When the Alabama Legislature returns from its spring break next week, there will be just seven legislative days remaining in the 2022 Regular Session.
In the final days, there is likely to be a flurry of activity. The largest budgets, and largest expansion of government, are yet to be finalized. Lottery and/or gaming bills may be debated. Some legislators will push for their local legislation to be considered.
While numerous bills will pass in the coming days, some good legislation, bills that could have improved the lives of all Alabamians, will be left to die.
The fate of school choice remains uncertain, but it is unlikely that transformative legislation will be passed this session. It appears that Alabama will remain one of three states that fully tax the sale of groceries, even though eliminating the tax would save Alabama families over half a billion dollars each year. Wide-ranging tax relief also appears to be doomed.
Some lawmakers will simply say there isn’t time to deal with these issues, but that excuse falls flat when you look at some of the bills the legislature has found time to debate. Bills that at best seem frivolous or at worst could limit your individual rights and freedoms.
Consider some of the things that lawmakers have spent time debating.
There have been 846 bills introduced so far this session. Of those, 112 have been purely local in nature. More than half of those local bills have at least made it to the committee hearing stage.
Local bills are important to the communities and citizens that they impact, but why is the legislature spending time on them? In Alabama most local jurisdictions do not have what is referred to as “home rule”, meaning that the legislature must approve changes to local law. Not only does this practice limit the autonomy of local governments and the citizens that live in those locations, but it also takes session time away from issues that impact the entire state.
Allowing local governments more decision-making power would provide more representative government to Alabamians and allow the legislature to remain focused on issues of broader importance to the state.
In other cases, lawmakers are trying to take local issues and set blanket rules for the entire state. One example is Senate Bill 281 which would regulate wakeboarding and wake surfing on all of the state’s public waterways. While the intention of the bill is to improve public safety, why make a law that impacts all public waterways? Local officials will primarily be responsible for enforcing the law, and they are better equipped to determine when and where wakeboarding and surfing is or is not safe.
Local bills in general and Senate Bill 281 specifically are examples of state government overreach into local issues.
Beyond government overreach though, lawmakers are debating bills that could limit your freedom. One example is House Bill 17, which currently awaits Governor Ivey’s signature. The bill would allow state-level wiretapping of individuals suspected to be involved in felony drug trafficking offenses.
Supporters of the bill may have good intentions, but what about the broader impacts of giving law enforcement the ability to wiretap citizens? People who are not involved in drug trafficking may have their rights violated. It also opens the door for the state to invade the privacy of citizens suspected of lesser crimes in the future.
House Bill 70 is another bill that could erode individual freedom. It will allow police officers to have a person committed to a state mental health facility if they believe the individual is a threat to themselves or others.
While this may seem better than the alternative of jail, a hospital, or worse, should even a specially trained police officer have the power to have someone committed? It also opens the possibility that a family member, friend, or estranged ex-partner could claim someone is a threat to themselves, leading to involuntary commitment.
On a less serious note, the legislature has also spent time debating bills that require condo associations to allow residents to fly the Alabama state flag, prohibit state agencies from flying flags that aren’t made in America, and a bill that regulates the playing of the national anthem at sporting events and during school hours.
With important issues like the grocery tax, broad tax relief for citizens, and transformational school choice legislation seemingly going nowhere, are the bills being debated really priorities for the people of Alabama?