The 2023 Alabama Legislative Session will have to go down as one of the most surprisingly calm and unexpectedly productive sessions in years.
It was so surprising that I’m still thinking about it a week later.
Because it shouldn’t have been. The 2023 session should have been a mess.
Look all around us – at Tennessee and Missouri and Florida and so many other red states, where national, controversial topics and purposefully hateful rhetoric upended state legislative sessions. Where stories of book bannings and expelled lawmakers and unconstitutional legislation dominated headlines and left those states with very little actually accomplished for the citizens of those states.
That wasn’t the case in Alabama.
Oh, sure, there were plenty of terrible pieces of legislation introduced, and there were a few Alabama lawmakers ready to mix it up and grind the session to halt over various grievances. But when the final day came and went last week, very few of those bad bills even found their way to floor votes and the attempts to hijack the session were all thwarted.
In their place was a surprisingly productive session for the average Alabamian.
There were the big tax cuts – on groceries and overtime pay – and various bills to help small businesses and spur growth in rural areas.
But more important, maybe, than what was passed was the manner in which most of the big pieces of legislation were passed – through bipartisan cooperation and compromise.
Two rarities in any political setting these day. And particularly rare in a legislature where one side has super-majority in both houses and can ram through any bills it would like and ignore any it doesn’t.
It was specifically surprising for the Alabama House.
The Senate has a number of long-serving lawmakers and seasoned leadership. Not to mention, the small numbers make things a bit easier to manage and typically far more professional.
The House, however, should have been an absolute mess.
When the 2023 session started, the House welcomed 31 new members, and there was talk that the session could be a wild ride as all of the new folks tried to find their places and make a name for themselves.
On top of that, there was new leadership in charge of all of those new faces.
Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter was taking over as Speaker from retiring Mac McCutcheon, and most expected Ledbetter to need a little time to find his voice as leader.
None of that was the case, though.
Instead, according to several lawmakers familiar with Ledbetter’s approach, he took a different tact – one of common sense and respect. He involved Democratic leadership in important discussions. He made sure his colleagues on the right knew that pandering bills with no chance of withstanding a court challenge would get little attention.
On the other side of the aisle in the House, Minority Leader Anthony Daniels took a similar, businesslike approach to dealing with Ledbetter. The two kept an open line of communication and Daniels worked behind the scenes to help his Democratic Caucus get legislation to the floor for important votes.
But even beyond that, with the tone of cooperation set, Dems were able to get several pieces of legislation passed – bills that in years past would have died in the basket simply because the majority had no interest in reviewing them.
A prime example was Daniels’ overtime tax repeal bill. An original idea, it came in out of the blue. But in short order, it found support from Republicans, including Ledbetter, who signed on as a co-sponsor.
And then taking things a step further, when the OT tax repeal appeared to be dying in the Senate – after unanimous passage in the House – Ledbetter and ALGOP leaders, along with Daniels and Dem leaders, held a press conference to praise the legislation and push senators to pass it.
Look, I know these things seem so minor – public servants doing the things they should to best represent the people of the state – but they haven’t happened very often in this state in years past, and they aren’t happening at all in a whole bunch of surrounding states. And in all of those situations, the average citizens have suffered.
Because those pandering bills that actually accomplish nothing – like banning some people from public restrooms, as if there are guards stationed at the doors, or trying to define what a “woman” is – are a waste of your time and your money. We’ve spent millions in tax dollars defending that nonsense, and we’ve wasted countless legislative hours arguing over it.
In exchange, this session, you mostly got adults – and yes, there are exceptions that we all know about – making government work. Giving you a couple of really nice, long overdue tax breaks. Making sure small businesses have some of the same advantages as big corporations. Getting a little cash to the communities that need it the most. Giving public school teachers a raise. Training police officers to look for invisible disabilities.
It wasn’t a perfect session by any means. But at the end of it, I think it’s safe to say that our lawmakers went to Montgomery and tried to do good, professional work through compromise and mutual respect.
Here’s hoping we keep that up.