The problem with greed

 

By Josh Moon
It’s the greed that bothers me most about the Alabama Legislature. I know that it sometimes seems tough to narrow down the most troubling aspect of our state lawmakers — to boil down the systemic failures and overwhelming corruption to a single topic.
   But it’s not for me.
   It’s greed.
  Because every bad decision made in that house, every stupid bill, every head-scratching statement, all of the oh-my-God embarrassing moments can almost always be traced back to one motivating factor: self-enrichment.
   Let me give you an example from this past week.
   The Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee was set to consider a bill — SB210 — that addressed an obvious and serious problem in this state: a shortage of rural doctors.
   To address this issue, SB210, carried by Sen. Larry Stutts and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 13 other senators, would provide scholarships to a total of 100 medical students in the state.
   In exchange for the scholarships, the students would agree to sign a contract that required them to practice for five years in some underserved part of the state.
   Basically: we’ll help you pay for medical school if you’ll promise to stick around for five years and provide medical services to rural Alabamians.
   A solid idea. Good for the state.
  So, why am I talking about it in a column about greed in state government?
Because it is apparently impossible for some state lawmakers to do anything that is simply just good for the state. And it is particularly hard for Larry Stutts.
   Shortly before Wednesday’s committee meeting, I received word from a few … let’s call them insiders, that Stutts’ bill was going to have trouble in the committee because lobbyists working on behalf of Alabama’s public colleges had discovered a personal conflict of interest.
   During the meeting, Stutts’ conflict was broached, but in vague terms, and the bill was ultimately shot down by the committee.
According to multiple senators, including some on the Finance and Taxation Committee, Stutts’ conflict was this: His son recently started medical school at the college that stood to benefit the most from this scholarship program.
   Whether his son would have received a scholarship, I don’t know.
   But I do know this: Alabama has a few outstanding medical schools with long histories of churning out top-notch doctors and that place an emphasis on serving the state that supports the schools.
    Stutts’ bill bypassed those schools, and the administrations that operate them, and instead landed on The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), a private college located in Dothan.
   If you’re unfamiliar with ACOM’s work, that’s likely because it’s only been in existence since 2013.
    The college is a product of a partnership between the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan and a nonprofit group called the Alabama Medical Education Consortium (AMEC), which up until the opening of ACOM served as a sort of lobbying arm for eight osteopathic colleges around the Southeast.
   By all accounts, ACOM is a perfectly good school and AMEC is a perfectly good nonprofit with good intentions.
   But what no one in the State House could figure out was why a scholarship program that would eventually pay out medical school costs for up to 100 students would be placed in the control of a nonprofit operated by the owners of a private medical school.
   Because that’s what Stutts’ bill did — it placed complete control of the scholarship program in the hands of AMEC.
   And it reeked. So badly that some of Stutts’ fellow Republicans voted against it, and some others, after learning of his personal conflicts, were a bit ticked off.
   “The worst thing is that the way it was handled killed a bill that addressed a serious problem,” said one Republican senator, who asked not to be named.
   How many times has that been the case in this state — that greed, or at least the appearance of it, has upended attempts to do the right thing or address a serious issue?
   The root of all evil and most bad decisions.

The daycare bill: It’s all about the money

By Josh Moon
Here we go again. The daycare bill is back in the Alabama Legislature, and the hand-wringing has commenced.
   Only, most of it has occurred behind closed doors, away from the watchful eyes of the public and the media, back in the crevices of the State House, where the real business gets handled.
   That’s where state Rep. Pebblin Warren’s bill, which seeks to accomplish the apparently monumental change of forcing church-affiliated daycares to adhere to the same basic rules and standards as the other daycares, had to travel first — to the backroom.
   So it could be fixed.
   According to multiple sources, Republican leadership in the House and Senate told Warren and the supporters of the daycare bill that they wouldn’t allow it on the floor unless they first worked with the small band of special interest groups employed by wealthy churches who were opposed to the bill.
    See, this is supposed to be a drama-free session of the Legislature, what with elections coming up later this year.
   So, the GOP leadership wanted a worry-free daycare bill instead. They wanted to work it all out in a backroom and bring a bill to the floor that would pass unanimously, so everyone could pat themselves on the back and pretend that they were really concerned about child welfare.
   Of course, you might be thinking that a bill which simply imposes regulations that would do things like require criminal background checks and force daycares to provide parents with immunization information would be exactly the sort of no-brainer, worry-free bill they were looking for.
   But if so, you don’t understand how this game works in Montgomery.
   In this game, doing what’s right always, always, always comes second to money. Which is where shysters like Eric Johnston, Joe Godfrey and Roy Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law come in.
   They are the frontmen for the political groups that wealthy churches use to threaten lawmakers over potentially costly legislation, such as a bill that might finally require you to adequately staff your daycare.
   And so, as they did Tuesday, this group of conmen come rolling into town and spread snake oil far and wide. Telling people that the regulations will interfere in some imagined way on religious teachings (the bill specifically forbids it), or that it will force immunizations on parents (nope), or that it’s the first step down the slippery slope (blah, blah, blah).
   One of these guys — John Eidsmoe, with Moore’s group — actually said that the daycares are accountable to God and parents.
   I guess God isn’t big on background checks, since a simple one at a Mobile daycare last year would have saved the life of a 5-year-old.
   But see, this is how it works. The primary concern in that State House isn’t for the 5-year-old who died, or the kid in Muscle Shoals who was burned by a cigarette, or the kids who died in a fire at an unregulated daycare several years ago.
   It’s about money.
   The churches don’t want to lose their money.
 The shysters will say anything for their money.
    The lawmakers don’t want to lose their campaign donations.
   And ‘round and ‘round we go.
   Which is how a bill that has the support of more than 90 percent of the voters in this state (the other 10 percent probably didn’t understand the question) is somehow controversial and complicated.
   Somehow, that bill failed to pass last session. Somehow, that bill is so controversial — despite passing the House unanimously last year — that it required a pre-session sitdown between Warren and the Shyster Squad.
   And somehow, in yet another act of disgrace in this pathetic tale, after the meeting, that bill required a rewrite to exclude church-run daycares that don’t receive federal or state funds.
   And it still came dangerously close to not passing the House last week, when Rep. Allen Farley sought to attach another useless amendment to it — one that would shirk federal and state laws and make it OK for a child receiving taxpayer benefits to attend an unlicensed daycare facility.
  How is it possible that such a sensible and widely-supported bill could be this hard to pass?
   Because in this gerrymandered state, most Republican lawmakers have to worry only about their primary opponent. Which means they only have to worry about someone who can out-pander to the church lobby.Which is how a say-anything-for-money conman like Johnston — a man who admitted a few years ago to using his nonprofit as a pass-thru for money from Bob Riley to Mike Hubbard — is directing policy and helping write legislation.
    And dead children are barely moving the needle.

