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Under threat of funding clawback, state archives’ director explains LBGTQ event

In advance of Monday’s special session of the Legislature and an expected bill to claw back $5 million from his department, the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History sent lawmakers a letter explaining a June event focused on LGBTQ history in the state.

“The Archives respects the authority and responsibility of the Legislature to appropriate funds as you see fit,” Director Steve Murray wrote. “We hope you will make an informed decision, based on familiarity with the June 15 program and awareness of our agency’s commitment to integrity and service in the promotion of evidence-based history.”

The session that starts Monday was called in order to redraw the state’s congressional districts. The governor decides the focus of special sessions only she can call. Lawmakers can bring other bills, but they take a two-thirds vote to pass, rather than the usual simple majority.

Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, has said he’ll bring a bill taking back $5 million in supplemental funding from archives after he and some of his colleagues questioned the June lunchtime discussion, part of a long-standing monthly series, focused on the history and contributions of the LBGQ community in the state.

Murray said the discussion was part of Archive’s larger mission to tell the history of all Alabamians, including marginalized communities.

“We cover a lot of territory in any given year,” Murray said on Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal Friday. “This one hour happened to be dedicated to this particular topic that we think is of legitimate historical inquiry. It wasn’t about contemporary political issues.” 

Elliott has said state-funded departments shouldn’t be talking about anything related to sexual orientation and sex. On Friday told Alabama Daily News his bill is intended to send a message to agencies to stay away from controversial topics.

“They have drawn the attention of appropriators who are not pleased with the conversations they’re having,” Elliott said. “… This is the only tool we have left and these are topics that the people we represent are clearly aggravated with,” he said.”

A copy of Elliott’s bill isn’t yet available and he said Friday he was still getting co-sponsors. He didn’t say last week what his bill would do with the $5 million. 

The money, designated for one-time museum upgrades or purchases, was part of a record $2.8 billion Education Trust Fund bill approved in late May. The money has already been sent to agencies and pulling any back could be a complex process that could require re-opening already approved spending plans.

Murray’s letter said the money is to be spent on museum upgrades, including the redesign of Native American content, the creation of a new military gallery to honor the service of Alabamians, the creation of a children’s gallery, and technological and content updates to the Alabama Voices gallery.

House leadership has previously said they don’t want to take up bills beyond the map legislation, but Elliott said he will file the bill Monday.

“This is a conversation that needs to happen and is going to happen,” Elliott said.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is also expected to file a narrowly focused bill to allow retired troopers to earn more as school resource officers.


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