The 2013 Session of the Alabama Legislature is at the half-way point and will be on Spring Break the week of March 25-29. This frees up a little time for me to give you an update and identify several specific actions you can take in order to make a difference in our state.
- House Bill (HB9) and Senate Bill (SB171) – “Homebrew Bill” – Both the House version and Senate version of these companion bills have passed out of committees in their respective houses. HB9 is on the Special Order Calendar in the House of Representatives for April 2 when the Legislators return from their Spring Break. A similar bill failed to pass two years ago in the House, but passed in the House last year. It did not pass the Senate because the Session ended before they could get to it. Many media outlets and a few pastors have questioned why ALCAP opposes this bill, which if it passes and is signed into law by Governor Bentley will make Alabama the last state in the Union to legalize the home-brewing of beer, wine and mead (Mississippi just passed a home-brewing bill, so that makes Alabama the last state to do so). As I have explained to everyone who asks, we oppose this legislation for several reasons:
- ALCAP opposes all alcohol liberalization bills. The United Kingdom (UK) has been loosening their restrictions on alcohol for the last 4-5 decades and today they are trying to rein in the out-of-control use of alcohol that is causing major social problems in their island nation. When Prohibition was repealed in the United States in the 1930s, controls on alcohol (a mind-altering and addictive drug) were left up to the individual states. As states, including Alabama, have relaxed their restrictions, alcohol-related problems have been continually rising just as they did in the UK. In 2006, the latest statistics from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control show that alcohol-related problems cost Americans $223.5 billion, and that expenditure is repeated and increasing each year. Home-brewing is yet another step in making alcohol more available to more people in more ways.
- Children in the homes of home-brewers will grow up with alcohol (a mind-altering, addictive drug) readily available to them. Pre-teens typically get their first taste of alcohol in the home. While a parent may miss a can from the six-pack of beer in the refrigerator, will that parent miss “swigs” of home-brewed beer taken from gallon jugs stored in the house?
- How will home-brewed beer be policed? There will be no licensing involved in the law as the bill currently reads, and up to 15 gallons can be stored in one’s home each quarter of the year (60 gallons cumulatively in 12 months). If home-brewers are currently breaking the law (as they have all but admitted to doing in public hearings), how will we know they are obeying the law as far as the amounts they are storing if this bill should become law? And, what about public health issues regarding the production and storing of such quantities of an alcoholic beverage? All of these are questions that are yet to be answered.
- The bill allows for up to 10 gallons to be transported to festivals and tasting contests. How will gallon jugs with screw-on tops impact the open container law in Alabama that makes possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in one’s automobile illegal?
- Finally, there is the issue of “incrementalism.” Each year, home-brewers could possibly return to the State Legislature seeking to store and/or transport larger quantities of their drug. It is also possible that distillers will begin to ask for permission to produce distilled spirits (hard liquor, or “moonshine”) on the basis that “if people can brew beer and mead, or produce wine at home, why can’t we set up a still in our house or back yard?”
- Several local bills have been introduced that, if passed will allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. Again, this is another step toward loosening any and all restrictions on this mind-altering and addictive drug (ethyl alcohol). Six days a week of selling alcohol are apparently not enough – those who stand to profit from alcohol sales want to be able to sell it seven days a week. I’ve talked with families who appreciate not having to be around people drinking while eating out on Sunday. Has alcohol become such a focus in our culture that people cannot take off at least one day each week from purchasing and drinking it? A few legislators have indicated that they are opposed to these local “Sunday alcohol sales” bills, but they are not hearing from Christians and churches opposing the bills. (I have, specifically, heard from Representatives Steve Hurst and Becky Nordgren, who are asking for support from the churches in opposing Sunday alcohol sales in their districts.) They are hearing from city council members and county commissioners, who are looking only at the immediate revenue they think will come to their communities from adding a few hours a week of alcohol sales, but who discount the higher cost that will come because of increased alcohol use. However, they are not hearing from people these legislators told me they thought would support their opposition. Please take time to contact your House members and Senators and encourage them to oppose any attempts to legalize Sunday alcohol sales in your county or city. Already bills have been introduced that would legalize Sunday sales in the following cities and/or counties. If you live in these areas, please contact your legislators and urge them to oppose Sunday alcohol sales! (If you live in other areas of the state where there is talk about such action, contact your city council members, county commissioners and state legislators and ask them NOT to push for or introduce legislation that would legalize Sunday alcohol sales.
- The City of Anniston
- The City of Weaver
- The City of Wetumpka
- Privatization update: I shared earlier in this 2013 Session that we anticipated a bill that would privatize the Alcohol Beverage Control stores in Alabama. I gave several reasons for our opposition to that suggestion and my op-ed has actually appeared in at least one national publication and several state publications. I will not repeat my arguments here except to point out that under the control system now in place in Alabama, we have the highest revenue from the selling of distilled spirits (hard liquor) of any of the fifty United States and we are among the lowest in consumption each year. We want to see the consumption rate stay low! At this half-way point in the 2013 Legislative Session, no privatization bill has been introduced. The individual who has talked about introducing such a bill has indicated that he is still working out the details and would like to discuss his bill with Dr. Ireland and me before he introduces it in order to get our input. We will welcome this opportunity.
