Alabama House returns to session with several items to discuss

Published 6:09 pm Monday, April 1, 2019

MONTGOMERY — It’ll be a busy week for the Alabama Legislature as several bills have come to light in the past few weeks.

One of the most significant bills facing Chambers County and its students is the potential repeal of Common Core standards — the state’s math and English standards identifying what students should know after completing each grade.

A recent bill passed in the Senate would repeal the standards from public schools by the 2021-2022 school year and adopt new measures called the Alabama Core Standards. Within the bill, there is language to suggest the new standards will not affect the use of college entrance exams, workforce skills assessment, advanced placement courses, career technical credentials and other measures of academic success.

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Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Wedowee, spent 31 years as a teacher in public schools in Randolph County, and he’s an opponent of Common Core. However, he feels there has to be something in place that doesn’t put Alabama students behind.

“We are not looking to water down the curriculum in any way,” Fincher said. “We want to have Alabama standards for Alabama students.”

He’ll be on the House Education Policy Committee that will look at the bill first when lawmakers return to Montgomery Tuesday.

Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, said she still needs to figure out how she feels on Common Core, but she’s heard from several constituents who are against the current standards in schools.

“I am a firm believer that if parents cannot assist their children with homework, and assist their child with learning, then you set the child up to fail,” she said.

She said the state hasn’t shown the improvement it hoped for when it passed the measure nine years ago, and parents also aren’t in support of the bill.

“If we aren’t going up, then something is wrong,” Wood said.

Phillip Johnson, superintendent of Lanett City Schools, and Kelli Hodge, superintendent of Chambers County Schools have both made public statements about how the bill would severely change the way the districts operate. 

Another bill expected to be discussed this week is one that would make it illegal to hold a cell phone while driving.

The bill was proposed by Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, due to a 17-year-old Thompson High School student in Alabaster, who died in a traffic accident while she attempted to send a Snapchat message in February 2018.

The actual language in the bill says it would “prohibit a person from holding or otherwise using his or her body to support a wireless communication device or standalone electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.”

A first offense of the law would result in a $50 fine and a two-point violation on that person’s driver’s license. That penalty increases to $100 for the second offense, along with another two-point driver’s license hit and then $150 for the third and each subsequent offense as well as a three-point violation on a driver’s license.

“It won’t take long and that person’s license would be suspended if they continue to use a phone,” Farley said.

According to the DMV, 12 points on a driver’s license triggers a suspension of 60 days. The penalties go up with more points.

“I am hoping that it is enough of a penalty to stop it,” Farley said.

A third bill that has started to make some noise, but hadn’t been introduced as of Monday, would make it a felony to perform an abortion in Alabama at any stage of the pregnancy. The only exemption would be for the health of the mother. The bill is expected to be introduced Tuesday by Rep. Teri Collins, R-Decatur.

Collins and Eric Johnston, director of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said the plan behind the bill is to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

“This bill just truly confronts Roe versus Wade and it criminalizes abortion,” Collins said to the Associated Press. “To me, this is an issue the court simply got wrong years ago.”

Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said the ACLU of Alabama is prepared to sue if the Legislature passes this bill.

“These lawsuits are a part of a plan to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. They know they will not win in federal, district, or appeals courts because these bills are flagrantly unconstitutional,” he said in a news release. “However, if a state loses in lower courts, appeals to the Supreme Court and is denied review, then they will owe potentially hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money in attorney fees. None of these states, including Alabama can afford to throw money away like that.”

The ACLU has already filed suit to block similar bans in Kentucky and North Carolina, Marshall said.

The House and Senate in Georgia approved a “heartbeat” abortion bill recently that could be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp this week. The measure would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat is detected.