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Restructured Archives board would require “just cause” for removal

A bill to restructure the board of the Alabama Department of Archives and History is moving toward a vote on the House floor.

The Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.
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A bill by State Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, to restructure the board of the Alabama Department of Archives and History is moving toward a vote on the House floor, but not before significant changes were made in committee Wednesday.

SB77 has changed quite a bit since Elliott filed the bill. It initially called for board members to be appointed by just four individuals: the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and Senate president pro tempore.

The bill underwent several changes before being passed in the Senate, but none so meaningful as an amendment approved Wednesday on a 5-4 vote of the House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee.

State Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Lowndes, called for the bill to be amended based on language requested by ADAH leadership. In addition to significantly altering how appointments are made, the amendment would protect board members by requiring “just cause” for appointing authorities to remove them.

“They can’t just arbitrarily remove them because they did something they don’t like,” Lawrence said. “They have to show just cause.”

State Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, fought the amendment, saying it “substantially rewrites” the bill after already being approved in the upper chamber.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable to rewrite the bill at this point in time and so I don’t see this as a friendly amendment,” Kiel said.

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The committee debated whether the amendment actually could undermine stability of the board by giving the governor 14 out of 20 appointments, but Lawrence said the “just cause” provision would prevent the governor from being able to remove all 14 at a whim. 

The previous proposed structure would have split appointments more evenly between the appointing authorities, with all appointees being selected at-large. The new structure ensures more geographic diversity of the board as it would require the governor to appoint two members from each Congressional district.

It still provides for two at-large appointments each from the speaker of the House and Senate president pro tempore, as well as one at-large appointment from each the House and Senate minority leaders.

Rep. Kerry Underwood, R-Tuscumbia, asked for clarification on what “just cause” means and asked whether that could extend to “a program or something that (the appointing authority) didn’t like.”

“I think you could argue that a program that if you said was not historic— if you said this is not a historical and your job is Archives and History, I think that could be cause,” said vice chair Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga. “But then it turns into ‘what is history?’ And, I mean, you’re going down a rabbit hole at that point.”

The question harkens to the impetus for this bill, which comes in response to the ADAH hosting a one-hour brown bag program that discussed LGBTQ+ history that upset Elliott and other lawmakers. Elliott said on the Senate floor that he doesn’t believe that the program was about history, but instead about “who someone had sex with last night.”

Republican representatives Parker Moore, R-Hartselle, Donna Givens, R-Baldwin, and Bill Lamb, R-Tuscaloosa, joined Democrats Lawrence and Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, in supporting the amendment.

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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