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4/2/2007 - April 2007 Educational Update - A New Quadrennium in the Alabama Legislature - 2007

AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM

THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTETM, INC.

 

To:                  SLI Supporters                                 

 

Date:               April 2007

 

From:              A. Eric Johnston

 

Re:                  A New Quadrennium in the Alabama Legislature - 2007

 

 

            The first of the next four years of the legislative process of the recently elected legislature has begun.    As a brief primer, Senators and Representatives are elected to four-year terms.  With the reelection of some incumbents and election of new members, there is always a determination of who will lead each body and by what rules they operate.  Those in each house who hold the majority vote will control the process.  For the past four years, the process has been extremely difficult for Republicans, conservative Democrats, and those who support issues identified with those groups.  This quadrennium, the four year legislative period, will be worse.

 

            In the last quadrennium, the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, who is the presiding officer of the Senate, were significantly curtailed.  Authority was given to the President Pro Tempore, Senator Lowell Barron.  This time, Senator Barron has stepped back and Senator Hinton Mitchem will serve as President Pro Tempore, but with even more draconian rules for the Senate.  The House remains under the same leadership and significant change is not expected in the way it operates.  However, in both chambers, controlling members are given committee chairmanship and committee membership is stacked to give them the votes they need to pass or defeat bills assigned to them.

 

            When a member wishes to introduce legislation, it is "dropped in" and assigned to a committee.  The Senate has the more troublesome procedure.  The Lieutenant Governor may make the assignment with the agreement of the President Pro Tempore.  If there is disagreement, the majority leader, Senator Zeb Little, makes the assignment.  Therefore, significant power is concentrated in the hands of few and the rules drafted by the new leadership are written to limit debate and filibuster.  The ability of the minority has been effectively diminished.

 

            So, why are we concerned about this?  The reality is that the ability to pass legislation that protects the family, moral values, and individual liberties will be more limited than in the past.  Two prime examples are abortion and gambling.  Because this is the first year of the four year term, the danger of objectionable legislation passing into law is more likely than later in the term due to members' concern for the voters back home. 

 

            Concerning abortion legislation, Senator Rodger Smitherman is again chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  For years, Senator Smitherman has almost totally blocked any abortion regulatory legislation from even coming up for a vote in his committee.  The pro-life community had high hopes of being able to pass significant legislation this year, including an Alabama human life amendment which would amend the Alabama Constitution to recognize life beginning at conception, or at least, significant regulatory legislation which would protect the lives of the unborn and improve women's healthcare.  It is not likely any of this legislation will pass.

 

            Gambling is a significant issue in Alabama.  The Alabama Supreme Court continues to properly enforce Alabama gambling laws to find variations of gambling unlawful.  Through the years, gambling interests have attempted to legalize through legislation various forms of gambling and have been successful to a small extent.  However, the possibility of passing legislation to "legally" establish new types of gambling increases  significantly with the new legislature.  Done properly, such laws could avoid being found unlawful by the Alabama Supreme Court.  Already, a bill has been filed to protect the monopoly and basically unregulated bingo gambling in Macon County.

 

            We expect to see a number of threatening bills introduced in the opening days of the session.  More so than ever, pro-family groups will find themselves in a defensive posture.  In conclusion, you will hear a great deal of rhetoric about the goodness, unity and evenhandedness of this new legislature.  More often than not, when it comes to dealing with certain issues, these words do not exist.  Our hope is that Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates and conservatives, will work together to promote proper values for Alabama.  SLI will always be available to members for help on any of these issues by drafting, reviewing and testifying. 

 

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