Sneaking in the back door

By Craig FordBy Craig Ford

It is no secret that things in Montgomery have become much more partisan and tense since 2010. Some of that you would expect. After all, politics is a contact sport.

But over the past three years, our legislature – under the leadership of the Republican Supermajority – has embraced dishonest tactics to sneak radical legislation in through the back door.

This strategy first appeared over legislative pay raises. Republicans campaigned in 2010 on a platform of repealing that pay raise. Yet, when Democrats proposed legislation that would have repealed the pay raise and returned legislative pay to the rate it was before 2007, not a single Republican voted in favor of the repeal.

Instead, Republicans passed legislation that would tie legislators’ pay to the median household income.

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the fact that Republicans think part-time legislators should make the same amount as an entire household working two or even three fulltime jobs. This new law will actually give many legislators a pay raise without legislators or the public getting to vote on it.

The first way it does this is through travel reimbursements. Before, legislators made $10 a day plus reimbursements for their travel and related expenses. Now, legislators make an income comparable to the average family of four plus reimbursements for travel. This means that legislators who travel further will make more money than they did under the previous pay structure.

The second way this law gives legislators a pay raise is through natural economic growth. As the state’s economy grows and the median household income increases, legislators will receive an automatic pay increase without ever having to vote on it or inform the taxpayers of the increase.

So what was sold to the taxpayers as a pay cut for legislators is actually a backdoor pay increase for legislators.

Another instance of Republicans sneaking legislation through the back door happened a few months ago when they rammed the Accountability Act through the legislature by switching the bill after it had already passed the House and Senate.

Republican legislative leaders and their staff have publicly made comments about how they could not have passed the Accountability Act if they had tried to use the proper legislative process.

The taxpayers never had a chance to learn about this new voucher program before legislators voted on it, and we still don’t fully know how it will work or how much it will cost because the Bentley administration and Republican legislative leaders can’t agree on who is eligible for the vouchers or even if it should be delayed in being implemented.

But what concerns me now is not just the radical legislation that was passed through the back door during the past three years, but also the legislation that might be passed through that back door in the next legislative session.

In 2011, Republicans tried to pass the transvaginal ultrasound bill that would have forced women whose pregnancies ended early (either through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or abortion) to undergo an invasive medical procedure against their will.

The transvaginal ultrasound legislation was so widely rejected by the public that Republicans in Montgomery tried to water it down and ultimately abandoned it altogether for that legislative session.

But a few weeks ago, Republicans announced they are having Wisconsin governor Scott Walker as their keynote speaker at a Republican fundraiser coming up in August.

When Republican leaders announced Walker was coming, they praised him as having “Alabama values and not ashamed of it.”

One of Scott Walker’s values happens to be support of transvaginal ultrasounds.

Last week, Walker announced that he intends to sign into law in Wisconsin legislation that would require women seeking abortions to choose between a traditional ultrasound or a transvaginal ultrasound.

Now I am pro-life, and I support Alabama’s current law that requires a woman to have a traditional, non-invasive ultrasound prior to having an abortion. But I’m afraid that forcing women to choose between the two options is just a backdoor way to sneak transvaginal ultrasounds into law.

And now Republicans in the Alabama legislature – who have already embraced backdoor tactics to pass school vouchers and a legislative pay raise – are embracing the governor who is pushing for backdoor transvaginal ultrasounds. The people of Alabama deserve to have a government we can trust. But as long as legislative leaders continue to force bad legislation through the back door, the people will never be able to trust their state government.

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