House Education Committee Chair Describes Alabama’s Unprecedented Political Whirlwind

Last week highlighted the power of women in Alabama politics, the chair of a House education committee proudly said at today’s Business Council of Alabama’s Tuesday briefing.

Robert R. McGhee, vice chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, today’s briefing sponsor, introduced House Education Policy Committee Chair Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the second largest native American tribe in Florida and the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama. The tribe has a multi-state economic development impact, McGhee said.

Rep. Collins noted the positives occurring last week among the political distractions of this legislative session.

“Lyn Stuart, a Supreme Court justice swears in Kay Ivey as governor, the Ethics Commission turns in the (Governor Bentley) investigation to Ellen Brooks, so for influential woman it’s a good time,” Rep. Collins said.

Ivey, then the lieutenant governor, became governor last week after Bentley’s resignation following his guilty plea to misdemeanor and ethics law charges. That ended the ethics investigation against Bentley that had been forwarded to Brooks, the former Montgomery County district attorney who was named a special attorney general to look into the Bentley matter.

Gov. Ivey is the first Republican female governor in Alabama history and the second female governor.

Rep. Collins recalled how Ivey, then in her first term as lieutenant governor in 2012, spoke in Decatur and used the acronym FEISTY that describes her philosophy: Focus, Energy, Integrity, Solve problems, Take the blame, and, Yes, I do windows, as in willing to do the heavy lifting.

“It’s a philosophy a lot of women have,” Rep. Collins said. “It’s not important we get credit, but just get it done. I love that, I hope she stays feisty.”

Rep. Collins, R-Decatur, is sponsoring several bills that are in the legislative pipeline this session, which are important to education and economic development.

They are HB 97, which is known as the longitudinal data bill, HB 153, the civics test bill, and HB 245, which fine tunes the Alabama public charter school law.

HB 153, which is on the House calendar, would create a system to collect personally unidentifiable data for analyzing to be used to structure relevant education and workforce development practices.

The bill was held up last year due to misconceptions but Rep. Collins brought it back. “Who would think that about a bill like that that would give us answers about education that would help economic development would be controversial?” she said.

HB 153 would require students to pass a simple civics test before being allowed to graduate from high school. The multiple-choice test includes questions such as how many branches of government does the United States system have, who is the president of the United States, and who is your U.S. representative?

She said a survey revealed that only 36 percent of those questioned could correctly answer the three branches of government. “We need better informed citizens, it will make us a better state,” she said.

HB 245 would amend the charter school law concerning local tax revenue, among other provisions.

Rep. Collins said this session from her perspective has been a strange one with its many political distractions.

The session began with a new House speaker, which meant new committee chairs, a new majority leader and a new minority leader, the governor appointing a U.S. senator – “that created distraction in the House and Senate” – and the swearing in of Lt. Gov. Ivey as governor following the House impeachment committee report on then-Gov. Robert Bentley, and his resignation.

“Who had time to think of legislation?” she quipped.

Rep. Collins said the two-week legislative break provided a much-needed time to regroup and renew commitment to worthy legislation. “I prayed for an attitude adjustment and I prayed for everyone in Montgomery to have an attitude adjustment,” she said with a chuckle.