Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Doesn’t Shelby County have actual problems to address?

  If someone handed you sheets of Census data on Shelby County, it wouldn’t take long to see how fast it’s growing.

  The population jumped 14% between 2010 and 2020. That’s a number most governments would throw an Animal House-type celebration over. But in Shelby, it represented a fall from the 36% growth of the decade before.

  I doubt anyone in Columbiana will complain, though. Growth means a healthy economy; a health economy means an expanding tax base. The median household income in Shelby is $98,000 a year, way higher than the state level of $60,000. Educational attainment is more than double Alabama’s overall rate. Unemployment and poverty are both low.

  There are challenges, of course. Median home prices shot up from $272,000 at the start of 2017 to almost $400,000 in February (though that’s a drop from two years ago). Median rent in 2022 was also much higher than in Alabama. It’s $1,337 a month in Shelby versus $913 for the state.

  Affordable housing is a perfect issue for state legislators. They’re close to local governments dealing with the problem and in a place to make laws to address it. They can also help manage growth by securing money for roads, sewers and broadband to manage that growth.

  But many members of Shelby County’s legislative delegation seem to have their attention elsewhere.

  Rep. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover) seems determined to drive transgender youth out of public spaces. She’s sponsored bills to ban them from playing sports. (There were no records of transgender athletes playing in Alabama before the ban.) Alongside Sen. April Weaver (R-Alabaster) she sponsored bills putting definitions of sex in state law.

  This panic ties directly to what the delegation has planned for public libraries, inside and outside the county.

  Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) is sponsoring a bill that would allow the arrest of librarians if they’re slow to respond to someone’s complaint about obscenity at the library, including “sexual conduct.”

  Maybe Shelby County libraries are wilder than most. But go a bit deeper into the bill and you’ll see that the definition of “sexual conduct” includes “sexually revealing, exaggerated, or provocative clothing or costumes.”

  The obvious targets here are drag queens holding readings in libraries. Mooney tried to ban those last year. But does the bill define what “revealing” or “provocative” clothing entails?


  Libraries have seven days to respond to “valid” complaints or face arrest. Does the bill define what a “valid” complaint is? Or provide a process for separating good faith complaints from rants by sheltered weirdos?



The vagueness is the point

  As first filed, librarians could have faced felony charges under this bill. House Republicans reduced the offense to a misdemeanor.

  But as Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) noted, that makes it easier to arrest a librarian. Law enforcement has to investigate felony complaints. A misdemeanor charge only needs the approval of a warrant clerk. If the Anthony Comstock Memorial Association thinks wearing shorts at a library is “sexually revealing, exaggerated or provocative,” there’s no way to laugh them out of the room. Not without risking jail time.

  As with the “divisive concepts” bill, the vagueness is key. The Republican-controlled legislature government is happy to let right-wingers swing law enforcement and the court system at anything that doesn’t fit a Ken doll mold. It encourages silence and subjection to extremist prudes.

  And Shelby County’s prudes must feel encouraged by another bill that their delegation passed this session.

  Shelby County may be unusual in having an elected library board. It’s been in place since 1988. In other counties, the local commission appoints the board.

  That’s about to end.

  HB 89, which Mooney and DuBose both sponsored, gives Shelby County lawmakers the power to appoint board members, and the power to fire them.

  DuBose last year criticized a Shelby County library that displayed children’s books with LGBTQ+ themes. Didn’t matter that only 1% of visitors to the library complained about the display. Community standards are too important to be trusted with the local community.

  This phantasmagoria passes for public policy. It’s in line with what these lawmakers have done before. Mooney two years ago filed a bill to create a system to nullify federal laws. Gotta put Andrew Jackson in his place.

  I’m not expecting Shelby County, where 69% of voters supported Donald Trump in 2020, to become Massachusetts. But you would expect the representatives of a county to touch grass and work for the people who live there.

  Building a road doesn’t get you a flattering headline on a conservative news site. It’s just a basic service critical to a growing area like Shelby County.

  But maybe the way to manage growth isn’t funding roads and bridges. Or getting broadband or water pipes installed.

  Maybe it’s turning Shelby County into an area run by obsessive Puritans ready to terrorize librarians at the drop of a hat.

  I can’t think of a better way to discourage people from living there.

  About the author: Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006 and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register, and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.

  This article was published by Alabama Reflector. 

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