The Senate returns to session Tuesday of next week for the 23rd Legislative day...7 Legislative days remain, roughly 3 – 4 weeks and we’ve yet to pass a budget; it’s like Groundhog Day - we’ve been here before!
I enjoyed attending several activities over the last two weeks, visiting with people from across the district discussing important local concerns such as at the Madison City Schools PTA “Brown Bag” Luncheon. Pam and I also enjoyed a night out at the Madison Hospital annual fundraiser – The Medi Gras Bash last weekend.
This weekend we will attend the Asbury United Methodist Church CHRIST Choirs Desert Night Out fundraiser (Fri and Sat). We worship at Asbury and our daughter participates in this choir. The local talent performing at this two night event is amazing – we are truly blessed – and the homemade desserts are amazing!
I’m two weeks behind on the blog so I’ll focus on significant legislation from last week first (25 – 27 Feb) and then move into activities from this week.
After posting this I’m going out to play in the sun today and hope you are able to do so as well!
The Senate passed a host of bills regarding welfare reform:
Drug testing for welfare applicants with a prior drug conviction (SB63)
Restore community service, job training or work requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients without dependents (SB87)
Require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits (SB115)
Prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs (SB116)
The Senate also passed the Education Budget. While there are some good things in the budget, I voted against the budget based on several factors – the greatest of which was the lack of time for me to review the budget and its impact on the education community. In years past I have had an opportunity for the education community to review the budget and share their insight with me that I was later able to address with the budget chair. The education budget was passed out of committee around noon on Wed the 26th and we were asked to vote on it Thursday evening the 27th. I don’t view that as having amble time to study a budget and therefore voted against it.
Highlights of the budget provided by the budget chair follow:
Meets top 4 priorities of the State Department of Education:
1. Funding for 250 new 7th and 8th grade teachers in order to lower class sizes ($10 million)
2. Increased appropriation for OCE (Other Current Expenditures) by $6 million
3. Increased appropriation for transportation by $1.5 million
4. Increased appropriation for textbooks by $2.8 million
Additionally, the budget -
Increases appropriation for state’s voluntary Pre-K program by $10 million
Increases appropriation for Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative by $2.5 million Maintains level funding for Alabama Reading Initiative
Dedicated $62 million toward repaying the $437 million borrowed by the Democrat majority in 2008
I also voted against the move to change the proposed 2% pay raise for teachers and support personnel to a 1% bonus. I will continue to support the raise over a onetime bonus....and we still need to work out the PEEHIP issue with the board - more to come on this.
Significant bills passed this week (4 - 6 March) include:
The Alabama Ahead Act – (SB1) Technology Infrastructure for Education bill passed the full Senate and is on its way to the House. I have concerns with this bill as on the surface we are borrowing $100M...we don’t need to borrow anymore money (which is why I voted against the bill). However, I recognize the need to expand technology in the classroom but only after providing for the infrastructure and training required for such expansion to be successful. We were successful in amending the original bill to include this oversight and to require local system participation/funding match of 25%. Additionally, systems that have already deployed technology along these lines will be able to recoup some of their costs.
Two government streamlining bills passed the General Fund Committee that I am a member of this week. We continue our efforts to streamline state government and reduce spending. SB412 would consolidate the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles into the Alabama Department of Corrections and the SB411 State Forestry Commission into the Department of Agriculture. To date, Republicans’ have enacted streamlining reforms that will save taxpayers millions of dollars annually – simply put – our state government needed to be put on a diet! This is not a question of someone not doing their job, this is a question of efficiency in state government and we are making business decisions to better allocate limited resources while continuing to serve the people of Alabama.