Maybe we should teach the Bible

By Josh Moon
Last week, a group of scientists announced that a fossilized human jaw bone has been discovered in a cave in Israel, and preliminary testing reveals the find could rewrite the story of man’s first travels out of Africa.
    If confirmed, the discovery would mean man first left Africa between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago, or more than 50,000 years earlier than originally thought.
    It’s a fascinating find, and if you’re wondering why I’m writing about it, it’s because I’m concerned our state Legislature is trying desperately to squeeze the life out of what little science we teach now, so I’m trying to get in whatever I can before it’s too late.
   It must be an election year, because the bills to prove “I’m a bigger Christian than you” are running wild at the State House.
   The most dangerous are a bill by Rep. Steve Hurst that would allow the teaching of creationism in public school science classes and another by Rep. Lynn Greer that would allow the Bible to be used as a textbook.
    Hurst’s bill would be quite a blow to the person whose fossilized jaw bone is now being examined, since it means he didn’t exist. Greer’s bill would be a blow to anyone who’s even just heard about the existence of the U.S. Constitution.
    Oh, and we’re not finished. Not by a long shot.
   In addition to those two bills, there are also three bills pushing the use of “In God We Trust” on buildings and other state property. Because, apparently, some Christians are so forgetful that they need to be reminded, by way of building inscriptions, to trust their God.
    And there are two more bills pushing the displaying of the Ten Commandments on public property and public buildings. This is already legal, but we’re waaaayyyy past letting facts get in the way of our pandering.
   And there’s the granddaddy of them all: Greer’s bill that would arm and train church security officers and extend Stand Your Ground laws to include churches. (Again, these laws already exist for churches, but whatever.)
    You have to at least admire the unintentional irony of multiple Ten Commandments bills at the same time as a bill making it legal to kill someone in a church.
    It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where the rental car place took his reservation but failed to hold a car: I don’t think you’re reading the Ten Commandments. You know how to talk about the Ten Commandments, to use them as political bait. But you don’t read the Ten Commandments. And really, it’s the reading of the Ten Commandments that’s the most important part.
   Currently, there are these seven bills pushing Christianity in some way and zero bills in the House committees for Ethics and Campaign Finance and Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure.
   Instead of fixing up this state or stopping themselves from stealing us blind, this oh-so-Christian bunch of lawmakers has spent the majority of their time figuring out new and increasingly more heartless ways to cut into the paltry public assistance that this state provides to its poorest citizens.
   There are bills mandating a work requirement for Medicaid — so start polishing up that resume, sick infant — and placing new restrictions on food stamps — so no more living the high life for families of three hauling in nearly $200 per month for food. And, more time was spent by the Alabama Senate cutting unemployment benefits.
   That’s right, a few years removed from the second worst financial crash in American history — a time when unemployment skyrocketed and millions of Alabamians relied on the paltry $265 per week to string together enough money to pay their bills — our senators, led by Sen. Arthur Orr, wants to make sure that lifeline — which companies factor into their workers’ pay and fund through a tax — is available for only 14 weeks instead of 26.
So, let’s see here: legalized killings in church, taking food from hungry people, stripping health care away from poor people and kicking unemployed people around.
     I change my mind, Lynn Greer. You’re right. We should teach the Bible.
    Many of your fellow Christian lawmakers obviously have no idea what it says.