Whitmire: Unintended consequences are not Alabama lawmakers’ concern

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This is an opinion column.

When I was kid in school, there was a day when all the girls were summoned to the gym for some sort of presentation. Meanwhile, the boys were allowed to watch a movie or something — I only recall the mystery of being left out and the wild speculation among the boys about what the heck they were up to in there.

Whatever it was, our teachers wouldn’t say, and when the girls were done, none of them would tell us. Most of the boys agreed it probably had something to do with tampons.

Why am I still thinking of this 30 years later?

Because I keep reading Alabama’s new DEI-ban, signed into law last week by Gov. Kay Ivey, and I’m trying to understand what it might do.

For instance, consider the law’s definition of a now-banned DEI program: “Any program, class, training, seminar, or other event where attendance is based on an individual’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation, or that otherwise violates this act.”

So tell me, how are school administrators supposed to call all girls to report to the cafeteria under such a law?

I suspect I know what you might be thinking: Don’t be stupid. That’s not what this law is for.

Of course, it’s not. But as we’ve seen in recent years, Alabama has a bad habit of passing laws that do things they weren’t intended to do. And it’s a problem.

The unintended IVF-ban is the most recent. When so-called pro-life Alabama lawmakers approved a ban on abortion, they actually made it more difficult for some parents to have children.

Again, not what lawmakers intended, but very much what they passed.

Or consider the state’s voter ID law. When lawmakers passed it, Black Democrats warned it would disenfranchise people who should be allowed to vote.

And it did — including the family of Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl who don’t use photo ID for religious reasons. The voter ID law did not include a religious exemption.

Or consider a radical rewrite of Alabama’s ethics laws sponsored by state Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne.

Simpson’s original draft would have legalized public officials directing public dollars to family members other than spouses or dependent children — brother-in-law deals would be legal, as would farther, mom, brother and sister deals.

“That’s why we put this draft out there, so people can give their feedback and we can fix any problems with it,” he said.

Simpson amended the bill, but it still removes ethics crimes from the criminal code, making them civil offenses, removes reporting requirements for gifts to lawmakers and loosens the rules for gifts from lobbyists.

Or perhaps these things are non-unintended consequences.

This curse of unintended consequences isn’t limited to the Alabama Legislature. In February, the Autauga-Prattville Library Board approved a new policy for books it would shelve in its children’s and young adults section.

“The library shall not purchase or otherwise acquire any material advertised for consumers ages 17 and under which contain content including, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance,” the policy states.

That’s a big net they cast, but let’s focus on one thread — obscenity.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” uses the n-word, which many folks understandably consider obscene. Should it be removed from the young adult shelves in Prattville?

Recently, I asked the chairman of that library board, Ray Boles, that question.

“We would have to sit down and talk about it,” he said.

Boles made it clear, he was only concerned about sexually explicit content, but that’s not what the policy he approved said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kay Ivey’s latest appointee to the Alabama Public Library Service board, Amy Minton, has proposed a nearly word-for-word, copy-and-paste of Prattville’s policy for every library in the state.

Talk to lawmakers responsible for these blunders and they’ll tell you that unintended consequences are unavoidable and difficult to predict.

Hogwash.

Go back and listen to the lawmakers and other officials who voted against such laws and policies. Or revisit the opposition in public hearings. You’ll find these questions raised and promptly ignored.

Most of the time, lawmakers just don’t want to fool with them. So they don’t.

And then we, the public, are left to live with their mistakes.

It is the job of lawmakers and public officials to consider beforehand, not after, what the laws they pass and the policies they set will do. And if they can’t do that, then we need new lawmakers who can.

Elections have consequences, too, and it’s time for Alabamians to be much more intentional.

Kyle Whitmire is the 2023 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. You can follow him on Threads here and subscribe to his weekly newsletter, Alabamafication.

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