My School Flexibility bill, SB365 was first on the agenda. The Alabama Education Association (AEA) opposes the bill and had called a public hearing. Dr. Mabry, the new AEA Executive Director was the only opponent to speak. Several people spoke in favor of the bill including the Deputy State Superintendent, Dr. Pouncey and other school superintendents from around the state. Of note, this is not the Education Options Act that was introduced last week that enables Charter Schools and local school flexibility (this bill was debated but not voted on in a House committee today). We did not vote on this bill today as it is the Chair's policy to not vote on the same day as a public hearing. I encourage readers to review both bills and become informed on what they offer our state, and our children.
My next meeting was Children and Youth Affairs followed by the General Fund committee. We debated a total of 5 bills, the most controversial being one that begins to reform the State Employee Retirement Plan – for new hires only. Anyone currently working for the state is not affected. This bill was amended in committee and I will post a link once an updated version is available. I supported the bill as amended.
The next meeting was Senate Health – I pitched my Direct Access to Physical Therapy bill today…my first loss of the season. The vote count was 3 – 3 with Sen Reed, Sen Coleman and Sen Marsh voting for the bill, Sen Bussman, Sen Beasley and Sen Whatley voting against the bill. Several committee members were not present…a tie on paper but a tough loss nonetheless. I’m somewhat frustrated as this bill is about the availability and affordability of health care. Alabama is one of 2 states that requires us to visit a Doctor, obtaining a referral before visiting a PT. Who are we protecting? Good news, the House version of the bill passed in an 8 – 6 vote. We will continue to work our strategy on this one. The fight is far from over.
My next meeting was Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics, and Elections Committee (that’s a mouth full). I pitched my third and final bill for the day here. SB243, should it pass is a Constitutional Amendment that the people of Alabama will vote on. This bill prevents an elected body such as the legislature from raising their compensation while in office. In other words, they can increase compensation during their term but it cannot go into effect until after the next election. This way the people will decide if those elected deserve the pay increase. This already exists, to a degree – but only applies to salary. My bill covers all legislative compensation such as expense accounts. This is how the 2007 legislative pay was increased – they didn’t increase the salary – that would be against the law - rather they increased the expense account. The bill passed committee unanimously.
Another important bill that passed committee, SB295 concerning legislative pay, ties the rate to the medium household income in Alabama, adjusted annually. As important, it compensates expenses based on actual expenses. I’ve previously mentioned this on my blog – legislators living within 10 miles of the capitol are paid the same rate as those living 100 or 200 miles away. Obviously gas and lodging expenses are different for those living further from the capital but we all are paid on a flat rate. This bill passed committee unanimously as well.
I look forward to support both of these bills as they come to vote on the Senate floor.
Lastly, I was honored to stand with Vietnam Veterans today as Governor Bentley signed a proclamation for Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran’s Day. As a retired Marine and Chair of the State Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee, it was great to stand with these veteran’s on behalf of all Vietnam Veterans in the state. I will never forget the Vietnam Veterans that greeted my unit upon return from the Gulf War in 1991 - these guys and gals did it right as they had been treated so wrong. We owe them so much and must never let that happen again. Please join us for a special ceremony at 2 PM on Thursday, March 29th at the Veteran’s Memorial in downtown Huntsville. Semper Fi - Bill