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Opinion | ALGOP House rule changes eliminate democracy

The Alabama House chambers. (FILE PHOTO)

Elections have consequences.

In Alabama, the consequence is the death of democracy.

Or, at least, it will be if the Republicans who increased their supermajority stronghold in the state Legislature in November have their way.

On Monday, APR received a copy of Republicans’ proposed rules changes for the upcoming 2019 legislative session. The changes are set to be approved in upcoming organizational meetings.

There is a clear theme: No more debate.

Of any kind. Anywhere in the State House.

Republicans are proposing cutting debate time on the special order calendar, which allowed members to debate for two hours over which bills would hit the floor for consideration, and they want to speed through any bills being read at length.

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They also want to give the Speaker of the House the authority to remove unruly people from the House chambers, including active representatives. They also want to allow every committee chairman to have the same authority in committee meetings.

The exact language gives the Speaker and committee chairmen the authority to remove other elected representatives for UP TO A FULL DAY in instances in which those members — or members of the general public attending the meetings or House sessions — “breach the peace.”

Now, just what “breach the peace” means, who knows? Because it’s not defined in the proposed changes.

But something tells me that voicing displeasure over spineless lawmakers melting into mush around the lobbyists for big business would be a breach.

As would lawmakers passionately questioning other members’ morals when the latter chooses money over the safety of children attending unlicensed daycare facilities.

The Speaker also will have the authority, under the proposed changes, to oust observers from the public gallery for creating a disturbance or even bringing a placard.

Basically, the ALGOP wants to do whatever it wants to do and it wants you to shut your damn mouth about it.

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Oh, and it wants to run your county, too.

There’s already a rule on the books that requires any local bill — which are routinely handled by local legislative committees made up of reps from each county — that involves gambling or an environmental issue be sent through a standing House committee once approved by the local committee. Now they want ALL local bills involving constitutional amendments to first go through a standing committee.

Because it’s not enough that local bills are voted on by the full legislature. They want every opportunity to kill bills before those uppity Democrats in Jefferson, Montgomery and Mobile plant good ideas in everyone’s heads.

(Democrats believe they’ve successfully talked Republicans out of this change, but we’ll see.)

This is a shameful, and harmful, grab for unnecessary power.

Republicans can already do whatever they want to do. Democrats are virtually powerless to stop them. In fact, all the Dems can do is force debate and raise hell on the floor, maybe force GOP lawmakers to consider the consequences of their bills.

There’s a reason we have debate time. There’s a reason ample time is given for an exchange of ideas and to allow for opposing views to be heard. That’s sort of the basic idea of our entire government.

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It’s anti-American to establish a system of governance in which you attempt to stifle debate from the outset. And it’s even worse to threaten dissension with ouster based on the Speaker’s discretion.

That’s a lot of power placed in the hands of one guy. Maybe I should remind you all that your last speaker is on his way to prison.

And maybe I should also remind you that the 2010 Republican takeover of the legislature should make it impossible for you to forget that no one stays in power forever. Eventually, the power will shift, even if it takes 100 years.

And today’s ridiculous power grabs will be tomorrow’s headaches.

 

Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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