No, this isn’t the start of a joke. We mean the question seriously: What do state legislators do?
The junior high civics class answer is easy enough. They write laws. They vote on laws. They represent their constituents back home.
In Alabama, our lawmakers have done a remarkable job of outsourcing two of these tasks. Recent articles in The Star serve as excellent examples.
State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, is sponsor of the Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act, a measure Alabama Republicans put on their 2014 priority list.
If passed, the bill would allow health-care workers to opt out of performing some reproductive procedures on religious or moral grounds.
So, has Nordgren burned the midnight oil to craft this legislation? Hardly, as The Star’s Dec. 11 article explained, her bill is “nearly a word-for-word copy of a model bill proposed by Americans United for Life.”
Nordgren isn’t the only state lawmaker to outsource the writing of legislation.
Alabama’s law tightening requirements for voter ID at the polls was based on a template authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
And then there’s Alabama’s infamous immigration bill from 2011. It was written by the secretary of state … of Kansas.
In an article in Sunday’s Star, reporter Tim Lockette explained how Alabama legislators can be miles away (and in some cases several states away) from the Statehouse and still cast a vote.
It’s done in a slipshod proxy-vote system that allows an absent lawmaker to designate a colleague to cast proxy votes on his or her electronic voting machine. While the practice usually goes off without a hitch, there are times when this vote-by-proxy system is messy and confusing. On occasion, proxy votes are miscast, some lawmakers said.
We suspect most Alabamians would be surprised this system even exists. They imagine their representatives cast all of their own votes.
“You can only cast votes during the 30 days the Legislature is in session, and yet you can’t do that by yourself,” we’d suggest a few might say.