Dumb Laws Volume 1: Costumes that are Holy Illegal

As a Libertarian, I often talk about unnecessary laws. The focus is typically on unjust laws that are zealously enforced and cause harm to society as a whole. But there are also a whole bunch of bad laws on the books that, though not as damaging to the liberty of the average Alabamian, are quite absurd. I've decided to focus on some of these laws which go to highlight how far we have let our government go in drafting and enacting awful legislation. Once in the State House of Representatives, I will work to remove all of these silly laws from our books.

For the first volume we will talk about Alabama Code 13A-14-4: Fraudulently Pretending to be a Clergyman. Let's stipulate and recognize that, independent from this statute, you still cannot harm another person through fraud without being subject to criminal penalties or a civil cause of action. That would be equally true if you were impersonating a priest, a plumber or Nick Saban. But let's look at the text of this law and see how it is different:

Whoever, being in a public place, fraudulently pretends by garb or outward array to be a minister of any religion, or nun, priest, rabbi or other member of the clergy, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $500.00 or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

You will note that this law does not require that this "fraud" result in any harm to anyone. Rather, it criminalizes dressing up like a member of the clergy. So, this young fella below is guilty of a misdemeanor in Alabama, under current law. So you better think twice before dressing as your favorite Pope for Halloween.

I am Catholic and have great respect for our local clergy, but I would challenge you to find a single "nun, priest, rabbi or other member of the clergy" who would be in favor of criminalizing conduct such as this. So, why does this law exist? Your guess is as good as mine, but the fact that the law has been on the books since 1965 does not speak well of our State Legislature. I will credit the legislature from removing some of the sillier offenses in 2015, but they obviously did not go far enough.

I know some of you may be thinking, "Does this really matter? No one is going to get arrested for wearing a nun costume." And you may be right. I don't think anyone is currently at risk of such a charge. But the fact remains that someone could be charged with a crime based upon Ala. Code 13A-14-4. And, if the judge and/or jury followed the law, that person would be convicted.** Frankly, I don't want to live in a state where that's even a remote possibility. It reflects badly on Alabama and is counter to our basic freedoms. 

In Volume II, we will look at Alabama Code 6-5-350, 351: Seduction.


**This is actually a good argument for allowing attorneys to appeal to jury nullification in criminal cases. Jury nullification can serve as a check on the power of bad legislators passing bad laws. But that's a discussion for another time.

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My Plan to Restore Liberty, Fairness and Prosperity to Alabama

[If you have not done it yet, please: Visit my Facebook page and "Like" it.]

I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Independence Day! It is such a meaningful day, and one of my favorite holidays.

Several weeks ago, the Libertarian Party of Alabama received notice that I will appear on the ballot for House District 96. We have been working hard for months to ensure that the people of Coastal Alabama will get a better choice, and I am excited to have achieved that first goal. This is not the end, though. The end goal is a victory. There is a long way to go until November 6th, and I am confident that we can garner enough support to win a three way race.

I thought that the anniversary of America declaring independence from British rule would be the perfect day to more thoroughly lay out what I intend to do once in the State House. I want to explain what I will do to ensure that we all are able to enjoy the kind of Liberty for which our Founding Fathers fought so hard. 

But because of the bias in favor of the two-party system, it will not be easy. Neither, though, was our victory over the British so many years ago easy. I am at a distinct disadvantage, much like the American rebels were. I cannot simply rely on people voting for me because of party identification. There's no choice to vote straight-ticket Libertarian. I cannot simply rest on a few vague ideas, shake a few hands, and hope for the best. I have to identify real issues and real solutions. So today I will lay out what I want to address and how. Note that these will just be brief summaries that I will go into more depth on in the future. But this will lay a road map for what I hope to accomplish. 

1) Term Limits: I will seek to impose term limits on State Representatives and State Senators. When one becomes too entrenched in one area of government, they become less connected with their constituents and more vulnerable to corruption. Obviously it is difficult to convince a bunch of career politicians to limit their own terms in office, as Baldwin County's own Trip Pittman discovered. It will not be simple, but nothing worth achieving ever is.

