We have to slow down the legislative process

By Craig FordBy Craig Ford

There has been a lot said over the past two weeks about the tactics used by Republicans in the Alabama legislature to pass the so-called Alabama Accountability Act. You have also read about how Democrats have responded by filibustering legislation and using the rules to slow the legislative process down.

I want to explain why Democrats are doing what we are doing.

First, let me be clear that this is not about being vindictive or trying to “punish” Republicans for running over Democrats in the legislative process. Republicans have been running over Democrats since they took control of the legislature in 2010. In fact, the Republicans have clotured debate (meaning they voted to stop discussion and vote on final passage of legislation) more time in the past two years than Democrats clotured them in the previous four years.

If we wanted to punish Republicans or “get back at them” for wielding their power over us, we would have started doing this two years ago. But that is not what this is about.

What happen two weeks ago was unprecedented. And now the press is reporting that the version of the bill that was voted on in the conference committee is not the same version that the House and Senate passed later that day.

How does that happen? How do you misplace a bill in the time it takes to ride the elevator from the fourth floor to the fifth floor of the state house?

This is just one more reason why we should not have rushed this bill through the legislature, and instead should have slowed down to know what we were voting on.

But the Republican leadership was more concerned with pushing its radical bill through the legislature than with obeying the law or keeping the public (or even their own education advisers) informed as to what it was doing.

“It’s a strange thing the way you have to turn things and bend them and make them work,” said Senate Republican leader Del Marsh in a press conference.

It is clear that the leadership in Montgomery no longer thinks they have to abide by the rules or the law. They have a supermajority in the legislature. They can do whatever they want, and that was what they wanted to prove when they rammed this bill through the legislature.

And that is why Democrats have to respond however we can. We do not have the numbers in the legislature to force any kind of compromise or to stop a bad bill from becoming law. But what we do have are the rules of the legislature, and we intend to use them.

For the foreseeable future, we will filibuster every bill and have every bill read at length. We will offer amendments or substitute bills as needed, and take points of privilege as often as we can.

In doing this, we will “kill” some of our own bills as well. But this is not about stopping bills from becoming law. At any time, the Republicans can simply cut off debate by voting to cloture us and move forward with the state’s business. But they will have to cloture us, because we are not going to simply sit down, shut up and allow the abuse of power to continue.

We intend to make sure that every bill that comes before the legislature is properly vetted, and that every bill has been debated and read so that we know what we are voting on.

A democracy is supposed to be open and transparent. If the Republicans in the Alabama legislature will not operate in an open and transparent way, then we will do what we can to force them to be open and transparent.

The people of Alabama deserve to know what their elected officials are doing and how the laws our legislature passes will affect their lives.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.”

 
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