Many people wonder why simple, straightforward, no-nonsense, good-government legislation fails to pass although it appears to have universal and overwhelming support and appeal for many voters and legislators.
You say, “It takes an act of Congress to get that done,” and in politics there is no clearer truism. It is really hard to pass a piece of legislation through Congress and it is equally difficult to channel a bill through the labyrinth of legislative approval in Alabama.
Ask any successful lobbyist or legislator which side they would rather be on in legislative wars and they would much prefer to be against something than trying to pass a bill. It is probably 100 times harder to steer a bill through legislative approval than it is to kill a bill. The Alabama Senate rules are such that if a handful of the 35 senators are adamantly opposed to something they can kill the bill. If the right senator is against it — if for example he is chairman of the rules committee and he wants it killed — it is dead.
It does not matter if the proposed legislation says the legislature is in favor of apple pie and motherhood. The bill has to go before both House and Senate committees, win approval and not get an amendment put on it. If an amendment is added, the bill basically has to start all over again. Then it has to get placed on the special order calendar set by the rules committee. There are hundreds of bills waiting to get on this calendar but only a few bills make it each day. There are only 30 legislative days in the session. If a bill gets on the calendar, it has to pass both houses. Then, hopefully, the governor is also for apple pie and motherhood because if she vetoes the bill, it has to start all over again.
Let me give you an example of a piece of apple pie and motherhood legislation I was asked to sponsor when I was a freshman legislator. There was a quirk in Alabama criminal law that allowed the family of a criminal defendant to be in the courtroom in a criminal trial and sit behind the criminal and observe and cry on behalf of their relative. However, unbelievably, the family of the crime victim could not be in the courtroom and the Victims of Crime Leniency (VOCAL) sought to correct this injustice. VOCAL asked me to sponsor its bill and work for its passage and I worked diligently on the bill. The press gave me and the bill glowing editorials for its fairness. We got the bill out of the House, where it passed overwhelmingly. However, when it got to the Senate it was assigned, rightfully so, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Earl Hilliard from Jefferson County. He opposed the bill and as chairman of the committee he deep-sixed it and would not let it out. No amount of haranguing from the VOCAL people or bad press would budge Earl.
However, one day I was on the floor of the House and the VOCAL leader, Miriam Shehane, called me out to the lobby. She said Earl was sick and would not be in Montgomery that day and the Senate Judiciary Committee was meeting and the vice chairman will bring our bill up out of order. We quickly went to the sixth floor and whisked our bill out of order from the judiciary committee. It won final approval in the Senate a few weeks later and became law.
Remember old truisms such as, “It will take an act of Congress to get something done,” is very accurate, especially in politics.