2) State Lottery and Fantasy Sports: While I do not necessarily like the idea of the government having a monopoly on the lottery, the fact is that Alabama is losing its citizen's money to other states that do have the lottery, or other forms of gambling. This money needs to stay in Alabama so that we can benefit from it. In a related area, fantasy sports leagues that provide prize money, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, remain illegal in Alabama. This is nothing more than absurd virtue signaling. It is ridiculous that it is illegal here, and I would help push through legislation to change that.

3) Civil Forfeiture/Property Seizure Reform: I have seen first hand many of the abuses of the civil forfeiture system. For those unfamiliar, the civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize property, through civil proceedings, that is the fruit of criminal activity. The problem is that property with only a weak link to criminal activity is seized, and then required to be forfeited in exchange for plea deals. We need more oversight to ensure that this is not being done in Alabama. More offensively, property can be seized without criminal charges ever being filed, and if the owner of that property cannot afford to hire an attorney, it will be forfeited. As a prosecutor, I inherited just such a case. Fortunately, the case was taken on pro bono, and then the filed was handed to me. Once I realized what had happened, I fought until I was given authority to voluntarily dismiss the case. But that's not enough. We cannot simply rely on the good will of prosecutors. I will advocate for a simple solution: One must be charged with a crime before any civil forfeiture action can be commenced. And the property cannot be forfeited unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it is the fruit of criminal activity. Currently, the State must only prove their case beyond a preponderance of the evidence (i.e more likely than not), but to deprive someone of their property, I believe that further due process should be required.

4) Marijuana and Drug Law Reform: I understand that many in Alabama are not "ready" for for marijuana legalization, but I would like to move toward more reasonable marijuana policy. First and foremost, medical marijuana must be made legal. Marijuana's medicinal efficacy is, at this point, an overwhelmingly foregone conclusion. Depriving sick people who could benefit from this plant is not just bad policy, it is morally wrong. I would like to move toward legal marijuana in general, but this would be the first step. I am hopeful that once people see how well a legal medicinal marijuana system operates, they will be more open to legalized recreational marijuana. If legalized for recreational purposes, Alabama would see a windfall as the first state in the Southeast to pass such legislation. And would also see tax/revenue benefits. 

Generally, I will move us toward a treatment-based system regarding drugs that will not only be more successful in treating addicts, but it will lighten the load on police (and make their jobs safer), aid the already-under-funded court system, and the lift much of the burden off the prison system. Alabama currently has the third highest per capita incarceration rate in the country, with 634 of every 100,000 people being imprisoned. And over $400,000,000 a year from our State's General Fund is allocated to the Department of Corrections. This is second only to Medicaid. We have to address this massive drain of money and resources, and drug law reform will do just that. If someone violates the personal or property rights of another, they must be punished. But what we are talking about here is criminalizing drug addiction, which is a physical and mental illness. It cannot be treated or cured through incarceration. As the Drug Prosecutor who worked closely with the Baldwin County Drug Court, I saw how much better a treatment-based program worked, as opposed to a punitive system of incarceration. This will help people and save our state money.

5) Grocery Tax: Did you know that Alabama is one of only seven states that taxes groceries like everything else, and that thirty-six states have no tax on groceries at all? Isn't it time for a state as fiscally conservative as Alabama to end this tax? This is especially important for Baldwin County since it is simple to drive across the border to Florida to take advantage of their lack of a grocery tax. Much like the absence of the lottery in Alabama, we are willingly losing business to our neighbors. I will admit that this is not something that we can rush into. We cannot leave essential services, funded by this tax, without what they need to survive. But when taken within the context of the additional revenue from the lottery, medical marijuana, and after considering the money that I will help save the state through cuts, I am confident that this is possible.

6) End the Government Subsidization of Political Parties: I have written about this in detail already. So please click here for further discussion of this issue. Require Democratic and Republican parties to pay for their own primaries. Alabama tax payers spend millions to help the Dems and GOP nominate their candidates. They are private organizations and shouldn’t be publicly funded.

7) Electoral Reform: The two-party system works to protect itself. Both Democrats and Republicans prefer it, because it makes it easier to get and hold power. George Washington warned of the dangers of the two-party system, and I will work to put an end it. But we must enact changes to our laws to help in this effort. 

