In a committee room filled to the brim with law enforcement officers from across the state, the Senate Judiciary Committee met today to take up a controversial bill from Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), which would allow Alabamians to carry a firearm in their vehicle without a concealed carry permit.
Before taking up Allen’s bill, the committee renewed discussion on SB67, which would set an interest rate cap of 10 percent on lawsuit lending. The vast majority of opposition centered around Democrats’ insistence that the bill should also address payday lending, which has wreaked havoc on low-income Alabamians. Despite that, the bill garnered a favorable report by a 7 to 4 margin.
The next bill up for debate was SB108, which would increase the age of youthful offenders to 23 or 25, depending on the situation, and allow judges the discretion to expunge youthful offender records.
The only opposition to the bill came from Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Franklin), who saw no need to increase the age threshold for youthful offenders.
“A regular criminal conviction is a lifetime sentence,” said Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) in opposition to Stutts’ statements. “It follows you in getting work, it follows you in voting, it’s a lifetime conviction.”
The bill gained a favorable report, as did SB69, which provides standing committees with the right to subpoena documents from state agencies and their contractors.
A brief public hearing was held for SB114, a bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) to regulate “fantasy contests” and provide regulations therein and give oversight of the contests to the Attorney General’s Consumer Affairs Division.
Joe Godfrey, Executive Director of the Alabama Citizen’s Action Program (ALCAP), and Eric Johnston, an anti-gaming lawyer in the state, both spoke in opposition to the allowance of such games in Alabama.
“The argument is that this is not gambling, this is just a game of skill,” Godfrey said. “This is gambling and we need to not legalize this type of gambling in Alabama.”
Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Democrat) seemed to chastise the duo for their opposition to the games, even asking Godfrey if he was opposed to church bingo.
“The thing about this is that people can already play this in Alabama but Alabama is not getting any money from it,” Figures said. “To me, this bill is about putting it in place so we can reap some of the benefits. God gave all of us free will, so it’s up to us individually to choose.”
The bill received a favorable report by a 10 to 2 margin.
Next on the agenda was the main event in the eyes of those in attendance, the public hearing for Allen’s guns bill.
“If you are for this bill, then you support the Second Amendment,” Allen said before turning discussion over to the public. “If you are not for this bill, then you support gun control.”
At that, the over-sized crowd launched into boos and moans.
“I sure do support gun control,” Figures shouted out over the hiss of the crowd.
Bobby Timmons of the Alabama Sheriffs Association and Barry Cleveland of the Alabama Gun Rights Network both rose to oppose the measure, as well as Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones and Demopolis Police Chief Tommy Reese.
“The only thing we’re saying is every time we turn around an officer is being killed just because he’s wearing a badge,” Timmons said. “What is a life worth?”
Cleveland opposed the bill on the grounds that it allowed citizens to carry “long guns,” such as an AR15, in vehicles. He noted that if the legislation only allowed for pistols he would be in support of it.
Both officers noted the precarious situation law enforcement would be in if every car stopped might be carrying a weapon, with Reese even recounting a time he was fired at by a fleeing offender.
“Stand with all of the officers around this state,” Reese said. “Please stand with us, don’t take this from the sheriffs.”
Two proponents also spoke up – Eddie Fulmer, president of the gun rights group Bama Carry, and Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA).
“The right we want instated is the one taken away from us by your predecessors,” Fulmer said to the committee. “I’m asking you to do what we elected you for and stand with the people.”
Once the public hearing was over, Figures called out Fulmer for what she said were “threatening” statements. In response, the crowd offered up a cry of support. Figures continued saying “bring it on,” which brought all of the officers to their feet to give her a standing ovation.
“We don’t pay you what you deserve,” Figures said, thanking the officers in attendance.
The committee did not move for a vote on the bill and will likely take it up again next week.