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Opinion | A horrible, awful, no good bill

HB372 is supposed to be about building a Statehouse. Instead, it forgives election corruption and hides state contracts.

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“It’s just kind of a clean up bill – all it is.” 

That’s how Rep. Chris Pringle described his bill, HB372, during a meeting of the House State Government Committee on Wednesday, and congratulations are in order. Because that’s probably the most disingenuous description of a bill I’ve ever heard. 

In reality, HB372 doesn’t clean up anything. It hides a whole bunch. But as my mama told me when I was young, hiding ain’t the same as cleaning. 

Let’s start with the most egregious: Pringle’s bill, which was actually pitched as a bill that would allow the Legislature to move forward with the process of building a new Statehouse, deletes a pesky little entry in the Alabama Code that allows for election challenges. 

Pringle wants to do away with any challenge after the lawmaker is certified. Doesn’t matter what information is discovered. 

For example, and I’m just spitballin’ here: Let’s say there’s a current representative from, let’s say, House District 10 who submitted a phony address because his real address actually lies outside in House District 4, and now his election is being challenged because this person STILL doesn’t live in the district that he represents – Pringle’s bill would make that impossible. 

This discussion must have been very interesting – and pleasing – to Rep. David Cole, who is on the State Government Committee and in the room during the discussion, and who also lives in District 4 while representing District 10. 

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If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Cole appears to have intentionally misled election officials on his actual address by claiming the address of a “family friend” when he submitted his qualifying paperwork. APR investigated that discrepancy and found that in late October, just a couple of weeks before the election, Cole and his family still resided at a home in District 4. 

A challenge to his election is currently in progress and he’s scheduled for a deposition in two weeks. There is little chance that he can convince anyone that he managed to meet state law that requires a candidate to reside within a district a full year prior to an election. 

But to hell with those laws and rules. 

“If they were certified by the party and certified by the secretary or state, that should be the end of it,” Pringle said. “The voters can fix it at the next election.” 

Ah, yes, there’s the rule-of-law party we know well. Isn’t this the same bunch who have spent the last few years screaming about “election integrity?”

So disabled people can’t fill out a ballot by the curb and neighbors can’t pick up an absentee ballot application for each other, but if a guy does a good job falsifying his address on qualifying paperwork, well, an out-of-district representative is just something you whiny dopes need to learn to live with. 

And it gets worse, because not only does Pringle’s “clean up” bill seek to do away with laws that Republicans don’t want to follow this year, they’d also like for you not to know about how much the attorney general is wasting on “expert” witnesses to defend some of the stupid, wasteful, hateful, ignorant pieces of legislation Alabama lawmakers pass. 

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That’s right, also included in Pringle’s bill to build a State House is a provision that allows the AG’s office to redact from public disclosure the professional services contracts of “expert” witnesses. Some of these witnesses are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their “services,” and they’re often absolute quacks who are willing to say anything for the right amount of money. 

Currently, those contracts must travel through the Contract Review Committee for review, and for a little sunlight. That’s how we all found out earlier this year that the state spent over a half-million dollars on seven “experts” – including a guy from Australia and another from Canada – to testify in a federal lawsuit over a law blocking medical care for transgender children. 

But never mind your right to know how much money we’re wasting on these pathetic panders for far-right votes, Pringle claims, without an ounce of evidence, that allowing the redaction of these contracts is “protecting” the witnesses from harassment. 


It’s not. There’s not a single story of a witness in one of these cases being illegally harassed. There are, however, plenty of stories that embarrass the hell out of the AG’s office and the conservative lawmakers who pass these bills, because those stories disclose the hefty contracts we’re paying for these people. 

When pressed on this, Pringle claimed that the change merely puts the AG’s office “on equal footing” with the plaintiffs, because the plaintiffs “don’t have to disclose who their expert witnesses are so early.” 

Two things: First, the plaintiffs do have to disclose their expert witnesses, and second, and most importantly, the plaintiffs aren’t asking Alabama taxpayers to pay for their expert witnesses to testify. 

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The insanity of this is overwhelming. 

And the bill – this bill to further the process of building a new State House – doesn’t stop there. 

There are also provisions to rework the start date of Legislative sessions, to restructure the Legislative Council, to give the Senate pro tem more powers if the lieutenant governor’s position is vacant, and to give the Legislature full oversight of the Examiners of Public Accounts (a move that lawmakers have been flirting with for years in order to weaken the oversight powers of that agency). 

At the end of the day, it was, surprisingly, Rep. John Rogers who provided the best analysis of the bill: “All this stuff in a bill about building the Statehouse – why is it in here? Why? This is a greased up pig you’re asking us to swallow.” 

After several minutes of berating by Rogers, Pringle finally responded: “I’m just slippery like that.”

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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