April 20, 2011
Many of you read on the front page of the Birmingham News yesterday about a change in the law in Alabama that concerns you. We are trying to pass HB-104. My sons and I have been working with Representative Jim McClendon for almost a year to fix a problem that we still have in Alabama that concerns divers, prospectors, historians, dive stores and operators, archaeologists, artifact and relic hunters as well as the public in general.
I have purposely left out our friends and supporters from this effort because I didn't want you to have to spend your time and money unless you were really needed. Many of you did so much during our struggle from 2003 through 2006 and I didn't want to start a big fight this time. I just want to clarify a vague and confusing definition in one part of the Alabama Underwater Cultural Resources Act. I wrote HB-104 with help from a couple of my lawyer friends and Representative McClendon. The main thing we are doing is taking out three words in the definition of Underwater Cultural Resources.
Here is a link to HB104 http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/ACTIONViewFrameMac.asp?TYPE=Instrument&INST=HB104&DOCPATH=searchableinstruments/2011RS/Printfiles/&PHYDOCPATH=//alisondb/acas/searchableinstruments/2011RS/PrintFiles/&DOCNAMES=HB104-int.pdf,HB104-eng.pdf
Whether or Not *
This Law is the shipwreck law of Alabama and applies to shipwrecks but some people tried to make it illegal to even dive anywhere or prospect for gold without buying a permit from a professional archaeologist that is on a special limited list of names. We fought the bad regulations for several years and won in court and with the Alabama Historical Commission who is the agency in charge. We did not change the law and did change the regulations that are now friendly to the public and no permits are required to find isolated finds in Alabama waters that are state owned. We are talking only about original streambeds of navigable rivers and streams, not impounded waters. Shipwrecks salvage is controlled and permitted by the Alabama Historical Commission and will continue to be.
The problem is that the law is confusing to local law enforcement officers who have been misled by some bureaucrats and told that divers or prospectors could not dive and find items that are not cultural resources. I know of about 10 divers who have been unduly harassed. I am one of them. Last year I found two iron civil war period relics and these were taken into custody by the conservation Department after getting wrong information from bureaucrats who were not familiar with the regulations and law. They made a mistake but I lost my relics and was detained for over 6 hours. I tried to show the officers the regulations but they didn't know who to believe when the mistaken government official was giving wrong information. I don't blame any of the police involved. It's not their fault. It's the wrong opinion of one bureaucrat that caused the problem. She caused the problem but never has to account for her error. My relics have not been returned to me and I don't think they ever will be. I was not arrested and none of the other divers who have been harassed have been arrested.
Of course we weren't arrested because we didn't do anything wrong or illegal. When they took my relics without arresting me they violated the 4th amendment of the Constitution of the United States. I have a right to due process and did not get it. I have asked several times to have my relics returned and have been told no. I will have to spend several thousand dollars to sue my own state if I want these relics back. They are not worth much but they are mine and I don't want to have a fight with my state. I will not sue them but I want this to never happen again with anyone else. Most people are not as familiar with diving laws as I am and they could be harassed much more than I.
Now you see the problem and we have a simple fix. HB-104 is almost passed and could be law within a couple weeks. HB-104 is out of the House of Representatives and passed 86 to 3. Now it is in the Senate Government Affairs Committee* and will be considered there over the next few days. If it comes out of committee it will be voted on in the Senate.
I did not want to ask for anyone's help but now I need you to make your existence known to the Senators. We have very little opposition but they are extremely loud and visible. We need our supporters to call and e-mail all of our state senators. *
Here is the list of the eleven Senate Government Affairs Committee members followed by a list of all of the Senators and their available contact information.
Holley, Chairperson; Bedford, Vice Chairperson; Beason, Brewbaker, Coleman, Dunn, Figures, Orr, Pittman, Sanford, Taylor.
ALLEN, Gerald email@example.com
BEDFORD, Roger firstname.lastname@example.org
BLACKWELL, Slade email@example.com
BREWBAKER, Dick firstname.lastname@example.org
BROOKS, Ben email@example.com
BUSSMAN, Paul firstname.lastname@example.org
COLEMAN, Linda email@example.com
FIGURES, Vivian Davis firstname.lastname@example.org
HOLTZCLAW, Bill email@example.com
IRONS, Tammy firstname.lastname@example.org
McGILL, Shadrack email@example.com
PITTMAN, Trip firstname.lastname@example.org
ROSS, Quinton T., Jr. Quinton.email@example.com
SANFORD, Paul firstname.lastname@example.org
SCOFIELD, Clay email@example.com
SINGLETON, Bobby BSingle164@yahoo.com
SMITH, Harri Anne HAS@harrianne.com
SMITHERMAN, Rodger firstname.lastname@example.org
TAYLOR, Bryan email@example.com
WAGGONER, J. T. "Jabo" firstname.lastname@example.org
WARD, Cam email@example.com
We don't need you to spend any money or go to Montgomery. We don't need mailed letters. What we need is e-mails and phone calls and we need them now. This is the only thing I've asked of you but I need the Senators to know that we have much support. HB-104 has many supporters including historians, museums, Alabama Tourism Department, The Department of Conservation and the public. Our only opponents are a few people who financially benefit from laws and regulations that unfairly funnel money to them.
They call us looters and slander us but we are the good guys. We wrote all the reference books, we filled all the museums with relics that we found or owned, we are the volunteers that man the search and recovery teams throughout Alabama. We (meaning you) are the volunteers at museums and give talks to schools and civic groups. We teach and share and don't cost the state taxpayers any money.
Make sure you ask your senators to Support HB-104. Tell them who you are and where you live. Some times when I talk to them they don't know that I want them to support the bill. Please be clear in asking for them to Support HB-104.
Thanks to all of you for your help in protecting our individual rights and freedoms. Please do this now , if you wait more than a day or so it won't help us. My sons and I have with Representative McClendon done the hard part please do your part now.
Southern Skin Diver Supply
4515 5th Ave South
Birmingham, AL 35222