I headed to Montgomery early this morning, backing out of my driveway at 6 AM – in the dark – like most, I don’t adjust very well to the day-light-savings changes. I arrived in Montgomery at 9 AM and prepped for several committee meetings; I had five of my bills in three committee meetings making for a very busy day. My first meeting was in Health Committee where I had two bills up…I pitched a double header. My first bill was SB344; this is the pseudoephedrine bill …sometims known as the Stop Meth, Not Meds. The bill works to further tighten the ability to obtain over the counter medication containing pseudoephedrine – such as Sudafed, without making the medicine prescription only. This bill was a collaborative effort between several entities ranging from retail association, to law enforcement, and district attorneys. While rare, it is still legal to purchase medication containing pseudoephedrine from retail establishments. This bill makes these medications available only through a pharmacy. It is important to note that this bill does so much more than address the medication – it also makes identification requirements more stringent (you can currently use a library card...) and enables law enforcement to make a bust on a meth lab based on drug paraphernalia being present.
What I like best about this bill is that it does not penalize the law abiding citizen who, under alternative bills filed would have required everyone to take time off work, visit a doctor, pay a co-pay, get a prescription, go to the pharmacy, pay another co-pay, to get their allergy medication. Imagine how congested doctor’s offices would become. I appreciate everyone working together to pass this legislation and look forward to either this bill or an identical House version passing in the coming days.
My next bill up was SB223, a bill removing the requirement for a doctor to refer you to a Physical Therapists (PT). I view this bill as expanding the availability and affordability of health care…not to mention that Alabama is one of two states remaining that require a doctor to refer a patient to a PT.
There is significant push back on this bill from the medical community, claiming that misdiagnosis by PT’s will actually increase the cost of health care…if that were the case, do you think 48 states would allow direct access to a PT?
We still have some work to do on this bill before moving it out of committee – hopefully it will come up for a vote next week. I encourage readers to contact their PT and Dr to voice their concerns or support. My goal, again – increase the affordability and accessibility of health care. Bottom line, if I know my elbow hurts, patient rights should allow me to visit a PT before going to the Dr’s office if I so choose. In the current law, I must visit a Dr to get a referral to visit a PT…unless of course I live in one of the border states such as TN where I can simply stop at the PT first.
My next committee hearing was in Senate Judiciary where I pitched the state-wide pre-trial diversion bill. This bill is sponsored by the state District Attorneys Assoc; over 30 of the 67 counties in Alabama currently have a local bill like this in place. This bill would bring this option, state-wide, without impacting those counties that already have a program in place.
What is pre-trial diversion? In short, assume there are 20 cases in line for the local court, of those five are people with no prior offense and likely were caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. These five may be given the opportunity by the DA to follow another track where they plead guilty but must agree to a program addressing their offense – drug or alcohol rehab, counseling, etc. They may also need to attend a program such as completing a GED. Had they remained in the court line, statistics show they likely would’ve ended up as a repeat offender as they would pay the fine/do the time but not receive help needed to correct the root problem...and remain in the same general conditions or peer group.
Pre-trial diversion programs also help reduce the backlog in our local courts and in our jails. Important to note that this is not a “get soft on criminals” program – I would not support that. This is a “someone made a mistake, first time offender, non-violent case where no one was hurt and we’ll give you another chance” program. The bill passed committee unanimously and moves to the Senate floor.
We simply ran out of time for my remaining bills to come up before committee later in the day. One of the bills, addressing trafficking of controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute, had been carried over at the call of the chair last week. We’ll be ready to move this in committee next week.
I’m disappointed that my final bill of the day didn’t make it to debate today as I’ve carried this bill for two years now. This bill addresses legislative compensation – essentially preventing the legislature from giving themselves any pay increase (travel, per diem, salary, etc) that becomes effective during their current term. This is what happened in the 2007 legislative pay debacle that ended up with the annual cost of living increase that I decline each year. The election was in Nov 2006 and the next session, in the spring of 2007, the legislature increased their expense allowances. My bill is one of three that begins to address legislative compensation. The other two set up pay commissions to establish a baseline pay such as medium household income - I support these. My bill is designed to prevent future abuse, regardless the success of the pay commission bills.
The Senate went into session at 3 PM and – to my and a few other’s surprise; we passed 10 of the sunset bills that I spoke of in last weeks blog. Amazing how suddenly there are no more problems with these bills. We hope to pass the remaining ones tomorrow without any games.
Unfortunately, the committee meetings of the day prevented me from visiting with several groups from North Alabama, the United Way Leadership Group and the Autism Awareness Group. Thank you for coming to Montgomery and supporting your cause.
One final note about today, Gov Bentley, Speaker Hubbard and Pro Temp Marsh, along with Sen Brewbaker and Rep Phil Williams, held a press conference to introduce a school flexibility and charter school bill. You can read the article here. I also encourage everyone to read the bill – HB541 and then let’s discuss facts. As most readers know, I’ve previously introduced HB365, a standalone school flexibility bill that we may move, depending upon the successes of HB541.