The House Republican caucus Thursday unveiled a 2013 agenda that, among other items, would strengthen gun rights in the state Constitution, introduce new regulations for abortion clinics and give local school districts the right to to request flexibility in certain state laws, policies and regulations.
House leaders at a press conference invoked Alabama's motto, "We Dare Defend Our Rights," and said the agenda was in part a means to convey their opposition to policies promoted or supported by President Barack Obama.
"It's no secret that President Obama and the Democrat-controlled U.S Senate are pushing a left-leaning agenda nationally," said House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who criticized "out-of-control government spending, unconstitutional gun control efforts and the stifling mandates of Obamacare."
Hubbard said passing the agenda would be the first order of business for the House. The bills had not been prefiled as of early Thursday afternoon.
The proposed legislation includes:
-- The Alabama Firearms Protection Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would "require future courts to use strict judicial scrutiny in evaluating state laws that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms," according to a statement on the agenda. Hubbard said the legislation would signal to Alabama residents the Legislature would do all it could to protect gun rights.
-- The Women's Health and Safety Act, which leaders said would require "direct physician involvement" and "mandatory standards for nursing care and post-operative follow-up visits at abortions clinics." In addition, another bill would allow "certain employers" to opt out of contraceptive coverage mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as health care reform or Obamacare.
-- The Local Control School Flexibility Act, which would give local school systems the ability to request flexibility from certain "statutes, policieis and regulations." Similar provisions were part of a charter school bill that failed to pass in last year's Regular Session; Hubbard said this bill would preserve those regulations, but was not a charter school bill.
In addition, Hubbard said the first bill that would be considered would be legislation requiring the state to pay back an estimated $437 million borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund last year. Voters approved the move in a special election on September 18; the proposal drew sharp criticism from some conservative groups. The legislation would require the entire amount to be paid back by fiscal year 2026.
The agenda also includes a push for reduced government via streamlining some law enforcement and legislative services. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has said the initiatives could include merging of some investigative bureaus currently run by law enforcement agencies, and possible consolidation of the Legislative Reference Service and Legislative Fiscal Office.
On school safety, Hubbard said he was still awaiting a report from the House and Senate Education Policy committees, which held a joint meeting last week to look at the issue following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December. Hubbard was noncommittal about a proposal from Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, that would authorize school districts to allow certain employees to carry firearms on campus.
"I think what's going to move is what's going to be recommended by the professionals who made their recommendations to the committee," Hubbard said. "I don't know if that specific bill will be there or not."
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