After three hours of debate, the Alabama House of Representatives passed new district lines for its own House 68-35.
But the plan has sparked objections from Republicans and Democrats for a variety of reasons.
Representative Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, introduced the surrogate bill to the House on Monday afternoon after the agency approved a new congressional district map earlier today.
The replacement bill mainly mirrored the original bill introduced in the House last Thursday, but made some changes to districts in the Mobile area. Pringle called the changes “minor,” but some Democrats questioned whether the revised version could be seen by the public before the vote. Only the original version of the map was publicly available at the time of the meeting.
Pringle said the redistribution committee made an effort to maintain as many counties as possible in their entirety, respect precinct boundaries, achieve gaps, comply with voting rights law and prevent incumbents from opposing each other.
“The 2017 plan that passed divided 400 polling stations,” Pringle said. “We only had 19 entire counties. We have significantly reduced that. I think we have 57 divisions and 28 whole counties.
These pillars were raised repeatedly throughout the evening as lawmakers launched suggestions for change.
But not all legislators agreed on all of these parameters.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels of D-Huntsville said more counties could have been kept in their entirety in the House plan, but Pringle asked if Daniels took the mandate into account.
“It doesn’t seem clear that this is a requirement, ”Daniels said. “There were times when the holders were placed together. “
Pringle said it was a suggested guideline that the committee adhered to if possible. With 16 holders not returning to the House, Pringle said the committee felt he could draw a map without the holders facing each other, which is true of the plan that was ultimately passed.
Democrats also raised concerns about the public hearings which were held mostly in the morning during normal business hours and the lack of transparency on the cards beforehand.
Representative Chris Englad, D-Tuscaloosa, said the process was flawed on a fundamental level.
“My real heartburn is with this process, ”said England, after pointing out the specific issues he had with his district. “It should never be a reverse process. Who cares what I think of my district? This is not my seat. It belongs to the people that the seat represents. Before we sit down with you, you should sit down with them. The people we’re supposed to represent are supposed to tell us what these cards look like, not what opportunity it gives me to be re-elected. The point of this process is not that I choose them; it is they who choose me. This is why this process is not organic.
England also asked what hierarchy the committee used to determine which standards took precedence in conflict, and specifically criticized the emphasis on maintaining constituency integrity, as the legislature did not no control over the constituency lines.
Pringle responded that the courts have ruled that the perimeter lines must be taken into account when redistributing.
“The last trial we got in trouble for breaking up constituencies on racial lines,” Pringle said. “For me, this court case has the weight of the law. “
Several lawmakers have raised concerns about their individual districts, including Representative Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, whose district would become a majority and likely a Democratic seat.
Meadows said the new neighborhood, which would be 52% black and 43% white, would be “nothing like the neighborhood I had.”
“I hate the word race, ”Meadows said. “I hate to use the word black and white. It makes me really sick to say this. … I hope that at some point in the future of our state, I hope we can ignore race.
Moans rose from the ground as Meadows echoed a previous line from Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, calling herself a ‘social justice figure’.
But Democrats weren’t alone in bemoaning Meadows’ plan to keep his district as is – Pringle said the change “would unmistakably violate voting rights law.”
“If you take this surrogate, that’s what you do: it’s a conscious race-based decision,” Pringle said. “District 76 is said to be 84.72% black. Overcrowding a neighborhood with black minority members like this is called wrapping. This plan as presented to you today would increase District 69 to 49.09% Black. So he packs a district up to over 80 percent and takes one below 50 percent based on a race-based design. “
The substitute was tabled by 59 votes to 20 and 18 abstentions.
Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville, brought in a replacement he said would make his district more equal to Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and give districts straight and congruent lines.
But Pringle said it would violate voting rights law.
“It divides ridings exactly across racial lines,” Pringle said. “The racial split got us into a mess… There is no reason under the Voting Rights Act to make any changes.”
The replacement was filed 64-34.
Representative Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, presented a replacement plan focused on maintaining all counties instead of preserving constituencies or premises.
When Pringle asked if the card would pit the cardholders against each other, Gray replied “a few” and then, when he pressed, replied “two or three.” Minutes later, Pringle said it was determined the card would actually pit 10 cardholders against each other.
“I think you are ignoring the other directives of the committee,” said Pringle.
Pringle added that seven majority-minority districts would be scrapped as part of the plan.
The substitute was tabled 71-21 with one abstention.
The House then voted to close debate and bring the original bill to a vote for final adoption.
In his closing comments on the bill, Daniels reiterated his position that more emphasis should have been placed on maintaining entire counties and not on occupation, and hinted at an ongoing litigation over the redistribution process.
“I find it very difficult that we protect the incumbents instead of the communities of interest,” Daniels said. “There will be next steps in this particular process. I look forward to fighting this in court to achieve a process that will work for the people of Alabama to ensure their voices are heard. “
Representative Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said the process would not be contentious if the management was fair.
“When we use integrity and character to draw these districts, you don’t run into these issues,” Jackson said. “You keep talking about the lawsuits – we sued because it’s unfair. Fairness is not in your repertoire, not in your DNA. It bothers me that we have to fight this fight every 10 years. That does not make sense. It is absurd that minorities have to go to court to try to get what is fair and equitable to represent their people.
US bailout fund
The House voted 103-0 to allocate $ 80 million in US bailout funds, with $ 40 million each going to the Alabama Hospitals Association and the Alabama Nursing Homes Association.
England pointed out that the House voted to give 10 times more COVID-19 relief money to prisons than hospitals.
“I’m just saying, man, that kind of said something,” England said. “We’re ready to give $ 400 million to build prisons, but AHA is asking for $ 200 million and we got $ 40 million – that says something. It sort of suggests something about our priorities that we’re willing to spend more on getting you incarcerated than on keeping you healthy.
Lawmakers have also expressed hope that more funding for hospitals will be addressed quickly at the start of the regular session.
Bills now go to the Senate for consideration.