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Opinion | Weekly 2019 legislative report

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met for Day 12 of its annual Regular Session on Tuesday, April 23. Thirty-three committee meetings were held throughout the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met on Thursday, April 25 for Day 13. 849 bills have been introduced to date.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, April 30 for Day 14 of the Session with the House convening at 1 p.m. and the Senate at 3:30 p.m.

DURING THE WEEK:

Following a public hearing last week, the Senate Tourism Committee voted 6-5 against a bill that would have allowed the carrying of a firearm without a concealed carry permit [SB4 by Senator Gerald Allen].

On Tuesday, the Senate Tourism committee voted 6-5 for a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would establish a lottery, provide for the sale of paper lottery tickets including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games, and provide for the distribution of proceeds, first to repayment to the Alabama Trust Fund for transfers made to the General Fund, then one-half to the Alabama Trust Fund and one-half to the General Fund. The full Senate on Thursday approved the bill on a vote of 21-12, the minimum number of votes needed (3/5) to pass a Constitutional Amendment. The bill now goes to the House [SB220 by Senator Greg Albritton].

The Senate Governmental Affairs committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would establish a process for governmental agencies to provide public records including setting a standardized fee for copies and a time frame for responding to requests. It is expected that a substitute bill will be adopted addressing some of the concerns voiced at the public hearing when the committee again meets on the bill [SB237 by Senator
Cam Ward].

The House gave final passage to a Senate bill to allow hunters to buy licenses to hunt whitetail deer and hogs over bait under certain circumstances. The bill is now pending the Governor’s signature [SB66 by Senator Jack Williams].

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SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK:

A bill was introduced in the House that would establish the Safe Freight Act to prohibit the operation of a train unless the train has a crew consisting of at least two individuals. The bill is pending in the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee [HB484 by Representative Napoleon Bracy].

A bill was introduced in the House that would require a physician to exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of a child born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion. The bill is pending in the House Health Committee [HB491 by Representative Ginny Shaver].

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A bill was introduced in the House that would provide additional penalties for criminal littering and may include enhanced penalties for littering of certain items including cigarettes, cigars, containers of urine, and restaurant food containers. The bill is pending in the House State Government Committee [HB500 by
Representative Margie Wilcox].

A bill was introduced in the House that would provide for a delivery service permit that would allow the permittee to contract with certain licensed retail establishments to deliver sealed alcoholic beverages directly to Alabama residents who are at least 21 years of age for their personal use. The bill is pending in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee [HB519 by Representative Gil Isbell].

A proposed Constitutional Amendment was introduced in the Senate that would allow in Macon County the game of bingo to be played on any electronic machine authorized by the National Indian Gaming Commission pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which is operated by any Native American tribe in Alabama. The bill is pending in the Senate Local Legislation Committee [SB322 by Senator Billy Beasley].

SIGNIFICANT COMMITTEE ACTION THIS WEEK:

The Senate Tourism Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would authorize licensed manufacturers of alcoholic beverages within an entertainment district that conduct tastings and samplings to sell beverages for consumption outside the premises. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB276 by Senator Rodger Smitherman].

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing, substituted, and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana if a person has a qualifying condition and a valid medical cannabis card. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB236 by Senator Tim Melson].

The Senate Education Policy Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would require that the pledge of alliance to the US flag be conducted at the beginning of each school day in public K-12 schools. The bills now go to the full Senate [HB339 by Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter].

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would update the amnesty and class action provisions of the Simplified Sellers Use Tax (SSUT), and clarify transactions for which the tax cannot be collected and remitted. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB183 by Representative Rod Scott].

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would require dispensing veterinarians to notify pet owners of the option to purchase veterinary drugs from a pharmacy rather than the veterinarian’s office [HB293 by Representative Margie Wilcox].

The House Urban and Rural Development Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a bill that would authorize the placement, construction, installation, operation and use of broadband and other advanced communication capabilities and related facilities within electric easements by electric providers. The bill now goes to the full House [HB400 by Representative Randall Shedd].

The Senate Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow a licensed wine manufacturer to obtain a wine direct shipper permit from the ABC Board to allow it to ship limited quantities of wine directly to Alabama residents for personal use. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB274 by Senator Bobby Singleton].

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would provide for the operation of shared micromobility device systems and would require the consent of a county or municipality prior to the use of the system in the county or municipality. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB312 by Senator Rodger Smitherman].

The Senate Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would provide that in Green County the game of bingo authorized by a previous amendment may be played on any electronic machine or devise that is authorized pursuant to specified federal law. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB321 by Senator Bobby Singleton].

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would require the Strengthen Alabama Homes Program to maintain as confidential all documents and information submitted in support of grant applications. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB363 by Representative Chip Brown].

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would require the Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop a plan for monitoring and regulating the production of hemp. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB225 by Senator Tim Melson].

The House Ways and Means Education Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would phase in the requirement that each public K-12 school offer courses in computer science. The bill now goes to the full House [HB216 by Representative David Faulkner].

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow certain licensed small farm wineries to sell directly to consumers. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB234 by Senator Tom Whatley].

