Archive for the ‘Alabama Legislature’ category

Ken Guin And The Best Resolution Yet

May 23, 2007

This is too funny:

The House of Representatives on Tuesday refused to praise Birmingham News reporter Brett Blackledge for winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Blackledge won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting for a series of articles detailing fraud and nepotism in the state’s two-year college system. Some of his articles involved legislators connected to the system. . . .

The resolution by Rep. Jack Williams, R-Homewood, asked lawmakers to force the House Rules Committee to act on his resolution commending Blackledge. The resolution had been stuck in committee. House members voted 49-20 to table Williams’ efforts.

“I’m disappointed, but it’s not a total surprise,” Williams said.

During debate, House members, including some of the subjects of Blackledge’s reports, criticized his work.

Yes, how dare he expose the legislator’s sham jobs and the conflicts of interest they created! The nerve of Blackledge, letting the public know that some of our legislators were acting as lobbyists for their school employers! Voters just want their sausage; they don’t want to know how it’s made.

Also, and I’m sure this is nothing more than an interesting little tidbit of information, but guess who chairs the committee in which the resolution is stuck? Ken Guin.

Ken Guin – he of the identical work reports submitted to his two college employers, reports listing his work as a legislator as work for the schools – deciding whether or not to honor the reporter who derailed the gravy train? That’s kind of like asking Mike Price what he thinks of Sports Illustrated. Except Price paid the whore, whereas Guin, well, he’s the one who was taking the money.

Who Needs The Confrontation Clause?

May 11, 2007

In the Tuscaloosa News this morning:

Children who have been sexually abused would not have to testify in front of the person accused of assaulting them, according to a bill that passed the Alabama House Thursday.

The bill by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, allows children under 16-years-old to testify in sexual abuse cases on videotape outside the courtroom. The defense attorney and the prosecutor would question the child and the videotape would be shown to jurors and the defendant inside the courtroom.

The bill passed the House on a 100-0 vote and now goes to the Senate for debate. The legislation was one of the issues Attorney General Troy King listed as a priority for the session.

“There’s nothing more traumatizing in the world than a child victim who has been sexually abused to have to testify in court against his or her abuser,” Ward said. “The purpose is to protect children from having to face a person who committed a very horrible crime against them.”

I’ve already offered my thoughts on the constitutionality of this bill, so I’ll just point out that Rep. Ward must have flunked elementary logic. The point of the trial is to figure out whether the child was abused and if so whether the defendant did the abusing. Ward’s rational for the bill, though, assumes both of those things are true prior to the conclusion of the trial. That’s begging the question. He’s using as proof of his conclusion facts that have yet to be proven. I.e.: “This kid’s testimony is necessary to prove this defendant abused him. But we can’t let this kid testify because this defendant abused him.”

I suppose this is all well and good if you’re one of those folks who thinks jury trials are formalities and constitutional guarantees are technicalities (I can already hear Truman); that we just know the guy is guilty, so why bother with a trial. But if you, like me, distrust the government and want to make sure that the only people who go to jail are people who are really guilty, than you ought to be very sceptical about this bill. Like it or not, child witnesses are fallible and the constitution gives all of us the right to face our accusers.  

The Government Gives, Thus, The Government Can Take

May 10, 2007

This bothers me:

Members of a House committee Wednesday appeared to be leaning toward passage of a bill that would allow law enforcement officials in Alabama to seize the property of illegal aliens. . . .

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, is modeled on laws allowing police to seize the property of drug dealers. The legislation allows law enforcement to seize from illegal immigrants any property not needed for “basic living necessities,” but gives law enforcement agencies broad scope in determining what is and isn’t necessary.

The bill is HB290:

Property of a person present in this state who is in violation of the immigration laws of the United States, except property needed for the basic living necessities of the person as determined by the local law enforcement agency, acquired by the person directly or indirectly while in violation of the immigration laws of the United States shall be subject to forfeiture . . . .

I hate forfeiture laws. They give the state the power to summarily seize your property without having to so much as get a warrant prior to the seizure. And then when the judicial proceedings do occur, they’re governed by the rules of civil procedure. That means: 1) the state gets to take your property if it can prove that it’s more likely than not that it is subject to forfeiture; forget about beyond a reasonable doubt; 2) you have no right to an attorney; 3) you have no right to confront the witnesses against you. Oh, and then the agency that took the property gets to keep it and do with it whatever it wants. The whole process is a huge incentive for abuses. So I am never going to be in favor of expanding them.

This particular one is extrordinarily bad. It gives the state unbridled discretion to take any kind of property. Yeah, it throws in language about basic living necessities, but the cops get to make that decision. This is asking for abuse.

