In what is becoming a reoccurring theme – I start my day optimistic that we’ll get some work done but alas - we get off track. Today was somewhat different as today pitted Republican against Republican in a filibuster over Insurance reform.
A little “inside baseball” for readers – insurance reform has been an ongoing issue since hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast a few years ago. Senators from the southern regions of our state have worked for years to improve insurance coverage for our state through a leveling of the playing field - so to speak. I support most of these reforms as recent tornados have made this a state-wide issue rather than focused on the coast. It is important to remember that various insurance companies supported various Senators (Rs and Ds) in the 2010 campaigns. A Special Order Calendar – specific to insurance reform – was introduced this morning; a total of 6 bills. The first bill – opposed by the insurance industry as it requires insurance companies to disclose to policy holders that a discount is available for construction or improvements to property to withstand windstorm damage. This is currently in law – the bill only required the companies to notify policy holders of this discount. The bill was blocked procedurally from coming up for a vote…the stage was set. The second bill on the calendar, backed by the insurance industry as it allows them to expand where and how they are able to invest funds was also blocked procedurally from coming up for a vote – but this time it was blocked by those who supported the first bill…confusion mounts. The third bill was then brought up, passed the procedural vote to enter debate and was promptly filibustered…who’s on first; anyone know? After almost two hours of Republicans filibustering Republicans the Senate adjourned at 11:00 and I’m left wondering why I left Madison at 5:45 AM for this.
After a Caucus meeting lunch where we attempted to get everyone back on track I attended a rare Tuesday Education Policy meeting. This was a Public Hearing on SB 513, a bill I’ve co-sponsored with Sen Brewbaker for Education Options. This bill combines parts of the House version of the Charter Schools Bill and SB365, the Education Flexibility Bill I’ve previously introduced. I agreed to co-sponsor with Sen Brewbaker as a means to ensure some form of educational flexibility passes the legislature this year. We simply cannot afford to continue to do the same things the same way we’ve always done them. As I’ve stated before, I support a limited application of Charter Schools so long as they follow defined metrics, allowing for us to accurately gauge whether or not they will work in Alabama. They must be limited to areas where schools are chronically failing and enrollment must mirror local schools in socio economic as well as children with disabilities. The public hearing shed little light on this bill as I’ve followed the house version – AEA opposes, everyone else is open minded – the devils in the details and that is what is being worked out between the House and Senate versions as they make their way through the process. I’m still working to move SB365, my School Flexibility bill out of committee as well, hoping to position it as a fail safe for education reform should all else on the table fail.
The Senate reconvened at 3 PM and continued the filibuster, err, I mean debate, on the insurance bills. Having not come to a compromise during lunch, leadership brought the filibuster to a close by carrying the bills over. We then scrapped the morning Special Order Calendar – having filibustered on 3 of the 6 bills – and introduced another Special Order Calendar with only one bill on it; HB276 by Rep Ball – this is the legislative pay compensation bill, a Constitutional Amendment (CA) that, should it pass, repeals the 2007 Democrat lead legislative pay increase and replaces it based on the median annual household income in Alabama. Currently all legislators are reimbursed at the same rate regardless of distance traveled to Montgomery; under HB276, legislators living within 50 miles of Montgomery are not reimbursed for mileage or hotel. I support this bill as it is a Constitutional Amendment (CA) and it lets the voters decide.
Several amendments were offered – it turned into a fiasco of who could amend what the most – led by democrats who were the architectures of the 2007 pay raise debacle. I voted against all amendments offered for the simple reason that this bill passed the House in a 91 – 2 and I believe the bill is ready for the people to vote on. The bill will now go to a conference committee with the House to work out a final version.
The Senate adjourned just before 6:00 PM after having passed one bill today – the Legislative Compensation bill. Don’t get me wrong – I’m okay with not passing bills, fewer laws passed is better but I know of several good bills, supported by conservatives, that are backed up in the log jam, not to mention local legislation. We will reconvene on Thursday at 10:00. I have six committee meetings in the morning beginning at 8:30...it’s been a long day but I’ll return tomorrow, optimistic that well get something done!
ATPRO Update – I’ve received several emails requesting status on SB51 – ATPRO. I’ve worked this bill behind the scenes for several months now. Earlier in the session I held a work session concerning the bill (reported in the 15 Feb blog). Unfortunately things aren’t looking good for ATPRO this year, mostly based on the budgets. The Legislative Fiscal note on SB51 shows a $10M plus hit to the budget, this in a year where we are short $400M in the General Fund and $100M in the Education Trust Fund. I maintain this is factored wrong as it assumes everyone eligible to participate in ATPRO will be allowed to – that is not the case as unlike the DROP program, where everyone qualified, in ATPRO employees apply through their local board. Local Boards are to make decisions based on the need for the employee to remain in service; not everyone applying will be nor should be allowed to participate. Remember the purpose of this program (both DROP and ATPRO) – a management tool to incentivize an employee who has decided to retire to remain in service for a defined period of time, allowing the board to find a replacement…and then the employee retires. This is what killed the DROP program – everyone who applied was accepted and few retired. For what it is worth, I talked with several state employees and have drafted a state employee version of ATPRO. The projected fiscal note on that is MUCH larger than the $10M on ATPRO...it is not looking good for either of these to move this year.
Semper Fi - Bill