MONTGOMERY — Legislation changing how the Alabama Department of Archives and History's Board of Trustees is appointed advanced out of the Senate County and Municipal Government committee on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), revises the governing structure of the Department of Archives and History's Board of Trustees. Under existing law, vacancies on the board are filled by the board.

If the bill is passed into law, the department's board on June 1 would be replaced by members appointed by the Governor, the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro-Tem, and the Lieutenant Governor. Each elected official would appoint three members. 

Under the legislation, the Governor would also serve on the board. Current board members are eligible for reappointment by elected officials.

Elliott and other Republican lawmakers started to take an interest in the funding and governance of the Alabama Department of Archives and History after the department hosted a gay history luncheon in June.

 "Unelected bureaucrats claiming superiority over the very people they're meant to serve goes against the foundation of our republic. State-funded institutions are meant to reflect the will of the people, yet the Department of Archives and History has blatantly disregarded Alabama's longstanding commitment to defending democracy and instead promoted their own professional political class," Elliott said. "Legislators have heard the concerns of our constituents across Alabama, and we have answered with a legislative result to implement good governance. I am proud to sponsor legislation that defends democracy for the people of Alabama."

Gary Burton, a longtime member of the Friends of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said at Tuesday's public hearing that he opposed Senate Bill 77 "because of the instability it would undoubtedly bring to a trusted public institution." 

"Over the past several decades private donor support for the Archives has totaled some $15 million. How is that possible? Well, I think it's possible because such an impressive level of private funding is no accident. This stems from the stability that is girded under public trust," Burton said. "The governing board has allowed Archives to collect quilts from Gee's Bend, uniforms and letters from Alabamians serving overseas, things like the song lyrics from Hank Williams, and many, many other things. The governing board for such an institution should not be subject to change with every election cycle or at the whim of state leadership. We're just pleading for the existing stability to continue." 

The bill passed out of committee along party lines with a couple of Republican Senators who voted in favor, saying they'd like to see changes to the bill before it goes to a vote on the Senate floor.

After the bill passed out of committee, Senate Majority Leader Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) said, "The Department of Archives and History board is the definition of self-perpetuating power within bureaucracy." 

"The current board of trustees has supported programming and education that undermines Alabama's values," Livingston said. "The Legislature established the Archives to research and preserve Alabama's history, not to utilize public funds to promote a social agenda inconsistent with our state's principles. Senate Republicans are committed to reining in the power of unelected boards and holding people accountable, especially when using taxpayers' money."

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