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Wednesday, April 26, 2006
PoliColumn: The Goat Hill Awards
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:37 pm

This piece ran on Sunday in the Press-Reigster
but didn’t make it to the web until today. (Thanks to my editor for seeing that it was posted and to Kenny Smith of al.com for e-mailing to let me know it was up).

Legislature 2006: Kudos and shortfalls
Sunday, April 23, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

Last week saw the close of the 2006 legislative session, and so it is an appropriate time to survey their work and decide on the good, the bad and the ugly. If celebrities can dole out awards left and right, I see no reason not to do the same for Alabama’s Legislature.

So, I give you the 2006 Goat Hill Awards (also known as the Goaties).

In the “Best Legislation” category, we have four nominees.

First is the Brody Act, which classifies an unborn child as a victim in an assault on or murder of a pregnant woman. Kudos to the Legislature for recognizing the rights of the unborn in such a situation.

Second, we have the moving of Alabama’s presidential primary to February (from June), which means that in 2008 the citizens of our state will have a real voice in choosing the Democratic and Republican contenders for president for a change.

Third, and the winner of the Goatie for Best Legislation in 2006, is tax relief for the working poor in our state. This new law, which raises the level at which a family of four starts paying income taxes from $4,600 a year to $12,600.

This change, which is targeted at those making $20,000 a year or less, helps those making more than that who also have children, ups the personal exemptions and tax deductions for dependents — numbers that haven’t been changed since the inception of the state’s income tax in 1935.

For those keeping score at home, the state of Hawaii now has the heaviest income tax burden on its poor citizens.

The bill deserves to be the best of 2006 because it helps the largest number of citizens in a very direct way.

The award for Worst Legislation this year isn’t so much for what was, but for what wasn’t. Call it the “Should Have Been” Goatie because it goes to the legislation that should have been, but wasn’t.

Runners-up in this category include the failure to allow for term limits for state legislators and a bill that would have allowed for voters to decide if Alabamians should have access to the ballot initiative process (i.e., allowing citizens to propose legislation that would be open to statewide referenda).

However, the winner (by far) was the failure of the Legislature to let the people vote yes or no on whether a convention should be called to write a new constitution for the state.

While bills were introduced in both houses of the Legislature, the House failed to vote the issue out of committee; and while the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Election Committee passed a bill unanimously, it failed to make it to the floor for a vote.

It is inexcusable that the Legislature could not even find the time to vote on the question. We need a healthy debate on the nature of our state government, and the main way to get it would be to seriously consider the constitution question.

While I would grant an honorable mention to the Senate for at least getting a bill out of committee, I would also note that isn’t sufficient.

Beyond the major awards, there are also a set of minor ones that ought to be noted.

THE “BELIEVE IT OR NOT” AWARD: This one goes to the entire Legislature for actually finishing the budgets early for a change, thereby avoiding a special session (unlike last year) and actually getting to a number of additional issues before the session was over.

As such, this year’s legislative session underscores a fundamental truth of politics: Legislating is easier when there is plenty of money.

THE “BETTER LATE THAN NEVER” AWARD: The opening of a process that would allow for pardons of civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

While wholly symbolic, such moves should be seen as attempts by the state to apologize for past injustices.

THE “SHOP’TIL YOU DROP” AWARD: The creation of a state sales tax holiday for the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of August. The tax holiday is aimed at back-to-school related purchases and covers clothing, school supplies and books. (Sorry, no breaks for the flat screen TV you’ve been eyeing.)

THE “SILLIEST MOVE” AWARD: The Goatie for Silly but Harmless Legislation goes to the bill that names the peach as our state’s “official state tree fruit” (as opposed to the official state fruit that doesn’t grow on a tree, the blackberry).

The giant peach statue off of Interstate 65 in Clanton was not available for comment, but Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, noted that our peaches are “better peaches than Georgia ever thought about.” (A resolution by the Legislature that our peaches could beat up their peaches, however, failed to make it to the floor.)

That will do it for this year. See you next year at the Goaties.

Steven L. Taylor, Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Troy University. He writes daily on politics at www.poliblogger.com and can be reached via e-mail at sltaylor@poliblogger.com.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | |Send TrackBack

2 Comments »

  1. About the pardons: can’t the governor simply issue the pardons without the legislature getting involved?

    Comment by Mark — Wednesday, April 26, 2006 @ 10:14 pm

  2. Good article Dr. T. The reason the legislature did not go into special session is that it is an election year. Good press and time to collect money for your campaign will drive you to get the peoples business done ASAP.

    Comment by c.v. — Thursday, April 27, 2006 @ 11:13 am

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