Alabama is notoriously hostile to third parties and independents. FairVote ranks Alabama as the worst state for ballot access. The fact that over 40% of Americans identify as politically independent makes this even more offensive. The old parties are selfishly seeking to disenfranchise the plurality of voters. In Alabama, just to get on the ballot, a third party or independent candidate must obtain verified signatures from at least three percent of the qualified electors who cast ballots for the office of governor in the last General Election in the jurisdiction or political subdivision for which ballot access is sought (e.g., statewide, county, district). For example, if a third party or independent candidates wants to run for a statewide office such as US Senate or Governor, they must obtain over 35,000 valid ballot access petition signatures. And this is only the "valid" signature requirement. To be safe after challenges, a candidate/party would likely need to obtain over 50,000 "raw" signatures. This is a massive and expensive undertaking (though one that the Libertarian Party of Alabama intends to conquer for 2020). We need diversity of view points and ideas, and Alabamians of all political view points should have an opportunity to vote for someone they believe in. The only way to accomplish that is to lower the bar of ballot access to a sane level.  Our ballot access requirements need to be reformed in a major way. 

Straight ticket voting also must end. In addition to giving the two old parties a distinct advantage, it encourages voters to remain ignorant of the specific policies and qualifications of individual candidates. They can simply walk into their polling place, fill in one circle, and walk out without looking at the names of the people for whom they voted. Alabamians are better than this. I am confident that all voters in this state would be insulted by this system once they took the time to consider it. We are one of only nine states to allow such straight party voting, and it is time to join the majority.

I would also look to enact a change in our general voting system. One that will encourage more participation, save tax-payer money (through instant-runoffs), and result in elected officials that are more supported by more people. We should not have to hold our nose to vote. And I believe that something such as Ranked Choice Voting, which is being tested in Maine, would serve all these goals. Much like my other suggestions for electoral reform, the only "negative" this would have is that it would weaken the heretofore-unchallenged-control of the two old parties.

The old parties are far too comfortable with their stranglehold on power, and they will not relinquish this hold without a fight. Electing me will be a clear sign to Montgomery that Coastal Alabama will not sit idly by and let Democrats and Republicans enjoy unchallenged power while failing to truly help the average Alabamian.

8) Regulations: I will seek to cut business regulations where ever practical. This will include winding back the ridiculous number of occupations that must get the blessing of the government before doing business. Alabama should be a place that encourages entrepreneurship and small business. Our current system impedes growth and places an undue burden of anyone looking to grow a small business, or simply make a living for themselves. Of course certain types of businesses/occupations likely need some oversight, but I would take a thorough look at which those are, and eliminate the unnecessary occupational licenses. A state that is welcoming to business will benefit all citizens. Alabama is fairly good on this issue, but we can be so much better. We should be a destination state for all businesses, big and small.

9) Workers' Compensation: The Alabama Workers' Compensation Statute is horribly outdated and desperately in need of reform. Both corporate and worker advocates will agree we need changes to make it more fair and reasonable for all involved. I will go into more detail at a later date regarding specific changes, but our current statute is, at once, unfair to employees and far-too-costly for employers. Compromises will have to be made, but a re-write of this area of law is imperative.

10) Hospital Lien and Civil Justice Reform: This is an area that I will discuss in more detail in the near future, but we need to address an often-misused hospital lien statute, and bring about other changes in civil litigation laws and rules that will ensure that every Alabamian has their Seventh Amendment Right to Trial protected. Currently, the Alabama Hospital Lien statute allows hospitals to ignore their contracts with health insurance providers and bill accident victims exorbitant amounts. Typically, large amounts are billed to health insurance providers for all manner of medical procedures and tests. But these large amounts are not paid as billed, and no one expects them to me. That is because medical providers enter into contracts with health insurance providers wherein they are only allowed to bill insurance policy-holders for (much lower) agreed-upon amounts. So while an MRI might be billed at $5,000, the hospital, having a contract (for instance) with Blue Cross Blue Shield, knows they will only be paid 10% of that. It is built into their business model, but because of the wording of the statute, certain local hospitals (including the entire Infirmary Health System) are ignoring those contracts and requiring patients who are accident victims to pay amounts that everyone believes to be too high. They contract out these bills to companies such as RevClaims to collect this absurd amounts from patients. It will be a simple fix. The statute will just be amended to require that the billed amounts can be no greater than the allowed/contractual amounts of a given-patients' health insurance policy. This is something else that both patient and insurance advocates will be in favor of. We simply need to disallow this type of extortion and save both businesses and individuals money.

