Legislature passes literacy, parole, campus free speech bills

Published 8:37 pm Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Alabama Legislature headed toward the end of its 2019 session Thursday with Republicans pushing through votes on a bill to overhaul the state parole board and another to implement a high-stakes requirement for third graders to meet reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade.

Lawmakers wound down the legislative session with a flurry of votes on measures that had been identified as priorities by Republican legislative leaders.

Alabama legislators approved an overhaul of the state parole board that had been pushed by Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

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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.

The Alabama Senate voted 25-5 for the bill. Ivey said she looks forward to signing the bill into law.

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 moving to the fourth grade

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.

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.

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.