Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1563: Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun

  Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun. Senator Bobby Singleton proclaims this phrase with gusto. He is making the point that the hunter usually has the gun hunting the rabbit, but on rare occasions, the rabbit gets the gun and hunts the hunter.

  Sheer power usually determines who has the gun. On occasions, circumstances determine who has the gun. In the Alabama Legislature, the majority nearly always has the gun. Republicans have super majorities in both the Alabama House and Senate. Therefore, they have the gun virtually all the time. But every now and then circumstances allow the rabbit to get the gun.

  The Alabama Legislature has rules that determine how each body operates. Some of these provisions are embedded in the 1901 Alabama Constitution and must be followed unless waived unanimously by of all members of that body of the legislature. During most of the legislative session, we have time to adhere to all of these provisions. However, we usually waive many of these provisions so the legislative process can speed along.

  One of these constitutional provisions requires that bills be read out loud in their entirety. In fact, it states that each bill must be read three times. However, that provision has been corrupted by the courts to require a full reading only on third readings before final passage in each body. Reading titles of every bill in committee reports and messages consumes time thereby giving the gun to the rabbit. Reading every bill at length requires lots of time thereby giving the gun to the rabbit. Filibustering every bill takes lots of time thereby giving the gun to the rabbit. In the Senate, having a full roll call on every vote gives the gun to the rabbit. Ain’t no fun for the hunter when the rabbit got the gun.

  We were in the last four days of this legislative session. The goal of legislative leaders was to pass every important piece of legislation in these four days. However, in order to accomplish this goal, the cooperation of every Senator was necessary. Otherwise, every bill would be read at length, every vote would be by a long roll call, every bill would be filibustered, every title to bills in committee reports and messages will be read, etc.

  We started out reading the title to every bill for committee reports and messages, calling the long roll on every vote, debating every bill and reading every bill out loud before final passage. The Senate process ground to a slow crawl. Eventually some kind of agreement was worked out. However, there were two bills in which I engaged in extended debate. One bill would reduce the appeal rights for those sentenced to death. It was entitled the Fair Justice Act. The other was the Confederate Memorial Bill entitled the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. The Fair Justice Act is neither fair or just. It is a law that diminishes human life rather than enhancing human life. The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act claims to be about preserving history. However, it is really about preserving monuments to those that fought doggedly to preserve slavery.

  When we really slow down the process, we sometimes hurt ourselves. I had a local bill for Wilcox County that failed in part because of the slowdown. It also failed because the Senate Local Legislation Committee chair held up the bill until the last day. Other local bills also died because committee reports were not received and acted upon in time. Sometimes the rabbit gets shot even when he/she got the gun.

  One bill escaped the squeeze of circumstances forged by the rabbit hunting and the hunter. It was the Autism bill. I really wanted to vote for this bill but had to leave the Senate to handle certain critical matters in Lowndes County. It likely would have come to the Senate floor for consideration earlier if the rabbit was not hunting the hunter. I hate that I missed the vote because this bill truly enhances life.

  As part of the rabbit with the gun strategy, two bills on redistricting were read at length before passage. One in the Senate required about 14 hours. The other in the House required about 16 hours. These tactics bogged down the proceedings of both legislative bodies.

  The rabbit-hunter struggles not only had elements of Republicans versus Democrats but elements of White versus Black. The elements were compounded by an email sent by a House member setting forth a strategy for oppressing monkeys. Legislators and others took the monkey designation to mean African Americans. African American legislators became even more upset and even more determined.

  So many other scenarios played out. Some helped the citizens of Alabama and some hurt. There are causalities when the hunter got the gun. There are causalities when the rabbit got the gun.

Epilogue – Circumstances can be so powerful. They can take the up down. They can take the down up. They can make the powerful powerless. They can make the powerless powerful. Circumstances can be so powerful.

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

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