Republicans have commanding supermajorities in both houses of the Alabama Legislature, and the governor is a Republican. Only one Democrat has won a statewide election in Alabama in the years since 2008. Candidates routinely tout their conservative Alabama values. Despite this, social conservatives were dismayed by what they saw during the session.
“It was probably the worst session I have ever been associated with,” said Alabama Citizens Action Program Director Joe Godfrey, adding: “The Legislature passed culture changing legislation this session that will transform the culture of Alabama.”
Ann Eubank is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Watch Dogs.
“The 2021 Legislative Session was absolutely embarrassing,” Eubank said. “I was appalled at the behavior I witnessed last Thursday, with leadership double crossing both Democrats and Republicans. Alabama is no longer a Constitution friendly state, even with OUR party in charge at every level, and with a supermajority in Montgomery.”
Godfrey said that he was surprised when the Legislature passed medical marijuana legislation.
“It is not medicine,” Godfrey said. “A doctor can’t prescribe it, a pharmacist can’t fill a prescription for it.”
Godfrey said that legislators made the decision to legalize medical marijuana based on “anecdotal” evidence. “They knew somebody” that said it helped. The decision “was not based on data,” he said.
“If they follow the pattern that did in other states, dispensaries will pop up all over the state and then they come back in a couple of years and ask for recreational,” Godfrey said. “The dispensaries then become pot shops and they transform the culture of the state.”
Godfrey was also disappointed that so many alcohol bills passed during this session.
“This has been happening since Republicans took control of the legislature,” Godfrey said. First, the Legislature raised the container size, and then they increased the places and communities where alcohol is available. In this session, they passed home delivery.
“You can’t convince me that a FedEx or UPS driver is going to make sure that the alcohol is going to get delivered into an adult’s hands,” Godfrey said. “He is rushing to make his deliveries.”
Godfrey said that this will make alcohol more accessible for kids.
One area where Godfrey did enjoy some success was in the defeat of comprehensive gambling legislation, but Godfrey was not celebrating.
“I am afraid that the Governor will call a special session” to address gambling, Godfrey said.
While the Legislature failed to pass any gambling legislation, Godfrey feared that that was more to do with a lack of agreement “on how to divide the money than it has to do with defeating gambling. This wasn’t gridlock — it was ‘greedlock.’”
“Gambling destroyed at least the last one-third of the session,” Eubank said. “Several good bills we were advocating for died. 2nd Amendment rights – died; Repeal Common Core – died. Why? Because they didn’t fit the ‘cash flow narrative.’ But, Medical Marijuana passed, and without a vote of the people. Why? How?”
“The people that get hurt most from gambling are the poor,” Godfrey said. “Casinos and gambling halls are cited in the poorest neighborhoods for a reason.”
“Most people who gamble go once or twice a year,” Godfrey said. That does not keep the gambling operations open. Most of the people that go to these gambling halls “live within 50 miles.”
“Democrats like to talk about caring for the poor, but it is the poor that are most hurt by gambling,” Godfrey said. “It is not the rich that play these machines.” They take their risks “in the stock market” where, when it is done right, everybody can be a winner through dividends and rising market valuations.
Godfrey said that with gambling everything in the software of the machine “is designed to keep a player playing until all his money is gone. The industry term for it is to play to extinction.”
“There are only three or four companies that manage all the state lotteries around the country,” Godfrey said. They see Alabama as a new market to expand to.
Occasionally they will have a big winner “and they will put that person on a billboard, but the vast majority of players lose,” he said.
Godfrey said that it is the gambling hall operators, gambling machine makers, software designers and lottery management companies who profit from gambling; meanwhile, most of the players lose money and some become gambling addicts who eventually lose everything they have.
“Local businesses dry up” because people are drained of funds to spend and “sales taxes plummet,” he said. More people are impoverished and then the government has to spend out more money on social services, he said.
Second Amendment activists were disappointed that their priority legislation was not prioritized by the Republican legislative leadership. The Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act, SB358, did not get placed on the House special order calendar on the last legislative day even though House leadership had said that it was a leadership priority.
Permitless carry, also called constitutional carry, did not even make it that far even though both Congressmen Barry Moore, R-Alabama, and Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, both came out in support of the legislation.
Moore said: “More than a dozen other states have passed similar ‘constitutional carry” laws. The constitution is clear, our right to keep and bear arms ‘shall not be infringed.’ We shouldn’t need a permit to exercise our rights. The 2nd amendment IS our permit.”
Both bills were sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Northport.
“We will get constitutional carry next year,” Allen told APR late on Monday night when it became apparent that the gun bills would fail.
Godfrey expressed disappointment that due to COVID-19 fears, he as well as other citizen activists, of all political stripes, were barred from the Statehouse throughout this session.
“I go to their offices and present them with alternative views,” Godfrey explained. “These legislators just listened to their leadership and blindly followed along.”
Eubank said: “We don’t ‘Dare Defend Our Rights.’ Alabama is a pay-to-play state, and we sold those rights to the highest bidder. Follow The Money.”