But more than the potential for abuse and the inherent unfairness of forfeiture laws, something else bothers me about this bill.  

I really don’t care about illegal immigration. It does not bother me one bit if someone wants to enter this country without first stopping fill out the proper paperwork. It does not bother me one bit if that same person refuses to ever learn English, enjoy apple pie, or watch Nascar. Still, I understand the arguments that illegals ought not receive Government services. If they don’t pay the bureaucratic costs – becoming citizens, paying all the same taxes I do, etc – than I can understand denying them the bureaucratic benefits.

Forfeiture of property, though, is different. In contrast to welfare payments, property ownership is supposed to be a natural right. That is, something that a person can do simply because they are a person. Property ownership is not something the government gives us. It is an inherent right no different than the right to free peach or the right to freedom of religion. Hence, it exists whether or not the person is a citizen of whatever country he happens to find himself in.

This bill, though, treats property rights like welfare privileges. That is, it treats property “rights” as something the government provides and the government can take away. That scares me. The results of this type of thinking are ugly.

So even if illegal immigrants are a real problem, letting the government assert this kind of power is a cure worse than the disease.

Christian Propoganda Week

May 9, 2007

Bessemer Opinions reports:

Today the Alabama House Education Policy Committee will take up HB482, the Christian heritage bill. This piece of legislation would designate the first scholastic week in November each year as Christian Heritage Week in public K-12 schools and would require daily instruction during that week on the influence of Christianity on the history and heritage of the United States. House Bill 482 singles out the influence that the Christian religion has had on our history and heritage.

That sounds innocuous enough. No one would deny that the Christian religion has influenced the development of our country, and any history class that neglected to incorporate things like the great awakening would be incomplete. But the bill looks to me like the goal is propogandizing Christianity, not encouraging serious academic study.

As Joe points out the whole thing is filled with misstatements, errors, and omissions. Most of the factual “findings” are dubious, at best. I’ll just point out two things that clearly demonstrate the bias of the bill.

First (emphasis added):

(7) The individual liberties and freedoms America has are based on Christian principles and freedom sought by founders who left the Old World to avoid religious persecution. Such Christian principles provide the basis for the freedom of religion that Americans enjoy without being required to subscribe to any particular religion or belief.

The religious freedom we enjoy today is most certainly NOT based on what the initial colonists brought with them to the new world. As Ed Brayton explains about the Massachusets colony, the folks who left the old world to escape religious persecution came here and immediately began . . . religious persecution:

The laws of this colony were set out in a document called the Body of Liberties, written by Nathaniel Ward in 1641. The first 93 laws are actually a list of rights and privileges, some of them drawn from the Magna Carta and similar to later guarantees in the US Constitution – due process, the right to appeal, etc. The section on Capital Laws begins with #94 and wastes no time in showing that what was established was not a free society but a brutal theocracy:

(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

Contrast this with the first amendment guarantee of religious freedom. Or with the actual words of the founding fathers, which was strongly against such theocratic barbarism. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia:

[O]ur rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

And that’s hardly the only such law. Indeed, the first three laws prescribe death for religious offenses:

(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

Nor was this hypothetical. 19 “witches” were indeed put to death there in the famous Salem trials, and lots of Quakers, Baptists and others were put to death or imprisoned for religious offenses – and that’s just for being the wrong brand of Christian, forget being Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or – God forbid – atheist.

It is either amazing ignorance or shocking dishonesty to say, as does this bill, that we owe our religious freedom to the Christian ideas of the early colonists and yet fail to mention the brutal theocracy established in many of those colonies. What we enjoy today is the exact opposite of what most of those early colonists practiced. No doubt men like Roger Williams and William Penn drew on their own Christian experience to establish truly free societies, but they were the exception, not the rule. Any fair treatment of the subject must admit the obvious: The early colonies were NOT havens of religious freedom.

Now the second example of misrepresentation:

(9) Many historical events are directly related to Christian principles. For example, when America suffered with the abomination of slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed in 1868 removing this blight on American history and a minister of the Gospel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., brought to fruition the Fourteenth Amendment’s equality of man. Similarly, other historical events relating to the protection of our individual rights have been formed and result from the understanding of Christian principles expressed in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.

That is stunningly biased. Of course Christian faith motivated many abolitionists in the 19th century and many civil rights leaders in the 20th century. But Christian faith also motivated many slavery and segregation proponents.

Here’s what the Southern Baptist Convention said of itself when apologizing for it’s racist past:

WHEREAS, Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and

WHEREAS, Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and

WHEREAS, In later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and . . .

They weren’t an anomaly, either. Christian racism drove the laws of the day. Consider the ideas justifying things like anti-miscegenation laws:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

It is revisionism of the worst kind to say that Christian ideas led to equal rights for blacks but then fail to mention that Christian ideas also supported slavery and segregation.

