We have a legislature that won’t listen to us

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 28, 2003

For those of you who run a business, and for that matter, anyone who has a job, tell me what you think of this scenario:

Just for the fun of it, let’s pretend you own (or work at) a clothing store. There’s a customer who frequents your business and spends a good deal of money with you each year. One day, that customer calls and asks you to consider carrying a new line of slacks. Then, another customer calls and asks you to consider carrying that same line of slacks. Another customer calls a day later and makes the same request. Eventually, your phone won’t stop ringing and all your customers want you to carry this new, popular line of slacks.

This seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? If enough people call and ask for a new line of clothing, chances are, you’re going to at least consider carrying that line, aren’t you?

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Not so fast, my friend &045;&045; especially if you’re a member of the Alabama Legislature. Apparently, our fine folks over in Montgomery would take a different approach to servicing customers.

Rather than considering running the new line of slacks, they’d get so upset at all the phone calls that they’d tell you to take a hike. And just for spite’s sake, they’d pull all their other lines of slacks and not even sell pants anymore.

I know… that sounds ludicrous. What kind of mindless people would actually make such a numb-skull decision? Yes, some members of the Alabama Legislature would do such a thing.

Earlier this week, a committee in the Alabama Senate was scheduled to make a ruling on a nursing home bill. In essence, the bill would allow nursing homes to pool their money to pay claims for injuries to patients. The bill also would limit the payments nursing homes have to make for each claim.

So here’s what happened: A couple of consumer groups and concerned citizens in the state decided they didn’t like this piece of legislation. They felt putting a cap on claims filed against nursing homes could lead to a decrease in nursing home care and would eliminate protections for the elderly and poor.

Whether or not you agree with the legislation or the opponents of the legislation really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in this great democratic society, legislators are our representatives. If we have a statewide concern, we are supposed to call our representatives and tell them what we think of a certain bill up for debate.

That’s what happened in this case. A number of citizens were so fearful of this legislation that they began calling the senators on this committee. They called them in Montgomery, they called them at work, and they even called them at home.

So what did the senators on this committee do? Did they pay more attention to the citizens who were concerned about the legislation? Yeah, right.

Here’s what happened: The senators got so upset at the citizens who called them that senators voted against those very citizens. Just to teach those rascal citizens a lesson, they didn’t even consider what opponents of the bill had to say.

State Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, justified it this way: "The [bills] we get the most [calls] on, we’ll vote the other way."

And State Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, said people have only one option of contacting their representatives.

In some ways, I guess it’s understandable that legislators don’t want people calling them at work and at home. But then again, since when did our representatives become so much better than the rest of us? Just because we elected them to office, does that mean they are beyond reproach? Does it mean we can only call their statehouse offices, as one senator suggested?

As a member of the media, I can tell you that I’ve placed hundreds of calls to legislators’ offices. I also can tell you that it’s a rare event when those legislators call you back. I’ve called their businesses and their homes, and most times, that’s the only way to get in touch with a state legislator.

And all of that leads to a brief explanation of a series of stories our newspaper is in the midst of running.

For the past two Wednesdays, you’ve probably noticed stories labeled "Alabama Forward." Those stories are part of a project by Boone Newspapers Inc., the company that owns The Demopolis Times and 18 other Alabama newspapers.

Our reason for the series of stories is to create a medium that informs our readers about the financial problems facing this state. In the process, we’re also telling you a little about the 1901 Alabama Constitution, which Gov. Bob Riley has targeted for reform.

Alabama’s governmental process &045;&045; as Riley would tell you &045;&045; needs a vast overhaul. Riley has shaved $130 million of expenses in the state, and soon, he’ll probably ask voters to approve a few tax increases.

While we’ll deal with the tax increases at a later date, we feel it’s important to inform our readers about the issues facing state government.

And personally, I feel it’s important to inform you about state legislators who contribute to the problems of Alabama by virtually spitting in the face of concerned citizens.

Maybe they’d do better to start a clothing store.