The opening of the 2018 session of the Alabama Legislature isn’t until next week, but District 22 Senator Greg Albritton is already at work.
The Atmore Republican, who was elected to his seat in 2014, has begun the process of introducing legislation that includes a bill designed to completely restructure the state’s department of education and another that would remove the state as an active participant in weddings.
Albritton said he knows he has support for both pieces of legislation, but he’s not sure exactly how widespread that support is.
“I have some support for it, yes,” the state lawmaker, who confirmed that he will be seeking a second term, said of the board of education bill, which is actually two bills in one. “But any time you’re talking about any kind of change, it’s a hard sell. When you talk about a significant change, that goes up exponentially.
There are a lot of misunderstandings about it; there are a lot of concerns about it.”
The dual bills would require that the State School Superintendent position become a cabinet-level gubernatorial appointment and that the superintendent appoint state board of education members. The BOE slots are currently elective positions, and board members select the superintendent.
“My premise is, we cannot stay with what we have,” explained Albritton, who served in the state House from 2002 until 2006. “It’s a matter of accountability; it’s a matter of putting in a structure that can work because what we’ve got now has not worked, and I don’t think there’s a lot of confidence that it will work.”
The senator’s “marriage bill,” would lessen the direct role played by the state’s probate judges in issuing and recording marriage licenses. It also separates the roles of church and state in the marriage process.
“My bill removes the probate judge’s signature from the license and removes the requirement of a ceremony,” Albritton said. “A couple goes to the probate office, gets a form and signs it. Then they have it notarized or witnessed, bring it back to the probate office and have it recorded. It prevents any judge from saying someone can’t get married, but it also allows everybody to have access to that. As far as a ceremony, if they want to have a ceremony, they can have one. They can use a preacher; they can make one up, whatever. The main meat is that they’re giving the state notice that they have entered into this partnership.”
He said the support is there for the bill, if and when the legislature can find time to debate it.
“I have had the votes to pass that one, but it’s just been a matter of getting to it,” he said. “I believe I have the commitments from the House and Senate to move this pretty quickly. We’ve got to change our law to be in compliance with the feds and give everybody across the state the same opportunities. It’s not a matter of want to; it’s a matter of have to.”
He said the new legislation would remove the preacher, usually required to perform a marriage ceremony and sign the license, from a position as an “agent of the state.”
The effort to craft new legislation will come while Albritton, who admitted that the federal government has gotten “way too humongous to deal with,” and his Senate peers will also be searching for ways to further cut the cost of running state government.
“It’s different at the state level,” he said. “We’ve been cutting and cutting since 2008, partly because of the recession but also because Republicans took over and started cutting. We’ve cut a great deal, with significant cuts in many areas.”
He said one of the major changes has been in the reduction of offices and employees, along with a more hands-on approach to funding requests.
“Hearings consisted of the departments coming in with slide shows and presentations and telling us ‘this is what we need, go get it,’ and that was it,” he recalled.
“The interchange of ideas and asking of questions was not significantly present. Now we have separate task forces, sub-committees and whole committees that look at these things very closely. We meet with them two or three times, ask questions, go to their offices; we ask other people and we hire other people to look at (each funding request).
“It’s no longer a matter of just writing a check and saying, ‘here, go spend it.’ It’s now a matter of looking at the request and asking if they really need this, where the money is going, how it’s going to be spent. There’s been a lot of progress between (2008) and now, in my perception, and we’re trying to do more.”
He agreed that the “Big 3” — Medicaid, prisons and infrastructure — were key issues but noted that the state’s hands are tied and can only be loosened by the federal government.
“Those three issues have one thing in common; we can’t do anything about them without federal approval,” he said. “Those three are biggies, but they’re not anything we can deal with independently or separately. The only thing we can do is dance to the tune they play, when and if they hit some tunes.”
The state lawmaker said the effect of “lame duck” status for several Senate members could have positive or negative results for the 35-member body’s effort to carry out its duties.
“My concern is that we have eight or nine senators who are not going to run again, and that’s a large number,” he mused. “Because of that, the question becomes, ‘what game are they going to play?’ Then we have some senators who are running for higher office. How are they going to use their present position and this media coverage event to their advantage? I’m concerned about that.”
He said he would not be surprised at all if he and most of the other GOP Senate members draw opposition in their respective bid to seek re-election, especially in the wake of Roy Moore’s loss to Democrat Doug Jones in the December 12 special election to fill the Alabama vacancy in the U.S. Senate.
“What the Doug Jones election has done is infused Democrats with the euphoria of a win in Alabama, a turning of the tide, so to speak,” he said. “Therefore, Democrats are going to be out beating the bushes, trying to get somebody to challenge each Republican.”
Albritton also expressed hope that the 2018 session would be a little more low-key than last year’s legislative period, when controversy was a constant.
“That session was one of the most historically unusual ones,” he said. “During that time frame, we literally cut off the head of government. The governor was gone; the speaker (of the House) was gone; the (Alabama Supreme Court) chief justice was gone, and we had no school superintendent. Every one of those controversies took huge resources of political stamina to survive.”
Albritton said when he speaks at various forums he provides a brief summary of the 2017 session’s distractions.
“I tell folks that our governor was impeached, our speaker was imprisoned, our school superintendent was fired and our chief justice was removed, again,” he said. “And that’s one heck of a way to try and run a railroad.”