In sum, regardless of how disputable the rest of the bill’s findings are, these two parts of the bill are so egregiously biased that any honest person must seriously doubt the motives behind the bill. If the goal was encouraging serious academic debate, I would wholeheartedly support it. But the goal appears to be propagandizing the Christian faith: The bill baldly asserts particular positive contributions while completely ignoring all the negatives.

Every honest legislator will oppose this bill.

Scarlet Letter Laws Are A Bad Idea

May 8, 2007

This is what I mean by scarlet letter laws:

A judge could order a sex offender to buy a distinctive license plate for his or her vehicle, under a bill proposed by state Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill.

The law could affect motor vehicle owners convicted after Jan. 1 of a sex crime against a child 11 or younger.

“Child molestation is a sickness, and I don’t know that it’s curable. I just think we need to be aware as we can of who these individuals are,” said Keahey, 26, a lawyer serving his first term in the House of Representatives.

“I think it’ll reduce or maybe even prevent these child molesters from driving through neighborhoods where our children are out in the yard playing,” he said.

No, it won’t. These folks will still drive to all the same places they would have driven absent the tag. But the presence of the tag will have some seriously bad collateral consequences.

First, can you say “vigilantism?” How many of these cars are going to be vandalised? How many drivers will be beaten? What about the homes where the cars are parked? Indeed, Keahey sounds like he’s counting on fears of these kinds of attacks preventing the offenders from driving in certain areas. What, other than fear of vigilantes, would prevent the driver from going into specific areas?

Second, and before you conclude that the offender deserves whatever the vigilantes dish out:

Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he doubts Keahey’s bill will pass this year.

He said it wouldn’t be fair for the wife, child or other family member of a sex offender to have to drive a vehicle with a sex-offender license plate on it if the sex offender owned the family vehicle.

“If it’s a family car and there’s another driver of that vehicle, I think that unfairly points to them,” Black said.

The threat of harm extends to innocent drivers. And not just other drivers, but what if the sex offender uses the car to drop his kids off at school? How do you think little Billy is going to do in school with all the other kids making fun of him because his dad is a child rapist?

Third, and finally, how about the effect on the neighbors’ property values? Good luck trying to sell your home with a car parked in your neighbor’s driveway that is in essence a big ‘ol sign saying “child molester lives here!”

No thanks. The costs of this idea far outweigh whatever speculative benefit it might provide.

Government And Sheep

April 30, 2007

Sheep and shepherds were the subject of the readings in yesterday’s mass, in particular, Jesus saying this:

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

That’s a fine image if applied to God’s relationship to people, or a parent’s relationship to his kids. But when the deacon prayed something like:

And may all government leaders remember to treat the people as a sheperd does his sheep,

I did not respond with “Lord, hear our prayer.”

I kept silent, because I think the shepherd-sheep image is a very bad way of looking at the relationship between government and citizens. In my view, government does not exist to meet all my needs, protect me from all harms, and raise me to be an obedient little sheep. No, it exists to do the bare minimum necessary to keep us all from killing each other. That’s it.

Unfortunately, my view is not the dominant view. Or even a popular view, as I am reminded by this story in the paper today:

State Rep. Pat Moore, R-Pleasant Grove, says some of her friends have been hurt as back-seat passengers of vehicles involved in accidents.

That’s one reason she’s sponsoring a bill that would require occupants of of a car, pickup truck, van or other motor vehicle, including people in a back seat, to wear a seat belt while the vehicle is moving.

“We need to be as secure as we can in the car, so that if it does suddenly stop, or there’s an accident, we’re protected more,” Moore said.

Right. This is the Shepherd-sheep mentality. The sheep – Moore’s friends and the rest of us – are too stupid to take care of themselves, hence the good shepherd – Moore – will protect us from ourselves.

Give me a break. I realize the costs of this legislation won’t be high, but still, doesn’t anyone care that Moore is telling us we are too stupid to act in our own best interests?

House Upholds Important Judicial Campaign Tool

April 27, 2007

Story here:

The state House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a bill that would have let juries, not judges, decide whether people convicted of capital murder should be put to death or serve life in prison without parole.

Under current law, juries give advisory verdicts in capital cases, but judges can override.

If a jury recommends the death penalty, a judge can impose a sentence of life in prison without parole. If a jury recommends life in prison without parole, a judge can impose a death sentence.

What the story does not mention is that when judges use override, nine times out of ten they use it to reject the jury’s life recommendation and impose a death sentence.

Whether or not to impose a death sentence is a serious question, one that ought to be answered by a person who is completely free of any outside influences. In a state that chooses judges through partisan elections, that person is not the judge.