11) Initiative and Referendum: In years past, bills have been left pending in Legislative Committee which would return direct power to the people of Alabama through initiative and referendum. Initiative and referendum would allow citizens, through petition, to propose or repeal legislation, or even remove elected officials. It is a necessary check on government power and corruption. And, much like term limits, it is difficult to find sitting members of the government who will advocate for it. Visit Let Bama Vote for more information on this very important issue from one of Alabama's best resources on I&R, Frank Dillman. 

In the coming months, I hope to expand on many of these ideas and to talk personally with voters about what I can do to improve upon my plans. I am not set in my ways. I want what is best for Alabama and its people. I am always open to reconsidering, amending or changing based upon new or better information. Do you have an idea? Get in touch with me and let's talk.

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Why must tax-payers subsidize the Old Parties?

As I was petitioning for ballot access signatures, one of the questions I got most often was, "Will you be on the ballot for the June 5th primaries?" It is a reasonable question, and one I was happy to answer. I explained that the Libertarian Party of Alabama nominates its candidates at our annual convention. We selected our nominees months before the primaries. That answer always seemed to be satisfactory, but I chose to take it a step further by explaining that, unlike the Old Parties, we did not use tax-payer money to choose our candidates. 

The more I thought about this issue, the more I realized that is an area of change that we must prioritize. I understand the need for the general election to be publicly funded, as it is a true government operation. But the primaries? Political parties are private organizations. As Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune explains in this 2016 article, both the Democrats and the Republicans are very quick to remind us that "They make their own rules for how they nominate candidates — how they select delegates to conventions and what those delegates may do." And that's all well and good. As a Libertarian, I strongly believe that private organizations should be permitted to do as they please, and to run themselves in a manner that they think most benefits their organization. The problem, though, is that the Democratic and Republican parties are tax-payer funded in many significant ways. For instance, both parties' presidential candidates can receive public funding of their campaigns. And up until President Obama signed a new law in 2014, national party conventions were funded on the tax-payers' dime.

Not only that, but the primaries themselves are largely tax-payer funded. Take a look at the preceding link. And note that it only takes into account costs for the 2016 Presidential Primaries. Those obviously aren't the only primary elections that exist. Those primary elections that took place on June 5th in Alabama? If you're an Alabama tax-payer, you paid for it.

Before primary elections became the preferred way to choose nominees, parties themselves nominated candidates through caucuses or conventions, and the parties were responsible for covering all expenditures. Primaries came about as a way to combat corruption wherein party bosses would choose candidates in smoke-filled rooms (though such a procedure is still possible, just more difficult). It was an effort to increase transparency and give the average American more of a say in who the candidates were. While I respect the goal, this really was no place for the government to step in. Again, we are dealing with private organizations.

Primary elections tend to be a good way to select candidates. I'm not suggesting we do away with them. I am questioning the rationale behind the public funding of those elections.

The Libertarian Party is hardly flush with cash, but we manage nominate candidates and run campaigns without being subsidized by the government. Why can't the Old Parties do the same? One argument is that it may result in parties being unable to nominate candidates if they have insufficient funds. But let's remember that donations to the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 totaled around $1.8 billion. To say that the money is not there is ludicrous. Perhaps, though, it would have to be partially moved from the constant barrage of campaign commercials, and instead used for the political process itself.

And, even if it was a valid concern, how should that be the problem of tax-payers in Alabama or other states? If a private organization cannot run efficiently enough to continue operating, perhaps it is time to shut down. But instead of adopting this basic free market principle (one that many Republicans claim to support), we continue to subsidize the Old Parties to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For a nation that is over $20 trillion in debt, this is unjustifiable. 

Additionally, it continues to help prop up a two-party system that is systematically failing America. No private organization, and certainly no political party, should be "too big to fail." Either find a way to nominate candidates without taking our money, or reevaluate whether you should exist.

I propose that Alabama no longer require its citizens to pay for political parties to choose their candidates. If the Libertarian Party can do it, I'm sure that the Democratic Party and Republican Party can find a way. And if they can't? That is really no one's problem but their own.


