I’m reminded that there is a reason we meet for only “30 Legislative Days within a 105 Day legislative Calendar”… today is the 29th legislative day and as the session comes to a close, patience is wearing thin, tempers are short – sort of like a family reunion that has gone a day too long!
This has been a busy week and many bills are seeing the final chance to pass this year. Just today, a I exited the elevator and walked the hall to my office at 8 AM (after adjourning last night at 10 PM) I was approached by no less than three lobbyist, some handing me talking points, asking for my support for a bill that was in committee at 8:30. In some instances these bills were not even on my radar – I had thirty minutes to digest these bills and make a decision on how I would vote in the committee meeting. I’m tired and the day has just begun.
I started the blog update on Tuesday but was unable to post the update that evening as the internet connection was down where I’m staying the night. Wednesday was simply too long of a day to get caught up on the blog so here I am three days behind. I'll touch on a few highlights below:
State-Wide School Start Date – I continue to work to gain support to oppose this bill. The bill passed both the Senate and House last week; most of the North Alabama delegation opposed. I opposed based on local control should remain in the local boards hands. I worked with others and offered three amendments during the floor debate…an almost 7 hour debate, to allow for some form of “opt out” for local school boards. We eventually lost the fight and the bill was sent to the Governor. Surprisingly the Governor vetoed the bill and provided an executive amendment to…Opt Out! The House overrode the Governor’s veto and the bill now awaits action in the Senate. It has been brought up three times for a vote and I’ve spoken on the bill, sharing emails and newspaper articles written about why this is a bad bill, placing our children’s education behind a supposed increase in tourism dollars. My hope is to win over enough of my colleagues and, when this comes to a vote later today or on the last day of the session, be successful in protecting our children and local control of our school calendars.
Charter Schools – I’m most disappointed to report that Charter Schools and the accompanying School Flexibility aspect have been lost for the 2012 session. The House version was hung up in committee; the Senate version passed the Senate but failed to move in the House. In their original form both bills addressed Charter Schools only. I had worked with several groups to develop a stand-alone School Flexibility option, allowing school systems to apply for waiver of requirements such as teaching certificates and budget relief. Both Chart School Bills were amended to incorporate the School Flex option of my stand-alone bill to garner support….unfortunately not enough. I wish we were able to pass the stand-alone School Flex but reality is, if we pass this bill we will likely never pass Charter Schools in Alabama. For those not aware - the stand-alone School Flexibility Option would allow local schools to apply with the State Board of Ed to hire advance degreed professionals such as scientist and engineers to teach those type classes without requiring them to complete a teaching certificate program – often lasting two or more years. A budget relief example is allowing the system to use 25% of transportation dollars for a specific project such as a science lab after assuring the State Dept of Ed that transportation would not be impacted and that test scores would remain at or above current levels. I’ll champion the School Flex bill again next year.
Immigration Law – We had an interesting debate on the Immigration law on Wednesday evening…turned into a filibuster of half-truths and far flung fear mongering…in short, the same baseless arguments we’ve heard since the law passed last year. After two-hours of filibuster a substitute was offered to effectively repeal the act all together, happy to say we allowed the substitute bill to come to vote and it failed 20 – 14. The original sponsors of the Immigration Law continue to work to develop a compromise bill to “tweak” the law passed in 2012. I remain vigilant to the fact the immigration issue is under review by the Supreme Court and at this point am not confident in passing any legislation to “tweak” the current law.
Tuesday's Blog - For what it is worth - below is my post from Tuesday that I was unable to publish due to internet connectivity problems.
I left Madison at 6:30 on Tuesday morning, heading south to Montgomery for the week. We are voting three days this week; there are only four vote days left. The plan is for us to go into a special session sometime next week to focus on legislative redistricting. If all goes well we will adjourn from the Regular and Special Session the week of Memorial Day to close out the 2012 session.
My first meeting this morning was the General Fund Committee meeting at 0900. This meeting lasted a little over two hours as we began to debate a substitute for the General Fund that passed a couple of weeks ago…we have a lot of work to do, little time to do it, and a lot of tough decisions before us.
I was able to attend a Caucus lunch after several impromptu meetings in my office to discuss various legislative actions late in the session. The Senate went into session at 2 PM. The Senate adjourned at 7:45 tonight…it was 13 hours ago that I backed out of my driveway in Madison. I have an 8:30 General Fund Committee meeting and we will reconvene at 1100.