Reading Proficiency, Equal Pay Among Bills Passed in Alabama Legislature

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A lot happened this week during what is expected to be the final week of the legislative session. Lawmakers passed a bill that mandates equal pay for workers, and they passed a measure that gives the governor more control over the state parole board. We begin this week’s legislative wrap-up with another bill lawmakers passed that would hold back third-graders who aren’t proficient in reading. An estimated 100,000 students could be retained under the bill. Don Dailey, host of Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal, tells WBHM’s Gigi Douban supporters say the measure is tough but necessary.

More from the Associated Press on the bills passed so far:

Third Grade Reading Bill 

Alabama could become the next state to require third graders to pass a reading test before moving to fourth grade.

Lawmakers gave final approval to the bill that, beginning in the 2021-22 school year, would require third graders to meet reading benchmarks before being promoted.

The Alabama Senate unanimously approved the bill by Rep. Terri Collins after Republicans used a cloture motion to end debate. It now goes to the governor.

“To me if we pass a student who cannot read out of the third grade then we are failing that individual,” Collins said.

The Alabama Literacy Act spells out a number of initiatives to try to boost reading scores. Those include establishing regional and local reading specialists to work with struggling students, requiring summer reading camps and trying to better identify and assist students with dyslexia. The Alabama Department of Education estimates that the proposals would cost approximately $90 million annually, according to a fiscal note on the bill by the Legislative Services Agency.

While the bill passed without a dissenting vote, some lawmakers objected to the requirement to flunk children and were concerned the state will not adequately help struggling readers.

“These are the kids you are going to kick to curb,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat from Birmingham said.

Collins said the bill does “more than we’ve ever done” to help struggling readers. She said the requirement to hold students back is what gives “a sense of urgency … to work with these students to make sure they are ready to read.”

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Campus Speech

Lawmakers approved a bill that would require public universities to develop and adopt policies protecting campus free speech.

The policies would include that campuses “shall be open to any speaker whom the institution’s student organizations or faculty have invited” and that universities will not charge security fees based on the “content of the invited guest’s speech.”

Republican Rep. Matt Fridy, who sponsored the bill, says the legislation is important in protecting universities as the “marketplace of ideas.”

Some Democrats argue the bill would offer protections to racist speakers such as neo-Nazis.

Lawmakers on Thursday pushed back the effective date to July 2020. The bill now goes to Ivey.

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Parole Board Overhaul

Alabama lawmakers approved an overhaul of the state parole board, an effort led by Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

Ivey and Marshall had sought changes after the parole of some violent offenders, including a man who was later accused of killing three people in Guntersville.

“Too many lives were lost because of wrongful, early paroles in our state. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and I have been relentless in our efforts to ensure the Board of Pardons and Paroles is managed prudently and effectively,” Ivey said in a statement.

The bill would make the board director a gubernatorial appointee who could be dismissed at will by the governor. The board currently hires the director.

It would also put into state law current rules about sentence minimums that inmates must serve before becoming eligible for parole.

But opponents argued it could politicize the parole process and would do nothing to address problems that have occurred.

Ebony Howard, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the bill “will have the immediate effect of limiting paroles, increasing overcrowding, and increasing hopelessness and desperation of the people under the state’s care.”

The Alabama Senate voted 25-5 for the bill.

Gigi Douban

Gigi Douban

News Director