On to the blog update for this week; Wednesday was one of the easiest days I’ve experienced in Montgomery- there simply was not much to write about. After committee meetings in the morning I was able to work on several projects in my office throughout the afternoon – even to the point of giving me the elusive feeling - I’m caught up! - I’m fairly certain that feeling won’t last long! A highlight of Thursday’s committee meetings included the passage of my School Flexibility Act, SB365. This is the stand-alone flexibility version for public schools that is in (to varying degrees) both the Senate and House versions of Charter/Flex bills…this is the storm of the session brewing over the horizon. Later in the evening I was even able to take in a two-mile run before dinner.
The Senate went into session at 10 AM on Thursday and adjourned at 6:45 PM. I was able to leave the State House just after 7 PM, placing me back in Madison around 10 PM…oh so nice to sleep in my own bed!
For the most part we had a productive day, but the day went long as some of us played defense on the State-Wide School Calendar Bill that was waiting in the wings. This bill caused significant disruption as it became apparent to several of us that those pushing for the bill were planning to wait the day out and possibly introduce as the number of Senators dwindled. Some Senators were leaving for the weekend to attend memorials; a disappointing strategy for me on several levels.
Earlier in the week the general consensus was that we’d adjourn early on Thursday allowing members to return to their districts. I had agreed to be the Key Note Speaker at the University of Alabama Veterans Banquet in Tuscaloosa – 200 Veterans/Students and Faculty attended. This event had been scheduled weeks advance and I was honored to have been asked to speak, both as a Veteran and as the Chair of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. The event started at 6 PM and as I listened to debates and watched the clock slip past 4 PM I knew I had to call the coordinator and deliver the disappointing news that I would be unable to attend – if the Senate is in Session, I plan to be there to cast my vote. While disappointed, he was a good sport and said, “Senator, you are right where you need to be.” I asked him to pass along to the attendees that “We are fully engaged on all fronts – fighting the good fight in Montgomery” - I’m certain that an audience of Veterans understood!
Compared to previous days, a significant amount of work was accomplished in the Senate Thursday. Bills of note that passed are listed below:
Legislative Pay: One of the most significant bills we’ve passed this session is the proposed constitutional amendment tying the Legislature's pay to the state's median household income. I reported on the shenanigans with this bill last week – the amendment fiasco. Several good articles were written by the press. As predicted, all of the show-boating Democrat amendments were stripped off in Conference Committee and the voters will have a clean bill for the November ballot. I urge you to vote in favor of this Constitutional Amendment, as it will forever close the door on the legislative pay debacle created by the Democrats in 2007.
Texting While Driving: The Texting While Driving bill went to a conference committee to work out the details between the Senate and House version. I reported in Tuesdays Blog that the Senate agreed to amend the House version, defining a few exceptions in the law. The conference committee agreed to a couple and disagreed on a couple…some call it collaboration, some call it compromise. I didn’t want the bill to fail but wish we could’ve kept the part about using your cell phone to text/email while at a stop light. I know some readers disagree, but many others agree. In the end that part was lost. We were able to keep in the bill that you can safely pull over onto the shoulder of the road and text/email. I still maintain this will be extremely hard for Law Enforcement to monitor but will serve as a deterrent for many…it is now against the law to text and drive, assuming the Governor signs into law.
Ectopic Pregnancy: I think most readers know my life story and that I’m unabashedly Pro-Life …you just never know what impact a child, when given the chance, may have in life; adoption is a good thing! I say this to inform readers of a bill we passed providing that removing an ectopic pregnancy in Alabama will no longer be considered an abortion. For those that don’t know (I didn’t until I studied this bill) an ectopic pregnancy is one where the fetus forms outside of the womb. There is no chance of survival for the child and the women’s life may become at risk due to complications. However, under current law in Alabama, this procedure is considered an abortion. I supported this bill.
Disaster Preparedness Supplies: We gave final passage to a bill providing a tax-free weekend for purchasing certain disaster preparedness supplies. You can read the bill here to learn more on what items qualify.
De Minimis Value Defined: Remember the debacle last Christmas where children supposedly couldn’t give gifts to their teachers? I maintain this was much ado about nothing as the ethics law we passed in 2010 was clear – for the purposes of influencing a public employee or state official – but as special interest groups were determined to make this something it was not and as the Ethics Commission failed to provide clear guidance (I provided my thoughts in an Op/Ed in November 2011) the Legislature took action to further define “de minimis value ”. The House version of this bill placed a $25 cap on gifts – an amendment was introduced in the Senate to raise this to $50 or less, so this will go back to the House and possibly a Conference Committee.
That’s all for now…I think I’m caught up. I attended a couple of meetings in the District this morning and have just about caught up on my phone calls and emails (still playing phone tag with a couple of you - you know who you are…). I plan to attend the Athens on the Square Car Show tomorrow and the Denim & Diamonds Gala for the Athens-Limestone Hospital tomorrow evening…now, what do you wear to a Denim & Diamonds event? I’ve got denim, but I am short on diamonds!
Semper Fi - Bill