On the Senate Floor - We passed several bills on the Senate floor today. Senator Orr’s bill - SB137, regarding liability automobile insurance – This bill requires the establishment of a searchable database to ensure Alabama Drivers maintain liability automobile insurance. In short, this bill addresses the practice of those who obtain liability insurance only to cancel it upon renewing their tag. Currently, I can obtain liability insurance from a local agent, show the required insurance verification card to the clerk, obtain my tag, and promptly go out and cancel my insurance. I even have the card to show law enforcement – should I get pulled over – that I have current liability insurance and the police officer has no way to verify other than looking at the expiration date on my card. This bill will require the state to create a database where law enforcement can access the data during routine stops and actually verify the insurance is current. Fines for not having insurance presently exist. This should motivate those who are manipulating the system, and causing thousands of Alabama drivers to carry “uninsured motorist” riders on their policies. Of note, it is estimated that anywhere from 25% to 40% of drivers in Alabama do not maintain liability insurance. I supported this bill as I think everyone should play by the same rules.
I attended lunch with the Joint, House and Senate Republican Caucus and Governor Bentley and several members of his staff. Governor Bentley shared his thoughts on the legislative work to date and thanked us for supporting his budget through the hard decisions we have made in recent days. Rep Greg Canfield received a well deserved round of applause as the bill he has sponsored - the budget rolling reserve - cleared the House and made it out of the Senate Committee. The Senate will debate the bill in the coming days; I support and expect quick passage. This was part of the Republican Handshake with Alabama and continues our work in fixing our broken budget process.
Back to Committee Meetings – After lunch I attended a General Fund Committee meeting where we discussed several bills. We passed SB162 out of committee, a supplemental appropriations bill that essentially moves funds from various agencies to support other state agencies considered critical services (Medicaid, Corrections, DHR, Mental Health, Senior Services) during the 2011 budget. This is in advance of the Governor’s anticipated proration of the 2011 General Fund due to revenue projections not meeting expectations of the budget passed during the 2010 legislative cycle. Of note, this round of proration is why we will remain diligent as we work on the budgets for 2012.
I’ll spend the evening wrapping up emails and preparing for a committee meeting tomorrow where I will present a bill that I am sponsoring concerning emergency contracts for the state. This bill will fix some of the problems associated with what is an emergency (certainly not for the convenience of the state as currently written) and require that emergency contracts are for no longer than 60 days. Any subsequent contract will be required to pass through the Legislative Contract Review Committee.
In other news – we received some detailed census data today, at the legislative district level. We knew Senate District #2 had grown but everyone was surprised by how much. Our estimate was that District 2 included approximately 150K people. The goal, based on state population in 2000, was 125K. To our surprise, Senate District 2 grew to an astonishing 179K people. The new target population, taking into account the new state population, is 136K. The max population allowed with the 5% deviation allowed by DOJ is 143K people.
Our Nation Remains at War – In a stark reminder of the hardships our service members face along with their families. Today I received notice that earlier this week, a friend serving in combat operations in Afghanistan lost his infant son during birth. His wife is doing well here in Alabama but words escape me attempting to describe the situation for both of them. The Alabama State Senate paused during today’s session to honor the loss. All 35 members of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor, legislative staff, and visitors in the Senate gallery stood for a moment of silence, and to remind ourselves of the continued sacrifices made by our service members and families. Please continue to keep them all in your prayers.