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After passing five of 18 bills, House adjourns early amid Democratic filibusters

After nearly six hours, the Alabama House adjourned Thursday after passing five of 18 scheduled bills amid Democratic efforts to prolong the legislative process.

The legislative calendar adopted Thursday contained no Democratic-sponsored bill, something Democrats immediately pushed back when the legislative day started.

“Out of 18 bills, not one of them is a Democrat bill,” said Napoleon Bracy, D-Saraland.

Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, vice chairman of the House Rules Committee, the body responsible for creating legislative calendars, said that bills are selected not on the basis of their sponsor’s party, but rather on the merit of the bill. 

Faulkner suggested that the absence of Democratic-sponsored bills was not intentional, and also noted that a number of Democrats sit on the Rules Committee.

“As you know, we don’t put a Republican bill, (then a) Democrat bill, we’re just looking at good laws to make the state of Alabama better,” Faulkner said. “You’re weighing and looking at all bills; we have different days, we want to have agency days, we know there’s bills that have more controversy (and so forth).”

The House Rules Committee drafts a legislative calendar using a “pick list” of bills that have received a favorable committee report. However, not all bills that have received a favorable report are available to choose from during this process, Rep. Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, told her colleagues. She’s also on the Rules Committee.

“I want to make it clear that there were no bills by Democrats on the pick list,” Clarke said. “Listen to me Democrats: there were no bills by Democrats for us to choose on the pick list.”

A number of other Democrats continued to speak out against the legislative calendar, which was ultimately adopted with a voice vote.

The first bill on the calendar was House Bill 342, sponsored by Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, which would add additional requirements for alternative teacher certification organizations to operate in the state. Despite the uncontroversial nature of the bill, it was discussed for well over an hour before passing with a vote of 83-20.

Another bill passed Thursday was House Bill 363, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, which would modify the commission that authorizes the conversion of traditional public schools to public charter schools by changing its appointment process, providing additional guidelines for school conversions and enrollment, and by clarifying language related to funding for new charter schools.

Much like the previous bill, it was discussed for over an hour, though ultimately passed with a vote of 76-25.

The final bill to be voted on before the early adjourning was House Bill 315, sponsored by Jerry Starnes, R-Prattville, which would provide additional benefits for spouses of members of the military who were killed while on active duty. Like the previous bills, a number of Democrats spoke about the bill, among them being Bracy.

“Another thing that surprised me when I was looking at Alabama being one of the most military friendly states was the absentee ballot bill, because I don’t think we took into account our military men and women when it comes down to voting,” Bracy said on Starnes’ bill, referencing a controversial bill that was passed last week that would make it a felony to retrieve an absentee ballot on behalf of another person.

As Bracy continued, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, weilded his gavel, telling Bracy to “stay on subject.” As Bracy continued to speak, Ledbetter had his microphone shut off momentarily before turning it on again.

Rep. Napoleon Bracy speaks on the House floor.

“In four terms, I’ve never had my microphone turned off because I’ve always been on topic,” Bracy said. “It was very disrespectful. For me to be one of the most respectful statesmen in this body to be gaveled down? I think that’s wrong.”

Thursday’s House floor conflict follows calls last week for Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, to apologize for a “racial attack” on a fellow member. Givan has defended her words and said she’s the one owed an apology.

Starnes’ bill ultimately passed unanimously, with the House adjourning shortly thereafter.

Ledbetter later told members of the press that Bracy was “out of line.”

“With our rules, you’ve got to stay in line with what we’re talking about,” Ledbetter said. He was out of line, we weren’t talking about the voting rights bill, we passed it last week.”

Bracy later told Alabama Daily News that he felt his conversation was in fact relevant to Starnes’ bill.

“I think my conversation was relevant, I think it was germane, (and) I think it was a violation of my First Amendment right,” Bracy said. “My microphone was turned off, and that silenced the 45,000 people that I’m sent here to represent.”

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