CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

July 1, 2013

New Alabama laws affect Scottsboro Boys, red tape

BY PHILLIP RAWLS
Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. —

As most Alabamians prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, state officials are busy implementing new state laws that take effect Monday, including one designed to write another chapter in the state's civil rights history.

The law allows the state parole board to issue posthumous pardons to the Scottsboro Boys. Prior to Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur getting the law passed, the parole board could not issue pardons to people after their deaths.

Other new laws are supposed to cut red tape for businesses and protect utility workers. A law affecting abortion clinics was supposed to take effect Monday, but it got put on hold.

Most states have many new laws taking effect July 1 because that's when the states begin their fiscal year.Alabama starts its fiscal year on Oct. 1, but it still has several laws taking effect Monday. The Legislature passed them in the spring session with the provision that the take effect at the start of the third month after the governor signed them.

—SCOTTSBORO BOYS: The nine Scottsboro Boys were convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women on a train in north Alabama in 1931. All but the youngest were sentenced to death, even though one of the women recanted her story. All eventually got out of prison. Only one received a pardon before he died.

Sheila Washington, founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, has worked for three years to get the pardons and views them as a positive chapter added to a tragic story.

"It will mean justice has been obtained and there is no more shame on the Scottsboro Boys," she said.

The case became a symbol of the tragedies wrought by racial injustice. It inspired songs, books and films. A Broadway musical was staged in 2010, the same year a museum opened that was dedicated to the case. The Scottsboro Boys' appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court decisions that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can't be systematically excluded from criminal juries.

Researchers at the University of Alabama have been working to compile the paperwork to request the pardons. They hope to file it soon after the Fourth of July holiday. Assistant professor John Miller said they are getting support from elected officials in Morgan and Jackson counties, the two counties where the Scottsboro Boys were tried. The new law requires that support for the parole board to issue pardons. The applications are detailed, he said, because they must show that pardons would remedy social injustices associated with racial discrimination.

If Washington has her way, the pardons won't be the last chapter in the story of the Scottsboro Boys. She said no one knows where five of the nine are buried. She hopes news coverage of the pardons will help solve that mystery and she can get markers erected at each grave.

She said they deserve recognition for changing not only attitudes, but the law, in America.

"It's a victory not just for them, but for humanity," she said.

—RED TAPE: The Red Tape Reduction Act requires any state agency proposing a rule that might have an adverse effect on business to file an impact statement with the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Regulation Review prior to its adoption if the agency receives a complaint that the regulation might negatively impact a business. The committee can direct the agency to modify or drop the proposed rule.

The law also requires all existing regulations to be reviewed every five years to determine whether they should be amended, rescinded or remain unchanged. Information related to proposed and existing regulation reviews will also be placed on agency websites to provide public access.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. April Weaver of Pelham, said the new law protects businesses from having to spend time and money fighting state regulations that would reduce productivity.

—UTILITY CREWS: This new law was sponsored by Republican Sen. Greg Reed of Jasper and was pushed by utility companies. It provides that a person is guilty of criminal tampering if they threaten a utility worker with a deadly or dangerous weapon after the worker has gone on property to do a job and properly identified himself when asked.

"It's been a problem that unfortunately has gotten worse over the last several years," Reed said.

Under his legislation, a person making the threat could end in prison for one to 10 years, depending on the severity of threat.

—MILITARY: Another new law taking effect Monday allows cities and counties to provide buildings and other facilities to the federal government. Gov. Robert Bentley said the new law, sponsored by Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, is aimed at making Alabama more attractive for military expansion when the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission proposes the next round of base changes.

"Anything we can do to strengthen our position in Alabama, we are going to do," the governor said.

—ABORTION: One new law that was supposed to take effect Monday requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to local hospitals. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood challenged the law in court, saying it would close three of Alabama's five licensed abortion clinics. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson decided Friday to put the law on hold until July 12 while he considers the suit.