 

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Let's Take the Next Step

It has been about a week since my campaign website and Facebook page went live. In that short amount of time, we have gotten nearly 140 having "Likes" on Facebook, and have received a great deal of interest through the website. I sincerely thank all of you who have Liked, Followed and Shared my page and posts.
Now it is time to take the next step in spreading the word. To that end (before I ask for your help) I have some exciting news. I will have yard signs available soon! Big thanks to LPA Chair Laura Lane for getting that done. With all the hats she wears, I don't know how she has time to get everything done, but she does. Please let me know if you want a sign, and I'll make arrangements to have it delivered to you.
 
But we also must remember that November is a long ways away, and we are working against a two-party system that is built to prevent our success. We must do everything we can to combat that. So I have three requests:
 
1) Please encourage your friends and family to Like the Facebook page. The easiest way to do this is using blue "Invite Friends" button at the right of the page (see below picture for an example).
It's very easy to click it and send out invites. If we are going to win, it is going to take a strong grassroots effort, and that starts by spreading the message through social media. It may seem small, but it is a big deal.
 
2) If you are able to help gather ballot access petition signatures, please let me know. We don't want to get "just enough" signatures. We want to send a message by blowing past the required number and leaving them no choice but to put us on the ballot. Here is a link to the petition: Ballot Access Petition for House District 96. Please remember to NOT number the pages, and ask anyone who signs it to fill it out fully to make sure the signatures are verifiable and valid. And, as a reminder, all signatures must be from registered voters in House District 96, as those are the only signatures that will count. That said, when in doubt, get the signature anyway! Here is a map of District 96 (click to enlarge):
 
3) If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in hosting a Meet and Greet or fundraiser, please email us: ElectMattShelby@gmail.com, or just send me a message through Facebook. 
Again, I can't thank you all enough for your enthusiastic support so far. There's a long way to go, but every day that goes by, I become more confident that we will do something great together.
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Why I am running.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have always been outspoken about politics. I'm not quiet about my beliefs, and I'm always interested in talking about them. It is not simply an issue of political preference for me, though. My libertarian political philosophy, which dates back to high school, borders on an ethical or moral stance. We have certain rights and for the government to infringe upon those rights is inherently immoral. Because of this, it is not something I'm inclined to remain quiet about.

My political activity has not just been limited to talking, though. I have volunteered to help spread the word for Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, and Gary Johnson in 2016. But I realized that just advocating was not enough. I needed to do something more concrete. I could not just talk and encourage any longer. I decided I wanted to be part of the process, not just the conversation.

I have lived in Coastal Alabama for most of my life. I love the area and the people. I'm excited that I will have a chance to represent my home. There's no question that, at this point, representing House District 96 is the ideal place for me to begin.

"But why not run as a Republican?" I've gotten this question from friends, family, and even from members of the local Republican Party. It would seem to be an easier path, but the easier path is not always the right one. That's not to say it isn't right for everyone. Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie are four political figures that I admire greatly, and who do a wonderful job advocating for the principles of liberty as Republicans. But for this time in this country and this state, it is not the right thing for me.

The nation is ripe for a third party to help do away with the damaging two-party system. And the party best positioned to become that third option is the Libertarian Party. It also happens to be the political party that I align best with philosophically, and it is filled with people who are motivated by principle, not personal ambition or self-preservation.

I don't think we can honestly say that about either the Democratic or Republican Parties. Ultimately, both parties want to preserve themselves above all else. They both claim to stand on principle, but reveal their true intent through their actions. The "team sport" nature of those on opposing sides of the two-party system is horribly divisive. A stance on an issue is defined largely by who is advocating or opposing the issue. It Us vs. Them, instead of Americans working together to improve things for everyone. And both the Democratic Party and Republican Party encourage such divisiveness through their rhetoric. In reality, they are both ultimately seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the average American. I simply cannot align myself with either of the old parties given these facts.

It is time to end the stranglehold of the duopoly. Indeed the future of prosperity and freedom in America are threatened by the two-party system. Together, we can work to ensure that America, Alabama and the Gulf Coast remain free and prosperous.

And that is why I am running. 

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