Alabama GOP legislative agenda is much ado about nothing

The Alabama House GOP Caucus likes to use catchy names for its legislative agendas. Previous themes this quadrennium include “Alabama First,” “Right for Alabama,” and “Alabama Proud” — and the 2018 legislative agenda is no different, with a theme of “Flag, Family & Country.” It reads like a country song, and it will focus on issues like urging people to stand for the National Anthem and letting Congress know Alabama Republicans want “the wall” built as quickly as possible.

Nine measures are included in the GOP package of bills, resolutions, and proposals to be considered a priority in the Alabama House when they convene for the next legislative session beginning Tuesday, January 9. Sadly, none of the measures directly tackle any of the budget and taxation issues the legislature is expected to face in the 2019 budgetary process, and most only serve as campaign platforms for Republican lawmakers going into an election season. None of the measures address the immediate concerns of Medicaid, prisons, infrastructure, and education. Some of the proposals don’t even require any action from the GOP legislature.

Instead, they will focus on meaningless resolutions to appease the far right voter base, plus all the safe no-brainer ideas that would be considered in any typical legislative session.

“In previous years, we have focused upon protecting unborn life, attracting new jobs, improving public education, and fighting federal government intrusion,” House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said in a press release announcing the agenda. “In 2018, our ‘Flag, Family, and Country’ agenda will focus upon other areas that are important to all conservative and patriotic Alabamians.”

The nine bills, measures and resolutions were proposed by GOP House members and vetted by the Caucus Agenda Committee chaired by state Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper). According to the press release, Jasper said the panel “worked hard to select bills that both reflect the conservative values most Alabamians hold and also improve the lives of citizens across the state.”

The list of proposals includes bills that address important issues like the opioid crisis, domestic violence, and veterans’ employment. Another proposal would provide free admission to Alabama state parks for military personnel and veterans, something that is currently an administrative pilot program within the Department of Conservation.

But one could question why the caucus has prioritized these issues over other matters that are in immediate need of attention — like what will the state do after a federal judge ruled earlier this year against the Alabama Department of Corrections in a class action lawsuit over the treatment of mentally ill and disabled prisoners.

Alabama has found itself in crisis as rural hospitals continues to close — but you don’t find any mention of that, or of Medicaid, in the GOP’s list of priorities.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this hopeless and this concerned for the health-care delivery system in our state,” Danne Howard, the executive vice president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told the Tuscaloosa News last week. “I don’t think there’s ever a time where the threat has felt this profound.”

And with the federal funding uncertainty of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Alabama could find itself unable to afford ALL Kids, a low-cost, comprehensive healthcare coverage program for children under age 19.

Two of the nine proposals are just resolutions that carry no weight of law, and seem solely designed to rally the conservative voting base as we enter into election season. One “urge[s] all Americans to show proper honor and respect to the U.S. Flag during the playing of the National Anthem, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and other displays of patriotic pride,” according to the GOP press release. The other “urge[s] Congress to fund and expedite the construction of a secure wall across the border between the United States and Mexico, which continues to be a cornerstone priority of President Donald Trump’s administration.”

So, there you have it: a glimpse of the issues the Alabama Republican legislature plans to tackle in the upcoming legislative session. Oh, and I should mention they plan to adjourn sine die a month earlier than normal — it’s the season to be raising campaign dollars, after all, and who wants to be working when you can be fundraising?

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