I arrived in Montgomery a little after 10 AM. It occurred to me on the drive down that today is not only Valentine’s Day; it is also the 30 year anniversary of when I started my journey to earn the title – U.S. Marine. I like to put it this way; while my parents laid a great foundation raising me, I lived in Arkansas for 18 years, and grew up in Marine Corps Boot Camp!
Upon arrival in Montgomery I immediately began meeting with a host of people concerning bills I’m working. While these bills are still in the works, I’ll briefly address a couple.
Sudafed Bill – This bill addresses the purchase of Pseudoephedrine (commonly called Sudafed) due to Alabama’s growing Meth problem. This common cold medication is a key ingredient in Meth. I do not support SB23, a bill already introduced by Sen Bedford which makes Sudafed, and similar over the counter drugs a prescription drug. I’m working a bill, along with others, that will require more control of Sudafed but not make it a prescription drug. I do not support making this a prescription drug as it will require citizens to go to their doctor, pay a co-pay, get a prescription and then go to the pharmacy, pay another co-pay in order to get a drug that is currently available over the counter. I’m confident we can fix the problem and will work towards a solution with minimal impact to law abiding citizens.
School Flexibility – This bill allows individual school systems to apply to the State Board of Education for a degree of flexibility for local school system control of budgets, personnel assignments, etc, in return for meeting increased school performance requirements. This idea was brought to me by local superintendants in the form of (and I’m paraphrasing) “Give me the degree of flexibility some want to give Charter Schools and I’ll produce the same results in the schools we have today”. Makes sense to me! I’ve always said we need to push decision making down to the lowest level possible – the local school boards. This is where the local voice has the greatest impact. If Bill Holtzclaw (the parent, not the Senator) wants to influence the local school board, I should attend the school board meeting and make my voice heard. However, if the school board’s hands are tied in Montgomery, my voice is lost. Hopefully we will be successful in finalizing this important legislation later this week.
Holder of Public Accounts - I filed SB299 today, a bill allowing credit unions to maintain public accounts. Currently, only banks can hold public accounts. Public accounts are those of municipalities and counties. My goal is to simply increase competition and credit unions are currently excluded.
Budgets - I also met with several departments concerning budgets. I continue to review the proposed budgets and have concerns in several areas. I will expand on those concerns in later blog entries. As promised last week, following is a link to the proposed budgets for readers to review.
ATPRO - I’ve scheduled an ad-hoc meeting tomorrow for ATPRO, filed as SB51 this year. I’ll attempt to clear up a couple of points on this bill. First, this bill is not intended as a supplemental retirement program. The intent is to incentivize a teacher with certain skill sets, who is nearing retirement, to remain teaching in the classroom so that the school system can hire/transfer and train a replacement. This keeps a strong Math, Science, English, etc program in place in a school system - the original intent of the DROP program. ATPRO incorporates several good elements of the original DROP plan: 25 years employment and 55 years of age to participate, limited to a maximum of 3 – 5 years of participation thereafter. ATPRO also begins to address the issues that caused the DROP program to meet its demise. ATPRO requires participants to apply to participate in the program at the local system level, participants must retire after completing the program, preventing employees from returning to state employment after retirement, sets interest rates to market conditions and, sets a salary cap for participants of no more than $75K. Structuring ATPRO so that it is revenue neutral will prove key to moving it forward in the legislative process.
I’ve had a couple of emails asking about participation for other state employees in ATPRO, or a similar plan. I will support if we can identify a approval process such as with the teacher example cited above.
Of note, I held two ad-hoc meetings on ATPRO last year…no one attended. Hopefully we’ll see more support this year.
From the Senate Floor - The Senate went into session at 2 PM and adjourned just before 6 PM. The spirit of cooperation continued today and we were able to pass a total of 10 bills. One bill I’ll highlight is SB30, a bill I co-sponsored with Senator Orr (R) Decatur. SB30 helps ensure Alabama companies are readily aware of and increases competition for state contracts by requiring the State Purchasing Division to maintain a statewide database of bid requests or proposals for a public contract with the state. The database will be public record and accessible on open.alabama.gov. This bill helps protect and promote Alabama jobs, ensuring homegrown Alabama companies are competing for state contracts.
Committee Meetings - Tomorrow is Wednesday and that means committee meetings are on the calendar. I have a total of 5 committee meetings with 15 bills to review…things are ramping up quickly and I’ve got some reading to do tonight.