Winners and Losers of the 2021 session

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Alabama Statehouse

Every session wraps up with winners and losers. This year, there’s no doubt that the people of Alabama were the biggest loser, but there were some stand-out wins and losses too. 

Overall I was incredibly disappointed in this legislative session, mainly for the opportunities lost. On the other hand, there were some notable successes that need to be acknowledged.

Winners #1: Senator Tim Melson & Representative Mike Ball

“Pleasantly surprised!” There’s no other way to describe the feeling when the bill sponsors of the medical marijuana bill got it passed and signed by Governor Kay Ivey.  After all the hours of irrational ranting and raving and mindless huffing and puffing (no pun intended) by those acting like allowing a small number of patients to have access to a limited amount of medicinal marijuana was going to lead to the fall of civilization, I was worried. The good guys won out, though. The very real, heartwarming stories of those who would benefit overcame the idea that the Pot Man has been sitting at home longingly considering getting high but just waiting for it to be available in a non-smokable, non-vape, non-flavored medicinal way. 

Winner #2: The anti-gaming coalition

I debated putting the Porch Creek Indians on the losing list, but truly I think the bigger point is that this was a big win against big spending and a bad bill. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly who stopped the gaming bill. It was quite a group effort. If a finger has to be pointed, I’d join Senator Del Marsh in his assessment to say Speaker Mac McCutcheon can take credit for killing the bill with a shout-out to Rules Chairman Mike Jones for the assist. Of course, the Donald Trump Jr. tweet didn’t hurt either; kudos to whoever got that done. 

House leadership was certainly as responsible as all the other gaming interests in the state, the religious/moral opponents (API, Eagle Forum & others), and the democrats all combined in killing the bill. While the democrats thought they’d negotiate their way into a jackpot of their own with a wishlist a mile long to come on board in the end, it was the fact the speaker left the bill off the agenda so long that ended up being the favor to those who wanted to see the current proposal dead. His actual reasons and efforts (or lack of efforts) are still a mystery, with hemming and hawing about not having the votes but not bringing anything to the floor and not taking it up while a day was wasted on vaccine passports is curious. 

Winner #3: Wes Allen

Wes Allen has always been a strong and influential member. Using his time as a probate court judge to help his perspective as a house member has served him well, but with his ban on curbside voting passing just after he announced he was running for Secretary of State, he’s looking like he’s going to be the man to beat for that open seat. 

Beyond the election bill Allen also passed HB 460 the Farm and Forest Products Tag Bill. AFLA describes that bill as a legislative victory. They summarized it saying, “The bill would lift limits on the purchase of F4 farm tags for larger trucks. It also would allow log trucks to purchase L tags and be exempt from the International Registration Plan. Currently, forest product haulers over 42,000 pounds must carry a commercial license plate. Existing rules put Alabama farmers and loggers at a competitive disadvantage with their counterparts in neighboring states.”

Allen covering his basics with a lot of his priorities over the year showing his conservative and business friendly bona fides. 

Winner #4: Female athletes 

In what should be considered a win for common sense, feminists, and girls/women everywhere, the legislature secured in statute the current guidelines being used by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (Bylaws: Section 6, Page 48). 

The irony of this is media outlet after media out, and activists decried the protection as unnecessary because it would affect very few people while in the same breath saying that a ban on puberty blockers and hormone treatments (aimed to protect those this would potentially impact) would affect hundreds if not a thousand school-age kids. Which is it? 

This bill isn’t about hate or bigotry; it’s about fairness. Here’s a column I wrote explaining my perspective when Representative Chris Pringle first introduced the bill. 

Winner #5: Teachers & Students
 
During the legislative session this year, teachers were a big winner, with multiple bills adding to their salaries, enhancing their retirement, and supporting schools in a post-pandemic world. Among the non-traditional incentives are efforts to expand broadband services. 
 
Students were also winners when Ivey vetoed SB 94, the shameful efforts to delay the literacy promotion requirement. The so-called conservatives who voted for this bill need to be asked tough questions about their vote when reelection comes up. 
 
