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Alabama lawmaker files bill to give state officials more control of Archives’ governance

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Alabama lawmaker files bill to give state officials more control of Archives’ governance

Dec 07, 2023 | 2:01 pm ET
By Jemma Stephenson
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Alabama lawmaker to give state officials more control of Archives’ governance
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Photo of the Alabama Department of Archives and History Alabama Voices exhibit // contributed by the Alabama Department of Archives and History

An Alabama state senator has filed a bill that would  give state officials and legislative leaders the power to appoint the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s Board of Trustees.

SB5, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, would change Archives’ board from a self-perpetuating entity, subject to confirmations by the Senate, to one where members would be appointed by  the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate president pro tempore.

“We took the approach that it should be some from the executive and some from the legislative branch,” he said.

The change comes months after Elliott and other Republicans attacked Archives for hosting a presentation on LGBTQ+ history in Alabama in June. Elliott introduced a bill in the special session over the summer to strip Archives of $5 million, but the bill did not pass.

Elliott said that the Archives board is a “unicorn” and said that the Board does not have accountability to elected officials.

“I think that this Legislature is trying to make sure that the government is more responsive and responsible to the people of the state of Alabama through their elected leaders,” he said.

Georgia Ann Hudson, spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Archives and History, wrote in an email that the self-perpetuating model, which dates to the creation of the department in 1901, has allowed the Archives to operate with limited direct political pressure. She said that the confirmation model has provided accountability to elected officials. 

The result has been agency stability with professional and non-partisan administration of the historical materials that document Alabama’s past, including the foundational government records that guarantee the rights of Alabamians,” she wrote.

Currently, the Alabama Department of Archives and History has two trustees from each congressional district, as well as two additional at-large members and the Governor or their designees. The law says that the trustees should represent the racial and gender diversity of the state.

Under Elliott’s bill, there would be eight at-large members and the Governor or the Governor’s designee. These members would make up the racial, gender, geographic, urban, rural and economic diversity of the state.

Both models require Senate confirmation.

Hudson said that the trustees have diverse backgrounds.

The ADAH respectfully encourages the Legislature to retain the governance structure that, for almost 125 years, has made possible the agency’s legacy of service, integrity, and commitment to ensuring that Alabama’s history is preserved for future generations,” she wrote.

The Legislature will begin its 2024 regular session in February.