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK:

The House substituted and passed a bill that would require the Alabama Historical Commission to commission monuments for Rosa Parks and Helen Keller to be located on the Capitol grounds. The bill is now pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee [HB287 by Representative Laura Hall].

The House amended and passed a bill that would require insurance companies writing homeowners insurance policies to offer an endorsement that upgrades a home to a fortified standard adopted when the insured incurs roof damage covered by the policy that will require a roof to be replaced. The bill is now pending in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee [HB283 by Representative Chip Brown].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would authorize an organization, winery or brewery to obtain a license from the ABC Board to hold a wine or beer festival where wineries or breweries may provide tastings and sell their products for on-premises or off-premises consumption. The bill is now pending in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee [SB269 by Senator Andrew Jones].

The House passed a bill that would provide that the surviving spouse and dependents of a law enforcement officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty on or after January 1, 2018 will continue to receive worker’s compensation benefits. The bill is now pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee [HB187 by Representative Matt Fridy].

The House passed a bill that would authorize the Legislature to recompile the Alabama Constitution during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide for its ratification. The bill is now pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee [HB328 by Representative Merika Coleman].

The House passed a bill that would authorize the Secretary of State to establish procedures to allow a voter to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list upon proof of having a permanent disability. The bill is now pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee [HB174 by Representative Victor Gaston].

The Senate substituted and passed a bill updating the Rolling Reserve legislation known as the “General Fund Budget Reform Act” that would provide for the maximum amount that may be appropriated annually from the State General Fund, create the General Fund Budget Reserve Fund and General Fund Capital Fund, and cap the amount of certain taxes and revenues. The bill is now pending in the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee [SB126 by Senator Clyde Chambliss].

The Senate amended and passed a House bill that would make certain technical corrections to the Limited Liability Law regarding the ability of a partnership to continue as an entity for a brief period of time, and the duty of a partner to not compete with the partnership before the partnership is dissolved. The bill now returns to the House for action on the Senate amendment [HB251 by Representative Bill Poole].

The Senate substituted, amended, and passed a bill that would provide for the rights and responsibilities of an individual with a disability who uses a service animal and would prohibit discrimination against the person for using a service animal in a public accommodation or a housing accommodation. The bill is now pending in the House Judiciary Committee [SB10 by Senator Linda Coleman-Madison].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would establish the Alabama Board of Genetic Counseling, provide that the practice of genetic counseling without a license is a criminal offense, exempt physicians and other medical professionals from licensure, and provide that genetic counselors are not authorized to practice medicine. The bill is now pending in the House Health Committee [SB213 by Senator Jabo Waggoner].

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Alabama Legislative Black Caucus holds meetings on racism in wake of George Floyd death

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.

Members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in recent months have been meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, state law enforcement officials and others to voice their concern over systemic racism in Alabama, the group said in a statement Friday. 

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus members in June met with Ivey, and in follow-up meetings with other state officials and leaders of higher education, members discussed what they believe needs changing to battle racism in Alabama, according to the press release. 

“We are very appreciative of Governor Ivey and all of the officials with whom we have met thus far,” said State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, chairwoman of the ALBC, in a statement. “Our dialogues have been very substantive and productive as the Caucus presented our concerns and recommendations. Our goal is to get to the root of and eradicate racism and anything that communicates hatred, bigotry or divisiveness within the State of Alabama. The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd caused us all to take a closer look at the systemic racism at work here in Alabama.”

ALBC members met with officials from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Sheriffs Association, the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs and Katie Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama along with BCA’s Executive Leadership Committee.

Members also met with The University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John, and Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University. 

In the statement, ALBC members applauded the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees for voting unanimously to rename Nott Hall — named for Josiah Nott, a doctor who believed in white superiority — Honors Hall. 

“The University of Alabama had already started this endeavor before our meeting with them this past Tuesday,” said State Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, vice chairman of ALBC, in a statement. “That was a great first step and strong leadership was shown. We are looking forward to the other institutions of higher learning in Alabama to do the same as well. The Caucus also hopes that all members of the Alabama Legislature have been inspired to adopt and make meaningful changes in legislation that governs our state.”

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Figures said the group of elected senators and representatives are holding these talks, with plans for others, “so that people will stop focusing on Alabama’s sordid past, and instead see a beautiful Alabama present, and the makings of a bright future for all Alabamians.” 

“During each of these meetings, our members have had the opportunity to voice what we feel the necessary changes should be. I just hope this openness to positive change continues throughout the upcoming 2021 Alabama Legislative Session,” said State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, in a statement. 

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State senator calls for Rep. Dismukes to resign over celebration of former Klan leader

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville.

State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, after posting to social media about attending a birthday celebration for Nathanial Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie outside of Selma on Saturday, the same day that late Congressman and Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma. 

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

“The post is bad enough, the timing is even worse, but the real problem is that an elected official in 2020 would attend a celebration of the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings,” Chambliss continued in the tweet. “He has had 24 hours to understand why people are so upset, but his interview on WSFA a few moments ago confirms that he is lacking in understanding and judgment — he should resign immediately.” 