Winner # 6: Wine and spirit drinkers
 
Two bills passed this year that gets the government out of the way of legislating morality or even convenience for wine and alcohol drinkers.
 
The first bill allows Alabama residents to receive wine shipments from Wine Producers. The second allows delivery services such as Shipt to deliver alcohol
 
Losers #1: Jokes on us, the voters; we are the biggest losers. Legislators failed us in too many ways to list and count. 
 
Look, don’t get me wrong, my feeling is if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all. So I’d rather have no gaming/lottery bill than a bad one, but the negotiating was done without a healthy public debate on the nuances of a significant bill and hardly a public peep into what the Democrat’s last minute pot sweeteners were.
 
There has never been a year so ripe for discussion about school choice, which is why over two dozen states sought to expand their school choice opportunities this year. Imagine my surprise that Alabama didn’t even try. Could you not believe me on the support? A March 2021 poll from Real Clear Opinion Research polling found:
 
Major findings:

– 71% of voters back school choice. This is the highest level of support ever recorded from major AFC national polling with a sample size above 800 voters.

– 65% support parents having access to a portion of per-pupil funding to use for home, virtual, or private education if public schools don’t reopen full-time for in-person classes.

Yet, one of the “most conservative” states didn’t take up the issue. Killing me.

We also failed to address our wholly inadequate public records laws again. It’s like the conservative members of the legislature run on platforms that include small government, open records, and transparency, but then when the time comes to vote for those things, they’re like, “Meh!”

Let’s wait and watch when election time comes around again and see where they all fall with their promises. 

Loser #2: Teens and their parents/loved ones for the failing of the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act
 
The Left has won the disinformation and messaging war with talking points not based in reality, science, or common sense. Speaker Mac McCutcheon failed the state when he allowed the conservatives who would have voted against this bill to hide behind the calendar by not bringing it up and letting us know who prevented the bill from passing. 
 
For anyone who wants to know the truth about this straightforward and serious issue, I suggest reading about the issue and getting past the antidotal and unsupported idea that these youth would be more prone to suicide or other mental illness were they treated in a specific way. 
 
I recommend reading Abigail Shrier’s book “Irreversible Damage” on what’s happening within this movement that will make your heartbreak and your skin crawl. If you don’t have time to read the book, here’s a video of her discussing the issue in depth. 
 
Alabama lawmakers failed these kids and our state by killing this bill. 
 
Loser #3: Taxpayers on corrections contract not being challenged by legislature and lawsuit being thrown out
 
Not one person outside Governor Kay Ivey’s office and the administration think this is a good idea or deal. Not one single person thinks it’s the way to go. Lawmakers have all hemmed and hawed or outright expressed concern, but no one took a stand strong enough to push the idea. It took State Auditor Jim Zeigler to bring a lawsuit and highlight every failing part of this bill for us to come to discuss its failing points. 
 
Ivey’s prison deal may die or may skate by, but the silence of those with bully pulpits to stand on who did nothing sent a clear and convincing message that staying in the good graces of those in power is more important than standing up against a big government, big spending boondoggle. 
 
Loser #4: Senator Tom Whatley for ill-conceived power grab but mainly for his temper tantrum
 
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes in and celebrates checks and balances on power more than I do. Trust me, watching those with executive powers in other states abuse the power and authority entrusted to them by voters during the COVID-19 pandemic has been painful. Some of the overreach was a cringe-worthy and painful exercise in telling voters, “You get what you vote for.”
 
No, I didn’t agree with every step of Ivey’s decision-making, and Lord knows I’m critical of her at least 70% more often than I agree with her in general (see prisons issue above). Still, the bill to require a special session in the midst of an emergency is unnecessary. We need to trust that our governor and the voters who put him/her there. 
 
I’d be open to another type of check/balance but calling in the entire legislature is a terrible idea. Worse than the efforts themselves was Senator Whatley’s reaction when the bill died in the house. For a split second, it looked like he was going to rush to sine die over it. Come on now. That’s just silly.