Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Legacy of the new Republican majority

  The prodigious 2011 Regular Legislative Session not only saw sweeping conservative fiscal changes to state government, the new Republican led legislative bodies also set out on an unmistakably conservative social mission.

  This legislature approved an illegal immigration law that mirrors the Arizona measure. In addition, this very conservative pro-life legislature enacted a new strict anti abortion bill. The new law is patterned after a law Nebraska enacted in 2010. In fact, legislatures in more than 30 states are passing or moving forward with bills to restrict abortion rights that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue.

  It has been 38 years since the high court has considered the abortion issue. The landmark 1974 Roe v. Wade ruling makes abortion legal up to a certain point in the life of the fetus. The logic or linchpin was based on the viability of an unborn child. In other words, at what point could the unborn live if birthed. However, over the past four decades medical science has progressed significantly reducing the time of viability by 8 to 10 weeks. It is now 20 weeks. Alabama’s law would ban elective abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy. This issue will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  Two other major social issues were addressed by the legislature. These two measures are coming in the form of constitutional amendments and must be approved by you, the Alabama voter, on next year’s ballot. First, the legislature wants you to vote to opt out of Obama Care. If you approve the proposed measure, the law could be used as a vehicle to challenge in federal court the health care overhaul law passed by Congress last year. The federal law, if it stands, eventually will require most Americans to have health care coverage or face federal penalties. Alabama’s legislation would write into the state constitution that “a law or rule shall not compel directly or indirectly any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system.” Many states have passed similar legislation and some federal judges have already ruled in their favor.

  Another provision that you will see on the 2012 ballot would rewrite the constitution to say that workers would be guaranteed secret ballots when voting whether to unionize a workplace. This constitutional amendment would ensure that Alabama remains a right-to-work state.

  On another constitutional front the Republican legislature attempted to work on our constitution. For decades there has been a call to completely scrap and rewrite our 1901 Constitution. Indeed it is antiquated and cumbersome. It was written in 1901 and is the longest and most amended in the nation. It clearly is also a racist document because of the time in our state’s history in which it was initially drafted. The purpose of the 1901 Constitution was to write into our state’s basic governing document the disenfranchising of black Alabamians.

  There has been a debate over the years as to the best way to revamp the flawed document. Some say it should be tweaked article by article. More fervent progressives prefer calling for a constitutional convention and rewriting an entirely new document. Their covert purpose is to allow greater taxation on land. Our original drafters were Black Belt planters who intended to keep taxes minimal on their vast land holdings. It worked and has endured over the past century. Our property taxes are by far the lowest in the nation.

  Our current legislature wants to try to rewrite the constitution article by article over the new four years and totally avoid the taxation section, which is the most controversial. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh is spearheading the project and believes it is doable.

  This constitutional revision issue actually caused the most acrimony during the legislative session. Democrats prefer a constitutional convention and a complete rewrite. In fact, no black members of the Alabama Senate voted for the first revision bill, which removes offensive racist language from the Alabama constitution. The amendment would also remove language providing for separate schools for black and white students and levying poll taxes to vote. Black legislators say that removing this language is tokenism and not necessary because these sections have long been made irrelevant by superseding federal laws. They want more substantive changes in the property taxes.

  This group of Republican legislators leaves no doubt as to who is in control. They are unequivocally placing an indelible conservative stamp on Alabama government.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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