MONTGOMERY — The House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee amended and passed legislation by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) to change the appointment and removal process for members of the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH).

Elliott's Senate Bill 77 (SB77) changes how board vacancies are handled on the ADAH's board of trustees. Instead of board vacancies being filled by the board as is the current practice, board vacancies would be filled on a rotating basis by House and Senate legislative leadership, the lieutenant governor and the governor. 

Elliott failed to pass legislation during the last special session that would have taken back the $5 million in supplemental funding from ADAH over its controversial LGBTQ history luncheon. This session, Elliott is tackling how ADAH board members are appointed.

The bill received a public hearing last week, where Elliott presented it before the committee. Everyone who signed up to speak opposed the bill and supported several amendments suggested by the Department of Archives and History.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), who is carrying the bill in the House, brought it before the committee.

State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) informed Kiel there would be a lengthy debate on the bill when it hit the House floor for a full vote since Elliott had apparently not answered his questions since last week.

State Rep. Kelvin Lawrence (D-Hayneville) offered an amendment that changes the number of board appointees and their appointing authorities. It also requires that the respective appointing member must have “just cause” to remove a board member.

Kiel did not support the amendment, saying it “substantially rewrites the bill."

“When this bill originally came out, there were eight members on the board,” Kiel stated. "Senator Elliott in the Senate took amendments to expand the board to allow minority leaders to appoint members to the board. That was not there before. I think he’s already worked through the process to get it where we are at now. I don’t think it’s acceptable to rewrite the bill at this point in time.”

State Rep. Ben Robbins (R-Sylacauga) addressed speculation that Elliott’s bill would diminish financial and historical donations to the archives. Kiel responded that those claims are only coming from the Archives’ lobbyists.

Additionally, the committee then began to debate what was meant by “just cause” and how subjective it can be when determining why to remove a board member. Robbins, an attorney, gave his best understanding of the legality.

“Under the [unamended bill] the appointing could remove a board member for whatever reason he or she chose to,” Robbins said. “…Under the amendment, it would be for cause. So to remove that individual, you would have to show a reason for that removal and that individual would have a process that they could appeal their removal and say, ‘you have to show cause.’ And I’m not sure what administrative process a board member of Archives would go through to appeal their termination or removal, but there would be built in somewhere for them to say, ‘you didn’t show cause. I can't be removed.’”

When asked about whether a board member could be removed for a similar event to what precipitated the bill, Robbins said it would be “going down a rabbit hole” to debate the historicity of events such as the luncheon.

Despite Kiel’s protests, the amendment passed with a vote of 5-4, and the final bill passed with a vote of 8-1.

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