Ala. Gov. Robert Bentley calls it “an insult to the Civil Rights Movement” to compare the state’s controversial new immigration reform bill, HB56, to the evils of segregation. “They are just not the same,” Bentley said Monday, Nov. 7, referring to negative press attention the state has received nationally.
The governor’s remarks came during a question and answer session that followed his address at a governor’s luncheon sponsored by the Birmingham Business Alliance and held at Birmingham’s The Club.
Bentley summoned up some of the state’s most painful historical moments in attempting to make his case that certain criticisms of the immigration bill on humanitarian and civil rights grounds are an overreach.
“It’s an insult to those four little girls who were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church,” he said. “It’s an insult to those that were beaten at the bus stations down here, in Anniston and Montgomery, those whose homes were bombed and destroyed, churches that were destroyed.”
According to Bentley, “Alabama has come light years in 60 years.”
Defending HB56 during his prepared remarks, Bentley acknowledged that it was “a very complicated bill.” But he said, “It’s not a bad bill. It’s just a little confusing. It’s difficult to explain to people, and it also has some things in it that complicate it. We have been working very diligently with everyone who has concerns.”
This work is going on “behind the scenes” because the state is defending itself against a lawsuit, Bentley said. Part of that effort will be to make the bill “easier to deal with” for schools and law enforcement personnel.
Bentley also said his administration will work to simplify the bill. “I am going to work with the legislature to make it simpler,” he said.
The Governor said the basic intent of the bill will not change. “Let me make this perfectly clear,” he said. “We are still not going to change the fact that you cannot hire people who are not legal in this country to work for you.” He told the large crowd of business people, elected officials and local leaders. “If you think y’all will get your workers back, forget it. It’s not going to happen.”
During his address, Bentley covered several other topics, including the state’s budget woes, especially with the end of federal stimulus dollars. “[Fiscal year] 2013 will be the worst general fund budget we’re ever faced.” He said that “tough decisions” will be necessary in both the education and general fund budgets.
Jefferson County’s ongoing sewer debt crisis was having a negative effect on his efforts to recruit businesses to the county, according to Bentley. “Nobody says they want to come to Jefferson County,” he said, adding that, “We have to solve this problem.”
He said that he has realized since becoming Governor that bankruptcy is not an option, since it would involve the bankruptcy of the entire county, not just the sewer system. The county must repay the special obligation bonds, he said. “They will be paid back, and they will be paid back with sewer fees paid by customers.”
Bentley said it’s regrettable that the customers have to bear the burden but that debt has to be paid, calling it “the conservative thing to do” to pay one’s debts.
The governor also said that his administration and others had worked to reduce the amount of the debt from over $3 billion to just over $2 billion in the last year. “That’s significant,” he said
Bentley also discussed his administration’s efforts to lead the recovery from the April tornadoes and 2010 oil spill, and to recruit new business to the state.