Dismukes in the WSFA interview told a reporter that he hadn’t thought about the memorial for Rep. Lewis and connected it to his attendance at the celebration for the Klan leader. 

Dismukes told WSFA that he won’t apologize for his family’s service in the “war between the states” that he said wasn’t primarily fought over slavery, that he’s not a racist but that he doesn’t see the need for the current racial reconciliation. 

“We no longer drink from separate water fountains, and we no longer have segregated schools,” Dismukes told WSFA. “You know there’s abundant work opportunities for all colors, there’s abundant scholarship opportunities for all colors. So what are you asking that needs to be racially reconciled?”

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Chambliss may be the first Republican lawmaker in Alabama to call for Dismukes’ resignation, but others have expressed concern over his social media post and attendance at the event. 

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post, and said he believes voters should decide whether Dismukes keeps his office. 

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” Lathan said in the statement. 

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“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

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Republicans are concerned by Rep. Dismukes’ Confederate social media posts

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is facing criticism for attending a birthday celebration for the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, on Monday released a statement in response to a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, who was in Selma Saturday celebrating Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest’s birthday over the weekend. This was while much of the rest of the state was celebrating the life of Alabama native and Civil Rights Movement legend Congressman John Lewis.

“The Alabama Republican Caucus is comprised of 75 men and women, each of whom have their own beliefs and principles that guide their lives,” Ledbetter said. “The personal beliefs expressed by any one member do not reflect the beliefs of the others, and their activities outside the Legislature should be considered their own, as well.”

“Several of our Republican Caucus members have reached out to me with concerns about the content and timing of a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, and I, as a House member, share those concerns,” Ledbetter continued. “We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, also released a statement regarding the controversial social media post.

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state,” McCutcheon said. “It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” said Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan. “Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis,” Lathan continued. “That is the Alabama that we are proud of — showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.”

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“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans,” Lathan concluded. “I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

On Sunday, Dismukes shared several pictures from the celebration of Gen. Forest’s birthday, with the caption: “Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!”

After the comments became a social media firestorm that has garnered press attention, Dismukes attempted to explain his position.

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“First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis,” Dismukes said. “That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person. I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.”

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues,” Dismukes continued. “I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican. I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

The Alabama Democratic Party had already come out and demanded that Dismukes resign months ago when it became known that he, a minister, was chaplain for a Sons of the Confederacy chapter in central Alabama.

Dismukes is serving in his first term in the Alabama House. He briefly was a congressional candidate in Alabama’s 2nd District but dropped out of the race before the Republican Primary.

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Alabama lawmaker faces sharp criticism over celebration of former KKK leader

Micah Danney

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is again facing calls to resign over a social media post he made about his participation in an event honoring Confederate heritage.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie the day before, where a yearly event was held celebrating the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” Dismukes wrote above a photo of himself speaking on a porch adorned with a portrait of Forrest and several Confederate flags. The post is no longer visible.

Criticism was swift on social media as word spread that Dismukes attended the celebration on the same weekend that the late Congressman and Civil Rights hero, Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma, where Lewis was nearly beaten to death in 1965, during the march for voting rights that crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Wade Perry called for Dismukes to resign.

“Will Dismukes has demonstrated yet again why he is unfit to hold public office,” Perry said in a statement. “Americans don’t celebrate racists or traitors. Nathan Bedford Forrest was both. And a founder of the Klan. The Alabama Democratic Party renews our call for Dismukes to resign. It’s 2020 and it’s time for racial extremists like Will Dismukes to go away.”

Dismukes posted a statement on Monday addressing the criticism: “First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis. That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person.

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“I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican.

“I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

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Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post:

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party.

“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis. That is the Alabama that we are proud of – showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.

“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans. I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, issued a statement saying that the beliefs of one member don’t reflect the beliefs of all, and that several Republican Caucus members expressed concern to him about the content and timing of Dismukes’ post.

We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, on Monday issued his own statement:

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state.  

“It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, tweeted a stern rebuke on Sunday: “I cannot fathom why anyone in 2020 celebrates the birthday of the 1st KKK Grand Wizard. And while the body of a civil rights icon beaten by the Klan lies at state Capitol being honored by GOP/Dem leaders from all over the state. This mentality does not rep my party or my faith.”

Another GOP colleague, Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, responded to a constituent about the matter in a tweet

“Scott, As a Christian, Conservative, member of the Republican Party, I was proud of the comments of my colleague Rep. Danny Garrett. Rep Will Dismukes’ actions were also unfathomable to me. I believe it will take the voters in House Dist. 88 to remove Rep. Dismukes from office,” Farley said.

While fellow Republican officials said that Dismukes’ constituents should decide if he remains in office, the College Republican Federation of Alabama issued a statement on Monday calling for him to resign.

“Representative Dismukes’s Facebook post of him at an event that celebrated former KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest is unacceptable and has no place in the State Legislature or the Republican Party,” the statement said.

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