens of different forms to establish a voter’s ID, we had zero issues. In fact, in the last 30 years, there has been one instance in which a voter’s identity was stolen and an illegal ballot cast. And that one instance was caught and prosecuted.
Whenever a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is implemented into law, you can bet that the goal wasn’t to actually solve a problem. It was to create one for someone else.
Alabama doesn’t stop there.
In addition to a worthless ID law, we also don’t offer same-day — or even same-week — voter registration. Instead, the deadline to register is 14 days prior to an election, which, in this cyber world where everything is handled by computers, is an eternity.
It used to be just seven days. But after the Voting Rights Act was gutted a few years ago, Alabama lawmakers took the opportunity to target a handful of different groups. They got minority voters with the ID laws, and they took aim at young voters by toying with the registration laws.
Young voters tend to procrastinate and tend to be driven by their peers. As the hype around an election grows, the more interested they become.
And since young people tend to vote for Democrats, well, I think you see how we got here.
That’s not all.
There is also no automatic voter registration in Alabama, which makes no sense with the voter ID law in place. If you have the proper ID, why in the world couldn’t you register online and go vote the same day? Why couldn’t you fill out the registration form at the polling place?
None of it makes any sense, unless, of course, your goal isn’t to make the process of registering to vote as easy as possible, but is instead to deter certain groups of people from casting a ballot.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily blame Merrill for any of this, and you shouldn’t either. As far as Republican secretaries of state go, he hasn’t been that bad, and has on many occasions gone out of his way to offset the negative effects of these suppressive laws.
That said, voting and ballot access is within the purview of the SOS’s office, and as such, Merrill has a duty to speak up when unfair laws are passed and implemented. He has a duty to correct injustices in the state’s voting processes, and he has a duty to inform the Legislature when laws they pass are having a negative effect.
It doesn’t matter the percentage of people that Merrill’s office has registered to vote, or how many registrations he’s managed from his caravan.
The goal is fair elections. And Alabama’s are far from it.
Opinion | Tuberville, Byrne and Sessions: Selling fear because they have no good ideas
Tommy Tuberville wants to scare white people. Bradley Byrne wants to scare white people. Jeff Sessions wants to scare white people.
The Muslims are going to kill us all. The black people are committing scary crimes and kneeling a lot. The Hispanics are hauling deadly drugs over the border to kill your grandkids. The terrorists — not the white ones — are coming for you where you sleep. Everyone hates the police.
Be afraid, Alabama.
Be so afraid that you elect one of these mind-less, plan-less, fear-mongering buffoons to represent you in the U.S. Senate.
This is what passes for a political strategy in this state, apparently. Three guys doing their dead level best to convince you — in a time of record low crime rates, mind you — that the non-white scary people are coming to injure or kill you and your loved ones.
Unless you elect God-fearing, gun-toting Tuberville/Sessions/Byrne to … hell, who even knows? They never get around to telling you how they’re going to save you from black/Hispanic Antifa, just that black/Hispanic Antifa is definitely going to kill you/change the America you love if you don’t elect someone who loves America/the Anthem/Trump/filming selfie videos while driving.
They also never get around — and pay attention here, please — to telling you how they’re going to do anything.
Like, at all.
They have no plan for anything. Not for bettering education. Not for solving our rural health care issues. Not for correcting the low-wage issues that kill this state. Not for getting more than 300,000 Alabamians into a doctor’s office for regular checkups.
Not even for these scary terrorists and non-whites.
Seriously, go to their websites. Look at the “issues” portion. It’s the dumbest, most generic bunch of garbage you’ll read today. (Well, except for Sessions’ website, which doesn’t even bother with an “issues” section.)
I’m not going to waste time with their pandering BS on phony issues like guns, “the economy,” and abortion. No one is coming for your guns, the courts will decide the abortion issue, not the legislative branch, and the idea that you can reduce the complexities of “the economy” into a single topic covered by a single paragraph from a candidate tells you how seriously they’re taking this.
Let’s instead focus on the two biggest issues for most Alabamians: Health care and education.
We’re dead last or pretty close to dead last in both large categories and in most of the sub-categories related to both. Basically, we’re sick and dumb.
Here are the candidates’ plans for addressing these issues.
On health care, both Byrne and Tuberville want to abolish Obamacare (because polling told them that that’s a popular thing to say) and they want to replace it with … “a free-market plan” that magically covers everyone for less money and with pre-existing conditions covered.
Those are not plans. Those are dreams.
Actually, I take that back. They’re not even dreams. They’re lies.
Neither has a single, solitary idea on the specifics of how to solve Alabama’s complicated issues related to health care. Not a single idea.
And, again, Sessions didn’t even pretend that he had an idea, either.
On education, where Alabama is lagging both in churning out well-rounded students and in producing a job-ready workforce, Byrne and Tuberville are similarly plan-less.
Tuberville believes that our education woes can be solved by “school choice,” and “improving existing public schools.” Which is like saying you’re going to overcome your diabetes by not having diabetes anymore.
Byrne, on the other hand, wants to improve education by opposing “the federal government telling teachers and parents how to educate our children in Alabama.” In other words, nothing. He wants to literally do nothing.
(And just as an aside for Mr. Byrne: historically, the only really good things that have ever happened in this state have come because the federal government told us to do some things).
Also, again, Jeff Sessions didn’t even attempt the education question. But we know from his past work in the state that his answer is always to give less money and resources to the black kids.
Are Republicans really this stupid?
And I ask that not as an insult but as a challenge.
Because, honestly, I don’t believe you’re that stupid. That’s why I keep writing these columns, consistently shocked by the decisions of my friends and neighbors to elect obvious morons to office simply because those morons chose to pay their registration fee to the Republican Party.
When are you going to stop this madness? When are you going to realize that government isn’t a team sport?
Our system of government was meant to be representative of the people. That’s why we divvy up districts like we do — to assure that all communities and all people have representation that looks out for their best interests.
But that doesn’t work if a whole bunch of people are just voting for a party and ignoring their own interests and problems.
That’s what Byrne, Sessions and Tuberville are hoping for — that you’ll continue to be part of the team, sacrificing your well-being, and the well-being of your family and friends, to elect unprepared, ignorant mooches to office. That you’ll continue to fall for the scare tactics and generic fear-mongering. That you’ll ignore the candidate that best serves you and instead vote for the team that best scares you.
The idea that you might is what scares me.
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