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Successful Session Produces Landmark New Laws Protecting Property and Children

The special session that ended a few days ago was a great success for the people of Alabama.

More work was done and more meaningful reforms were passed in the five days of the special session than during the entire regular session.

As a result of this success, we not only met our constitutional requirement to pass a balanced budget, we achieved needed reforms that will benefit all Alabamians.

These reforms safeguard our homes and businesses from government seizure, they make our communities safer from sex offenders, they improve protection of our environment and they strengthen laws against drunk drivers.

Every one of the 14 bills I proposed to the Legislature passed.

And by completing all this work within the five-day goal I set, the absolute minimum was spent on the special session in terms of both time and taxpayer dollars.

Apart from the balanced General Fund budget, this special session will be remembered primarily for the passage of two pieces of landmark legislation.

One gives Alabamians the strongest private property protections in America, and the other gives our state some of the toughest laws in the country against sexual predators.

Alabama is the first state in the nation to strengthen our citizens’ private property rights in response to the misguided ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in late June.

The high court’s decision showcased the awesome power activist judges have, and unfortunately use, to rewrite our Constitution.

By the narrowest 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court granted government unlimited power to seize private property from one owner and transfer it to another.

This is not the same as the authority in the Constitution granted to Congress and states to take someone’s property for a specific public use, such as constructing a highway or a military base.

Instead, the court’s ruling allows government to take your home and give it to a business because that business will generate more tax revenue than your home.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the dangers of this ruling.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in her dissent, warned it means “the specter of condemnation hangs over all property” and “nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

Fortunately, nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision prevents states from enforcing stronger private property protections than what the court recognized.

The court, in essence, invited the states to become the protectors of private property.

Alabama eagerly accepted that invitation.

Immediately after the Supreme Court made this terrible decision, I promised that action would be taken in the special session to counter it.

Today, Alabama is leading a property rights movement that is sweeping the nation.

More than 20 other states are considering property protection bills like Alabama’s.

This new landmark law prohibits state and local governments in Alabama from condemning and taking someone’s private property to use for private development, such as a shopping center, factory, office building or residential development.

That makes our property protections the strongest in the nation.

Just as our citizens deserve the strongest possible protection of their property, they deserve our best efforts to protect their children from sexual predators.

On this front, the special session also produced an historic overhaul of our laws.

For several months, a team of almost 200 sworn law enforcement officers has been working with Attorney General Troy King to recommend a fundamental rewrite of Alabama’s laws against sex offenders.

Every new report of child abduction and violent sexual assault made their work even more urgent and more important.

This team worked hard and unanimously endorsed the bill that resulted from their efforts.

They deserve the gratitude of every Alabamian.

What they helped create is the most dramatic attempt ever by our state to close loopholes in the current law and to prevent convicted child molesters from ever hurting another child.

It is unprecedented in its scope and severity, as it rightfully needs to be.

From now on, sexual offenders whose victims are children will serve a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison for their first offense.

They will be ineligible for parole, probation, split sentences or time off for “good behavior” in prison that gives them an early release.

Not only does our new child protection law increase prison sentences so these monsters are put away for a long time, it also significantly improves the ability of law enforcement and the public to track their whereabouts once they complete their sentences.

They will be subject to no less than 10 years of electronic monitoring.

They will be required to possess either a driver’s license or identification card that carries a special mark identifying them as sex offenders.

Those who commit sex offenses against children under age 12 are prohibited from working or loitering at or near schools, parks or other areas where children gather.

There will also be better and more thorough notification if a sex offender moves into our communities, and existing penalties for noncompliance with our Community Notification Act will be strengthened.

At the end of their prison sentences, sex offenders who do not provide a verifiable address for the sex offender registry will be re-arrested before they even leave the prison parking lot.

The public and law enforcement rely on this registry for our children’s protection.

That’s why we’re taking these aggressive steps to improve its effectiveness and accuracy.

Now Alabama will have a much more vigorous and vigilant tracking and accountability system.

With this new law, the days when sexual predators could slip anonymously back into our neighborhoods are over.

There can be no doubt the special session achieved far-reaching results that better protect our property and our children.

These new laws are ground-breaking, they are among the strongest in the nation, and they will make Alabama a better and safer place to live and raise families.

Bob Riley is Governor of Alabama. He can be reached by e-mail on the Internet at www.governor.state.al.us/.