“No man’s life, liberty or property are safe,” wrote New York lawyer, newspaper editor and politician Gideon J. Tucker in 1866, “while the Legislature is in session.”

The Alabama Legislature begins its 2022 regular session Tuesday. This, however, is no ordinary regular session. This is an election year session, so don’t expect the Legislature to take up anything too controversial. Lawmakers don’t want hard votes hanging over their heads when they face voters in their party primaries May 24 and the general election Nov. 8.

The legislative agenda unveiled last week by House Republicans proposes bills that fall into two broad categories: pay raises for state employees and red meat cultural issues for their party base. Republicans hold a 77-28 advantage over Democrats in the chamber, so whatever the Republican majority really wants, it gets.

Raises for state employees is an election year given — whether taxpayers have gotten raises or not — but especially with inflation at 40-year highs.

As for the red meat cultural issues, two stand out.

First, House Republicans are this year fully embracing so-called constitutional carry for handguns. That means licensed gun owners would be able to carry concealed firearms without getting a concealed carry license.

Roughly 20 states have some form of constitutional carry law, and Alabama seems likely to join them, despite opposition from gun control groups and many local sheriffs. Sheriffs’ offices currently issue concealed carry permits, for a fee.

For backers of constitutional carry, it’s a matter of principle: People should not have to pay to exercise a constitutional right. For opponents, it’s a matter of public safety in a nation already awash in guns and experiencing a rise in violent crime. Sheriffs have argued against previous attempts to pass constitutional carry by saying the permits help them keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them — even though people already undergo background checks when they purchase firearms. Perhaps sheriffs just want the money.

A 2020 survey by the Rand Corp. looked at numerous studies of the effects of constitutional carry and found them inconclusive: “Evidence that shall-issue concealed-carry laws may increase violent crime is limited. Evidence for the effect of shall-issue laws on total homicides, firearm homicides, robberies, assaults, and rapes is inconclusive.”

The debate over constitutional carry is sure to generate a lot of heat and allow for lawmakers to score a lot of political points, but the outcome probably won’t matter much — even for the sheriffs.

The second issue is “critical race theory.” CRT used to have a real meaning, but these days it seems to mean whatever people want it to mean. Regardless, the Alabama State Board of Education has already banned CRT from the state’s classrooms, so there is no real need for a law on the books, except that GOP lawmakers want to be able to say they voted to keep critical race theory out of classrooms.

Few in Alabama are for teaching students some of the more controversial things that often get labeled CRT. By that, we mean the sort of racial essentialism that tells students the most important thing about them is their skin color, which makes them either victims or oppressors and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Yet blanket bans on CRT are so broadly conceived there is legitimate concern they may scare teachers away from teaching real history, which includes slavery and Jim Crow, and which may well lead students into thorny patches like police misconduct and whether there is or isn’t institutional racism still today.

But it’s an election year, so again, expect lots of heat. Just don’t expect lawmakers to do much to make Alabamians’ lives better in terms of poverty, health or education. Those issues aren’t election year winners.

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(1) comment

MD Williams

Politicians of both parties pander to those with the loudest voices and lots of cash to throw their way. It's always the party in power that is the most guilty of this act. So whether it's good or bad, depends on one's perspective.

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