Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Be they ever so resolved

You say you want a resolution? Well, Alabama has two notable ones in the news today.

In the category of unfinished historical business, the Legislature looks set to issue an official apology for the state's role in slavery, more than 140 years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished the practice. Both houses OK'd an apology resolution today in votes accelerated by Gov. Bob Riley's promise to sign any such measure that emerges and an amendment by state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, to bar the resolution from being used in litigation. (The Alabama Constitution already explicitly grants the state sovereign immunity from private suits, but Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, nonetheless warned that the measure could open the door to reparations lawsuits.)

The House approved its legislation on a voice vote, while the Senate vote was 22-7, with Democrats providing all of the "yes" votes. The "no" votes came from Sens. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale; Bishop; Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery; Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo; Rusty Glover, R-Semmes; Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills. Abstentions came from Sens. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile; Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope; Steve French, R-Birmingham; Del Marsh, R-Anniston; and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. The lone Democrat not to vote "yes" was Sen. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, who was recorded as present.

The other measure back in the news is a second attempt to pass an inclusiveness resolution that would declare Birmingham to be a tolerant place for all kinds of minorities, including gays. The measure went down to defeat last month, but Wade Kwon reports that Councilwoman Valerie Abbott will reintroduce it soon and should have the votes to get it approved.

The symbolic resolutions are just that -- symbolic -- and won't have much direct substantive effect on Alabamians' everyday lives. Still, each has its own importance. The slavery apology will indicate to outsiders whose mental image of our state is still filled with fire hoses and attack dogs that today's Alabama is quite a different place. Along the same lines, the inclusiveness resolution will acknowledge that Birmingham, the heart of the civil rights struggle, is a city that hasn't forgotten the value of fighting for the rights of minority groups.

In an age when image is everything, these resolutions would show the world a picture of Alabama as it is: an imperfect place (just as all other places are) determined to move toward a brighter future. Here's hoping both measures find acceptance.

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