- HB57, introduced by Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, has passed the House and has passed out of the Senate Health Committee. It is awaiting action in the full Senate. It was on the Special Order Calendar on the last day before the Senate adjourned for Spring Break and the leadership has assured us that it will be taken up as soon as they return to the State House on April 2. If it passes the Senate without amendments, it will go to the Governor for his signature. If it is amended, it will have to go back to the House for their concurrence. This bill calls for abortion clinics to meet the same standards as those currently in effect in ambulatory surgical centers. If the abortion clinics cannot meet those standards, they will be forced to close. Most pro-life organizations, including ALCAP, support this legislation.
- A couple of bills designed to regulate payday lending and title pawn shops have been introduced. These bills, if passed into law, will help to protect individuals from the predatory nature of the payday lending and title pawn shop owners. An unusual alliance of conservative organizations, such as ALCAP, and groups usually identified as being more liberal in their positions have partnered with both conservative and liberal legislators in support of these regulatory bills. On April 2, at 1:45 p.m., there will be a rally and press conference at the State House, sponsored by the Alliance for Responsible Lending in Alabama. At 2:30 p.m. everyone will be encouraged to visit their respective legislators and ask them to support these payday lending and title pawn bills (we will have the bill numbers available at the gathering, but one bill is HB462 by Rep. Rod Scott). For more information on this gathering, you can call Jacob at 334.263.0086.
- On the state level, two or three bills have been introduced that would legalize a state-wide lottery in Alabama. However, the leadership in the House and Senate have indicated that these bills will not pass out of committee. For that strong stand against gambling, we are grateful. It has been refreshing not to have to deal with pro-gambling bills since the beginning of the 2011 Regular Legislative Session! Prior to that time, pro-gambling bills would often dominate the 30-day sessions. One year, the Senate actually wasted 10 legislative days (one third of the entire session) on one pro-gambling bill.
- Still no word on legislation to increase the penalty for possession of 10 or more electronic gambling devices from a Class A Misdemeanor to a Class C Felony. We have received word that there are 4-5 State Senators who are not willing to vote cloture on a possible filibuster should this bill ever make it to the Senate floor. Unless there are enough votes to stop a filibuster, there is no need to introduce such a bill. When we are able to identify the 4-5 Senators in question, we will let our ALCAP friends know so that you can contact them about this issue.
- On the national level, it has come to our attention that Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-Birmingham) is co-sponsoring HR279 in the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. This bill, if passed into law, will be what is termed the “Carcieri Fix.” In 2009 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes recognized after 1934 do not qualify for “land into trust” through the U. S. Department of Interior, and thus cannot purchase land on which to build casinos. Since the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were not recognized until 1985, this Supreme Court ruling opened the door for Alabama’s Attorney General, Luther Strange, to file a lawsuit against the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in order to stop them from continuing and expanding their electronic slot machine gambling operations in Alabama. If HR279 passes, it will make the Attorney General’s lawsuit a moot issue. Several calls to Rep. Bachus’ office have yet to produce a response from the Congressman. Those who live in his congressional district are urged to call Rep. Bachus and voice your outrage at his endorsement of this legislation. Be respectful, but passionate as you voice your opinion.
- HB108 – The “Religious Liberty Act” (a.k.a. the “Hobby Lobby Bill”) would prevent the government from forcing family-owned companies or businesses with 10 or fewer owners from being forced to provide employee insurance coverage for services, items and/or drugs that might go against the religious beliefs of those owners (such as abortions, abortifacients, contraceptives, etc.). This bill has passed the House and is awaiting passage out of the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.
- Two companion bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate that would guarantee the right to display documents related to the founding of our nation (even if those documents have a religious connection) on public grounds, including schools – HB299 by Rep. Duwayne Bridges and SB40 by Sen. Gerald Dial. The Senate passed SB40 and the House Committee on Constitution, Campaigns and Elections voted to “give the bill a favorable report” (which means it now goes to the full House for a vote). Rep. Bridges asked that his bill be “carried over” so that the Senate version of the bill could move forward.
- The Alabama Accountability Act became law with the Governor’s signature.This new law allows parents of children who live in failing school districts to receive a limited tax credit that can be used to enroll their child/children in another school. Our hope is that this law will serve to encourage schools to provide the best education possible for the children of Alabama.
- Companion bills in the House and Senate were introduced with the intention of repealing Alabama’s participation in the Common Core Standards. Many feel that these standards will lead to a Federal Government take-over of the schools in Alabama and an actual lowering of standards for students. Both bills failed to pass out of committee in each house and are unlikely to do so before the 2013 Session ends.
- Rep. Patricia Todd’s bill (HB2), legalizing the use of medical marijuana in Alabama, failed to pass out of the House Health Committee the first week of the 2013 Legislative Session. She has now introduced a similar bill (HB315), but it will not likely be brought up in committee before the end of the Session.
Continue to pray for the Alabama Legislature, asking God to lead them in making wise decisions that will help Alabama continue to be a wonderful place for raising families! Pray, too, for the legislators and their own families, and look for ways to show your government officials the love of Christ and your appreciation for their service.