A bill allowing drivers to carry loaded pistols in their cars without a permit Thursday trapped the Alabama Senate in a crossfire between issues of gun rights and local revenue.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, would allow individuals to carry a pistol in their car without a concealed carry permit. Individuals would also be allowed to carry concealed weapons on their own property without a permit, and in the vehicles or on the property of others with permission.
“It puts us in line with other states across the South, the other states that do not require concealed weapons permits in the car,” said Beason, who sponsored legislation last year that expanded the locations where guns could be carried.
However, the lengthy debate on the bill, which consumed nearly all of the five hours the Senate met Thursday afternoon, failed to get the bill out of the chamber. Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, who was angered Tuesday by passage of a bill to expand the membership of the Birmingham Water Works Board, filibustered Beason’s bill; a Republican attempt to cloture Smitherman fell short by three votes, with four Republican senators not voting and two — Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman and Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville — joining eight Democrats in voting no.
Members of the Republican caucus said concerns from the sheriffs’ association over the impact of the bill, as well as attempts by both parties to block legislation on the Thursday agenda, led to the stalemate.
“Birmingham Water Works ego, gun rights ego,” said Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, as he left the chamber Thursday. “Two ego days.”
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Republican caucus would meet on Tuesday and decide whether they had the votes to cloture and advance the bill.
“When someone has a bill like that, I expect them to know whether they have the cloture votes, and I don’t think Sen. Beason actually knew he didn’t have it,” Marsh said Thursday evening. “I was a bit surprised, but then I wasn’t working the cloture vote either.”
Beason said after the Senate adjourned that he believed he had the votes on final passage.
“On cloture, there’s all sorts people upset about different issues, and it came out on the floor today,” he said.
The Alabama Sheriffs’ Association strongly opposed Beason’s legislation, saying it would decrease public safety and cut into local revenues from concealed carry permits, revenues that frequently support public safety agencies. Bobby Timmons, executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association, said police officers who pull over cars can check outstanding warrants, but can’t be certain if the driver of the car is carrying a gun.
Current law “won’t tell me if you’ve got a gun or not, and whether you’ve got a permit or don’t have a permit, but it makes me a little more comfortable approaching the car,” he said.
Timmons also said the legislation could affect counties’ abilities to pay for law enforcement and school resource officers by cutting revenue from gun permits. The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, that would “preserve existing revenues or license fees upon which any governmental or law enforcement entity currently relies.”
It was unclear what practical effect Williams’ amendment would have. Williams, saying he was trying to preserve funding for school resource officers in his district, said it would mean “current and existing procedures are going to have to stay in place” for counties to collect revenue, but referred questions about the impact of the amendment on carrying pistols in automobiles to Beason. Beason said the amendment “does tremendous damage” to the bill, but could not say how it would affect the central thrust of the bill.
“You’ll have to talk to an attorney about that,” he said.
Taylor said he had concerns with “three or four” bills further down the Senate agenda, bills that he declined to name. The senator said he agreed with the spirit of Beason’s law, but felt the revenue question needed to be fully addressed.
“We need to work on the bill and find some way to ensure we’re not taking money away from law enforcement purposes,” he said.
The Senate’s agenda included a bill from Marsh that would prevent school districts from using seniority as a priority in determining teacher cuts during reductions in force. Marsh said he spoke with members on that bill “and knew we had some amendments there.”
If the votes do not materialize Tuesday, Marsh said the Senate may take up other bills.
“We’ll make a decision about whether the votes are there, and if they’re not, we’ll move on to something else,” he said.
– posted by Brian Lyman