Ah, the freedom of being unconcerned with election consequences.
That’s what we’re seeing in the Alabama Legislature this session — this weird, strange, oddball session. This session where everything is turned upside down, with Republicans pushing tax increases and marijuana and Democrats playing key roles in crucial votes.
The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman first mentioned the strangeness of this session in social media posts on Tuesday. And, well, I thought the observation was good enough to steal for a column.
Because if Lyman, who’s been covering this legislature for years, thinks things are so weird that he’s pointing it out publicly, you can pretty well bet that it’s straight up crazytown at the State House.
And it is.
Let me give you a little taste: On Tuesday, the Republican-dominated Senate killed a bill that would have banned bans on plastic bags. That bill was pushed by the Koch brothers and has sailed through other Republican-dominated state legislatures. It is opposed by environmentalists and people generally like me — progressives who wouldn’t mind leaving behind a cleaner planet.
And they killed it.
Now, there are monetary explanations for this death — like the fact that the mayors of major cities all over the state were worried that such a bill could hamper economic development opportunities.
But still, it died.
A common core repeal that was pushed by the Senate president is on life support. It’s not expected to live.
A gun bill backed by the NRA died.
Then another gun bill — this one to put guns in churches — also died.
Republicans have also backed a massive tax increase, are on the verge of passing multiple gambling bills, are pushing a medical marijuana bill and are pushing for sentencing reform measures for juveniles and reduced court costs for the poor.
And … and these folks are talking about closing a session down early, wrapping things up by the end of May. And that’s after folding a special session inside this session.
But while all of those are tangible oddities, the real weirdness of this session isn’t in the stuff we can see. It’s the overall vibe.
It’s like … no one knows what the hell is going on.
I don’t mean that it’s all chaos all the time. But there seems to be no singular group or groups that are running the show, that know what’s up on every major piece of legislation. Instead, those major bills are being negotiated individually, with different people pulling strings and making moves.
In years past, you could count on a handful of people to be in the know, to have a firm grasp on what’s up pretty much every day and with every major bill.
That’s not true this session.
Some of those guys have been genuinely lost at times this year, and surprised by outcomes. Sure-fire bills have failed. No-way bills have passed. And weird groups of allies have been formed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying any of this is necessarily good. There have been attempts, after all, to blow up our ethics laws and rewrite public school curriculum. And there’s still a stupid and costly abortion ban to go. And we used children’s health care as an excuse to set up an education slush fund.
So, no, this session hasn’t exactly been better for the people of Alabama.
But it sure has been a weird one.