Inside the Statehouse

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State capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, at night

By Steve Flowers

A good many people wonder why simple, straightforward, no nonsense, good-government legislation fails to pass even though it appears to have universal and overwhelming support and appeal for many voters and legislators.
You will recall old sayings that you heard from your elders when you were young. Old bits of wisdom spouted from the lips of your grandparents and older folks, which went in one ear and out the other. Sayings like, “If you’ve got your health you’ve got everything” and “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”; and, if you are a golfer there is no truer euphuism than, “You drive for show and putt for dough,” and “it ain’t how you drive its how you arrive.” The older you get, it occurs to you how wise these old adages are in actual life. They are golden facts.
One of the sage morsels pertains to getting something accomplished. You say, “It takes an act of Congress to get that done.” In politics, there is no clearer truism. It is really hard to pass a piece of legislation through Congress and it is just as equally difficult to channel a bill through the labyrinth of legislative approval in Alabama.
Ask any successful lobbyist or legislator which side they would rather be on in legislative wars.
They much prefer to be against something than trying to pass a bill. It is probably 100 times harder to steer a bill through legislative approval than it is to kill a bill. The Alabama Senate Rules or such that if a handful of the 35 Senators are adamantly opposed to something then they can kill the bill. If the right Senator is against it, if for example he is Chairman of the Rules Committee and he wants it killed, it is dead.
It does not matter if the proposed legislation is as all American as a proposal or legislation saying the legislature is in favor of apple pie and motherhood. The bill has to go before both House and Senate committees, win approval, and not get an amendment put on it. If an amendment on is added, the bill basically has to start all over again. Then it has to get placed on the special order calendar set by the Rules Committee. There are hundreds of bills waiting to get on this calendar
but only a few bills make it on the calendar each day. There are only 30 legislative days in the session. If a bill gets on the calendar, it then has to pass both houses. Then, hopefully, the governor is also for apple pie and motherhood, because if she vetoes the bill, it has to start all over again.
Let me give you an example of a piece of apple pie and motherhood legislation I was asked to sponsor when I was a freshman legislator. There was a quirk in Alabama Criminal Law that allowed the family of a criminal defendant to be in the court room in a criminal trial and sit behind the criminal and observe and cry on behalf of their relative. However, unbelievably the family of the crime victim could not be in the court room. The Victims of Crime Leniency (VOCAL) sought to correct this injustice. VOCAL asked me to sponsor its bill and work for its passage. I worked diligently on the bill. The press gave me and the bill glowing editorials for its fairness. We got the bill out of the House. It passed overwhelmingly. However, when it got to the Senate it was assigned, rightfully so, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Earl Hilliard from Jefferson County. He was opposed to the bill and as Chairman of the Committee, he deep sixed it and would not let it out. No amount of haranguing from the VOCAL people or bad press would budge Earl. However, one day I was on the floor of the House and the VOCAL leader, Miriam Shehane, called me out to the lobby. She said Earl was sick and would not be in Montgomery today and the Senate Judiciary Committee was meeting and the vice chairman will bring our bill up out of order. We quickly went to the 6th floor and whisked our bill out of order of the Judiciary Committee and it won final approval in the Senate a few weeks later and it became law.
Remember old truisms like, “It will take an act of Congress to get something done,” is very accurate, especially in politics.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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