By Caleb Crosby and Phil Williams, Alabama Policy Institute
We recall Civics 101. It was a course that outlined the function and form of governance. The roles and responsibilities of state governments versus the federal government being one of the chief considerations. Within that construct was the notable breakdown of the tripartite roles of the three co-equal branches of government: the executive, the judicial, and the legislative.
This same branching of government roles is carried through into the realm of state governance in Alabama.
But of those three no one has seen much of our legislature in many difficult months.
As we sit here today in what are hopefully the late-innings of a declared pandemic, with epic government action impacting the daily lives of citizens and businesses, the representative body of government – the same people we elect to be our voice in Montgomery – is nowhere to be found.
To be fair, a little-known fact is that the part-time bodies of the State House and Senate cannot simply convene when they feel like it. Aside from the annual Regular Session and the quadrennial Organizational Session, the Legislature can only convene in Special Session when called upon by the Governor. And right now she ain’t callin’.
Then again, I don’t hear them askin’.
The Alabama Legislature was one of the earliest in the nation to adjourn its Regular Session this year, and they did so sooner than planned. As I write this, 27 states stayed in session longer to tend to their people’s business and 18 states have already reconvened in special sessions to address coronavirus-related relief or issues.
But in Alabama, one branch of government is running everything.
So when the Executive Branch ordered a shutdown of businesses…crickets from our representatives. When the unelected State Health Officer issued orders that put our society in stasis…no headlines from state senators. When the ABC Board decided to act on their own to shut down alcohol sales at licensed venues at the arbitrary time of 11 p.m….nobody said a word. Many of our state’s children are being told to log in to distance learning…but where is the fight for more broadband access to do so? Businesses question whether an epic storm of coronavirus-related lawsuits could be on the horizon…but the House adjourned without taking up that key bill. At a time of great civil unrest, no one was there to speak calm and assurance into the situation. There is a dearth of the public voice in the public arena because our chief vocalists are not present.
I’ve heard just two grounds for not having a special session thus far. 1) That it’s too risky for legislators to gather in the State House, and; 2) that we have enough money. I’m calling bunk.
First off, if the legislature is concerned about having to gather en masse in the confines of the people’s house then they should exercise their statutory right to convene offsite. Section 29-1-3 of the Code of Alabama specifically authorizes that if convening in the Statehouse is determined to be “impossible or dangerous” then they should meet elsewhere if “necessity may require”. So set up tables in a gym or hotel ballroom if being close to each other is considered risky. Meanwhile, how many of our legislators continue to patronize restaurants, run their own businesses, or shop at their local grocery store? Many school teachers are in their classrooms, police are on patrol, construction crews are building houses. Life goes on. If the legislature has the will to meet, a way to do so will be available.
Next, the idea that all we need is an examination of the budgets to determine that no legislative action is necessary creates the illusion that the budgets are all that they can act upon. The Alabama Policy Institute has been on the record for months calling for at least six matters to be taken up immediately in a special session. The RESTORE Alabama Plan calls for simple but pressing matters that don’t need to wait for the bustle and mayhem of a Regular Session that is still six months away.
1 – The citizens of this state deserve to know now that the State of Alabama will not attempt to tax the funds that they received via federal coronavirus relief.
2 – Our schools, our courts, and our people deserve the full engagement of their Senators and Representatives on the expansion of 21st century broadband internet in every community.
3 – Businesses need the assurance that someone is looking out for them and that frivolous lawsuits on sketchy coronavirus claims will not ravage an economy that is still reawakening.
4 – When and if the next pandemic hits, shouldn’t the legislature be required to be a part of the deliberations on when, if, and for how-long a quarantine is enacted? We’re not always going to have Governor Ivey. What if we have someone far more restrictive and authoritarian in that seat during a future emergency?
5 – Alabama parents, guardians, and students deserve the respect of being able to choose with more definitiveness which school is best for them. Zip codes don’t cut it as a determining factor. And if a school was failing a child before the pandemic, you can bet the pandemic has made it worse. Only the legislature can truly solve that problem.
6 – Let’s reduce the overly burdensome regulatory environment that Alabama has in the form of occupational licensure by extending Governor Ivey’s suspension of licensing requirements for out-of-state medical providers to come to our people’s aid.
There is another good reason to call for legislative action: leadership. In a time of crisis, the people of this state need to see steady hands at the wheel–calm voices in the face of opposition. Resolve in the wake of disaster. Alabama Representatives and State Senators were not elected just to pass budgets. They are there to be the voice of their respective districts in Montgomery.
We need their voice for such a time as this.
Governor Ivey, make that call and bring the Alabama Legislature in to do its work for the people of this State. We need them.