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Opinion | The legislative session has restarted. So have the shenanigans

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Let the shenanigans begin!

You had to know that when Republicans — not exactly known for their courageous governance in the best of times — kept pressing for a shortened legislative session in the middle of a pandemic that something … shady was afoot. 

It has taken less than two days for that shadiness to spill out, and for Republicans to break their promise of using this forced session to focus solely on local bills and the two state budgets. 

The first and shadiest of the moves is a bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr — who, at this point, has to be near the top of the leaderboard in all-time worst bills — that would provide legal immunity to businesses that force employees to choose between their health and a paycheck during a pandemic, or businesses that just generally behave irresponsibly during a pandemic. 

Orr, whose Facebook page is filled with so many links to “stories” from kooky websites and conspiracy theorists that it looks like a poor man’s version of InfoWars, has been railing on and on for weeks now that the coronavirus isn’t that serious and that the state should be “reopening” everything. 

A position that seems to undercut the need for this bill he’s pushing. 

If all is well and good, and the coronavirus truly poses no real threat, then these businesses who follow his advice and reopen shouldn’t have a thing in the world to worry about. Right? 

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But then, this is the Alabama Legislature, and why let common sense get in the way of screwing over the working-class people of Alabama? 

And that’s exactly what Orr’s bill does. 

It excuses businesses, for example, that demand employees not wear face masks — oh, yes, those exist out there — from facing legal action if those employees get sick and require medical care or lose their wages. 

During. A. Pandemic. 

And I’d like to remind you that this is occurring not on the tail end of a pandemic, when there are a few dozen cases, a vaccine just on the market and new infections trailing off. It’s happening at the absolute height of death and illness — with around 2,000 people dying every day, and with Alabama experiencing another surge in new cases per day. 

In fact, one of the most often cited models by the White House has recently increased its projections for both the country and for Alabama. It now predicts total COVID-19 deaths to be around 135,000 for the U.S. and around 2,300 for Alabama. 

Those projections were increased after trends showed the virus spread worsening after several Republican governors, at the urging of the White House, began easing back on stay-at-home restrictions. 

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Thankfully, in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey has ignored the cries to “reopen” from the know-nothing clowns and has instead leaned on the advice of doctors and medical professionals. While she has reduced some restrictions, she has kept in place some of the most stringent and effective limitations, and while Alabama’s new infections have increased, they haven’t increased at nearly the rates of neighboring states whose governors completely rolled back restrictions.

You would think such statistics would encourage lawmakers to push for more safety. But the health of the average Alabamian has never mattered as much as a dollar to our lawmakers. 

And if Orr has his way, businesses can be as careless and ignorant as he has been about this virus and their actions will either result in no legal action or an award that is severely limited. For example, in cases of death caused by obvious negligence of a business, Orr’s bill prevents the victim’s family from suing for actual economic damages. They can only sue for punitive damages, which are limited under Alabama law. 

Because, you know, judges and juries are too stupid to figure out if a lawsuit has merit and if a victim is deserving of compensation. Only the Alabama Legislature in its infinite wisdom can determine that — before they hear any facts or see any evidence. 

And judges and juries aren’t the only ones state lawmakers don’t trust with money. They also don’t want their own governor, Kay Ivey, doling out the nearly $2 billion in federal dollars headed our way. 

A bill sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton— who would challenge Orr for the record of most awful bills sponsored — would set up a three-person committee, including the governor and House and Senate budget chairmen, to determine how that money would be spent. 

That would be the Republican Legislature stripping the Republican governor of the ability to direct funds she would ordinarily be in charge of. 

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That’s because GOP lawmakers have become increasingly concerned that Ivey might do something with that money to help poor people. And that’s literally true. 

Their biggest concern, expressed over the last couple of weeks, is that Ivey and her administration could use some of those funds — and future federal money — to expand Medicaid in the state.

Ivey in a late April press conference said, “It would be irresponsible to think about expanding Medicaid just for the sake of expanding Medicaid without having a complete and honest discussion about the source of stable funding to pay the match.”

That is a reasonable position to take because “complete and honest discussion” generally yields thoughtful results.

Sen. Doug Jones has been working behind the scenes to procure federal money for the state for that specific purpose, or to make it allowable for states to cover their share of the expansion with stimulus dollars. 

The pandemic has made clear to anyone with a working brain that Alabama’s health care infrastructure is badly broken and in need of immediate repair. And there simply is no way, outside of Medicaid expansion, to implement the widespread changes needed in so many poverty-stricken areas. 

Not to mention, there is relatively no downside to expansion. It would more than pay for itself in the long run, not to mention provide hundreds of thousands of Alabamians with the routine health care that is desperately needed. 

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Of course, Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are against that. 

Probably because someone’s friend/business partner/golfing buddy/former co-worker/law partner needs a handout. Like always. 

Because if there’s one thing you can count on, even in a pandemic, even in a shortened session, it’s shenanigans.

 

Josh Moon
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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