Granted, there is much to take care of in this state. Budgets are always a serious concern; this year will be no different, with tremors already running through most parts of state government due to warnings of possible cuts. Education is next. Republican leadership plans to shake up Alabama public schools with new programs and new ideas.
Wise Alabamians will expect this session to be as advertised — a session in which the Republican majority leads discussions in its attempt to move Alabama forward into Gov. Robert Bentley’s second year in office.
Our expectations: Alabama needs strong leadership that’s open to conservative and progressive ideas. Whether that happens in this Goat Hill session remains to be seen.
With that, here are The Star’s do’s and don’ts for the 2012 session of the Alabama Legislature:
Do remove the ugly stain of the state’s infamous anti-illegal immigrant law, HB56, by repealing it in the first week of the 2012 session. In its place, pass a resolution demanding Washington to get to work on a comprehensive national reform of U.S. immigration laws.
Don’t neglect to inform the nation and the world, particularly those looking to do business in Alabama, that the misguided bigotry of HB56 is officially off the books. A public relations campaign can and should repair the harm of six months of this anti-immigration law if it’s repealed quickly.
Do ban smoking in public spaces statewide. Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, intends to offer a constitutional amendment, which would put the matter before Alabama voters.
Don’t just depend on the strength of the idea of protecting the public health by banning smoking in public space. In too many sessions, Figures has introduced a bill only to see it die a lonely death. This year, the senator and likeminded Alabamians must build a coalition to see this measure become law.
Don’t proceed with writing of the 2013 budgets without any new sources of revenue. Alabama is looking at a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the state has never been confused with a utopia of government free-spending.
Do make the case that our state’s system for collecting revenue to run the state’s official functions is upside-downside. It is both inadequate and unfair, meaning it disproportionably harms the poor and doesn’t raise enough to pay for the essentials.
Don’t forget what these under-funded essentials are -- educating children, guarding our streets, transportation, bringing bad guys to justice, locking up prisoners, protecting our air and water and smartly growing our economy. Alabamians are depending on the state government to look after these concerns. Using the excuse that it is out of money won’t work for Montgomery this time.
Do make sure Alabama’s electronic campaign finance records are more democracy-friendly. The public is better served when these records can be easily seen, shared and when the dots between contributions and candidates are more easily connected.
Don’t mess up charter schools. These public school alternatives come in different forms. Many states adopting charter schools have harmed more than they have helped. Lawmakers and the governor can learn from those mistakes to write a smart charter school law for Alabama.
Do consider passing a proper medical marijuana bill. This isn’t a veiled call for discussing legalizing marijuana for general use. Other states that have proper oversight and regulations are good examples to follow. Alabamians with cancer and chronic, painful ailments should be allowed to legally seek this treatment.
Don’t slash funding for these critical programs: the state’s education initiatives in match, science and reading; the First Class pre-K program; AllKids health insurance; and child-care subsidy program. Advocates of those programs are urging lawmakers to sustain the current funding. We say take it a step further: Can’t we do better than status quo?
Do the state a favor by installing official oversight of the animal shelters in Alabama. Recent developments in Calhoun County show the need for Montgomery to assume command and put strict guidelines in place. It’s the humane thing to do.
Don’t ignore advocates’ calls to lower the mandatory beginning school age to 6 from 7. VOICES for Alabama’s Children is right to champion this cause. Children who get early, quality education are better equipped for the classroom. It’s time Alabama makes this change.