Bob Davis: A legislature on autopilot
Jan 12, 2014 | 2908 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley talks with reporters about his plan to propose a cost-of-living raise for school employees, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Montgomery, Ala. The Alabama Legislature kicks off an election-year session Tuesday that will feature debate over Medicaid, possible salary increases for teachers, and efforts to simplify state taxes. The Legislature can meet until late April, but the Republican leadership says it hopes to wrap up the session early to allow members more time to campaign for the primary election June 3. Photo: Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley talks with reporters about his plan to propose a cost-of-living raise for school employees, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Montgomery, Ala. The Alabama Legislature kicks off an election-year session Tuesday that will feature debate over Medicaid, possible salary increases for teachers, and efforts to simplify state taxes. The Legislature can meet until late April, but the Republican leadership says it hopes to wrap up the session early to allow members more time to campaign for the primary election June 3. Photo: Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
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“Be vewy vewy quiet, we’re passin’ laws,” say Alabama’s Elmer Fudds gathering this week for the start of the 2014 session of the state Legislature.

As The Star’s Tim Lockette reported last Sunday, this year’s session of the Legislature will likely be fast and anything but furious. State Republican leadership in Montgomery wants to meet, pass as much of its agenda as possible and get on the campaign trail. The General Election is Nov. 4, and there’s some hand-shaking, stump-speaking, baby-kissing and all-around politicking to do.

Our lawmakers don’t wish to bog down in any messy tangles that might impede their pursuit of four more years in power.

We can look at this a couple of ways.

The positive: Efficiency and take-it-easy legislating could avoid disastrous scenarios that we’ve seen over the past three years.

We’re thinking of a poorly designed 2011 immigration law that’s been de-fanged by the federal courts. Just think of the time, trouble, money and embarrassment the state could have avoided by a few more hearings and little more chin-stroking contemplation. Instead, Montgomery Republicans rushed through a cut-and-paste bill lifted from out-of-state politician. The state has suffered because of it.

Or, we might be thinking of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013. This abracadabra law was once a bill to free public schools from unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles. It came out of a series of closed-door meetings as a school-voucher bill. No public hearings. No expert witnesses. No testimony from various stakeholders. Just here’s the bill, lawmakers, pass it.

It was passed and signed by the governor in March. Then as its flaws appeared Gov. Robert Bentley and Republicans leadership in the House and Senate argued over making corrections before the end of the 2013 session. The governor eventually lost the battle to make revisions, and the original version of the Accountability Act stands. To date, the policy has affected less than 800 students.

So, there’s an argument for slow and steady. Yet, there’s another side to this.

The Legislature only has 30 days each year to do the business of the state, and, let’s be honest, this state has a lot of business that needs attention.

Consider the state’s public-safety apparatus. Most obvious are Alabama’s prisons, which are at nearly double capacity and in danger of a federal takeover. Then there are scaled back hours at courthouses and a reduced workforce, bogging down swift and speedy trials. A reduced number of crime labs results in a backlog, slowing the wheels of justice even more.

Who wants to settle for a bargain when it comes to keeping keep you and your family safe from criminals? Nobody, well apparently nobody except lawmakers overseeing this disaster in the making.

Take one year out of a four-term to run on autopilot? Alabama can’t afford it.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com. Twitter: EditorBobDavis.
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