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House passes controversial new rules

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives voted for a series of rule changes in the inner workings of the house. Passing the rules for the next four years is one of the duties of the legislature during the organizational session; but since Republicans have an overwhelming 77 to 28 supermajority the Republicans essentially got to write the rules, while Democrats complained.

House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) sponsored the new rules, H.R. 7.

After Republican gains in the 2018 election, Democrats only 28 seats in the House of Representatives. 27 of the 28 House Democrats are Black.

State Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) said, “You already have a supermajority. Now you are making it harder for the minority to represent our districts.”

One of the proposed rule changes decreased the amount of time that can be spent debating on adoption of the special order calendar from two hours to just forty minutes.

“We don’t have nothing, but a voice,” Rep. Jackson said. “27 minority members of the House and you want to take that way. All I can do is talk and you want to limit the time. Are we moving away from Democracy and moving to authoritative dictatorship?”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Montgomery) said that the rule change was, “Taking away a tool by the minority party.”

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Chairman Jones said that the rule which they were referring to is rule number eleven. This was passed in 2003 under Seth Hammett (D) when Democrats were in the majority. Prior to that the debate on the special order calendar had been unlimited. It was felt then that there needed to be some reasonable point of cutoff. Right now it is two hours. We would like to spend more time debating those actual issues. Right now we are burning two hours without much being accomplished in the process.

Daniels said that relations between the two parties, “Has gotten better under our current Speaker. This is not necessary.”

Jackson said, “I was in the body when that passed in 2003 and I didn’t like it then. Some of us Democrats felt that we should have unlimited debate. We were in the minority even then.”

State Representative Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) said, “These rules are sickening.” Givan objected to rules making it easier to remove a legislator from the room.

Rep. Jones said that that the reason for stating that rules was to make it clear and very specific. A legislator can be removed for just one day on order of the presiding officer for a decorum violation. The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House chamber; but even the speaker is subject to overrule by the entire body.
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “We are setting up an authoritarian rule in the House. I think there is an effort from the Governor’s mansion to the White House to destroy the democratic way of life.”

State Representative Merika Coleman Madison (D-Pleasant Grove) said, “This is a rule that members of your own caucus has used to get bills on the calendar particularly in the end of the session.”

Jackson objected to Rule 66 that says that only the chairman of the Rules committee can ask to take leave of the House while the House is in session. “Every chairman should object to that.”

Rep. Coleman Madison said, “If you shut us up, you shut up the 26 percent of Alabamians who are African Americans. I could see a federal lawsuit.”

“The Republicans already have the Democrats hanging on the cross. Are you the one to drive the nails in even further?” Rep. Artis J. McCampbell (D-Livingston) said.
State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “These rules changes are for the birds. These rules are terrible.”

“I have been here 32 years,” Rogers said. “Don’t cut me to ribbons and call me your friend. I stand on my own. No Caucus represents me. I might as well be a third world country. I don’t give a damn what you call it, it is a cloture.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) interrupted and said, “Watch your language.”

“Can I say darned,” Rogers asked.

“That would be preferable,” McCutcheon said.

“When I was in Vietnam, I was outnumbered but I had to use guerilla warfare,” Rogers said. “I am feeling an ill will in this House and the trickery is so broad that I can’t feel good about this House.”

Several legislators objected to the new rule limiting pages to no younger than ten and no older than eighteen,

Jones said that that was the change that the most legislators had questions about and that the House has an intern program for college age students.

Rep. J. Givan presented a compromise proposal on Rule 11 that set the limit on special order calendar debate at one hour rather than forty minutes.

Chairman Jones accepted Givan’s amendment, “in the spirit of compromise.”
The new rules were passed along partisan lines 74 to 27.

The House also passed SJR7 changing the organization of the legislature. SJR7 consolidated a number of legislative agencies under the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) which is headed by Jimmy Entrekin. The Alabama Law Institute (ALI), Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), and Examiner of Public Accounts are now all under the Legislative Services Agency (LSA). SJR7 passed 85 to 0 and had already passed the Senate.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate met in a joint session and canvassed the election results. The organizational session has ended. The 2019 regular session will begin in March.

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