Friday, June 24, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1515: Victory into defeat and defeat into victory

  Every defeat is a victory for somebody. Every victory is a defeat for somebody. This is true in sports, in politics, and in life. In the 2016 Alabama Legislative Session, there were defeats that were victories and victories that were defeats.

  Governor Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison bond bill was defeated, but it was really a victory. They said that the bill would lead to the construction of four new prisons and increase the number of prison beds. However, we could not get any details and there were no provisions to ensure that the nearly $800 million would be used exclusively for prisons. In fact, it appears that some political leaders were promised millions of dollars for other projects. Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange stated that the city would get $10 million for a project not related to prisons. There were even rumors that a former elected official would control the entire $800 million project. Given the current allegations against various public officials, to borrow eight tenths of a billion dollars with an open end is crazy. This defeat was really a victory.

  The RAISE/PREP Act went down to defeat, but it was really a victory for public education in Alabama. It began as the RAISE (Rewarding Advancement, Instruction and Student Excellence) Act and morphed into the PREP (Preparing and Rewarding Education Professionals) Act. I received more communications, written and oral, about this proposed legislation than any during my 33 years in the Alabama Legislature. Virtually every communication expressed strong opposition to this bill. This defeat was a real victory.

  This legislation would have called for evaluations of public school teachers based partly on students' test scores. It would have greatly reduced teachers' job security. It would have wiped out protections for other education personnel. It would have virtually ended public education as we know it. This defeat was really a victory.

  The Confederate Monument Protection Act would stop cities, towns, counties and the State from removing Confederate monuments without the permission of a special panel created by the Alabama Legislature. It would remove authority from local and state government to regulate monuments on streets, highways and public grounds, and vest it in this panel. It was defeated, but this defeat was really a victory.

  There were victories that were defeats. One was the local minimum wage ban. Birmingham adopted a local ordinance setting a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. Other cities were considering their own minimum wage ordinances.  It was a powerful victory, but sometimes a victory is a prelude to a defeat.

  The Alabama Legislature swooped in and passed a law to prohibit towns, cities, and counties from adopting minimum wage ordinances. We tried to stop it. We fought it. We filibustered it until debate was cut off in the Senate. We voted against it. It passed anyway. The same fight was waged in the House with some results. It was quickly signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley. The bill not only prohibited future local minimum wage laws; it set aside the minimum wage that Birmingham already had in place. It was a victory but it really is a defeat.

  We passed a General Fund Budget. That seemed like a victory. However, the budget was $85 million short in terms of Medicaid funding. That $85 million reduction will be a triple loss because it would have been matched by two federal Medicaid dollars for every one state dollar. That amounts to a $255 million loss. Alabama already has the least-funded Medicaid program in the country. Now, it will be even less with the passage of this budget. This victory is really a defeat.

  To make matters worse, the failure to adequately fund Medicaid caused the legislature to adopt legislation delaying implementation of Medicaid Managed Care (RCO). There was a $750 million federal grant connected to RCO. It was conditional based upon Medicaid funding not being reduced. The $85 million reduction violates that condition. When we add the $750 million to the $255 million, we lose over a billion dollars. Passage of the General Fund Budget was a victory. However, it was really a great defeat.

  Two anti-abortion bills were passed by the Alabama Legislature. However, both will be challenged in court. We will spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to defend these acts. As has been the case with other abortion-related legislation, a court is likely to strike down these acts for being in violation of the United States Constitution. This victory is also a defeat.

EPILOGUE - Sometimes we are certain that a victory is a victory and a defeat is a defeat. However, subsequent circumstances reveal that what was perceived as a victory was in fact a defeat, and what was perceived as a defeat was in fact a victory. We never know.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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