I purposely delayed posting an update on Friday, deciding to respect the day, September 11th. On Saturday I was honored to have been invited to speak at the 9-11 Hero's Run held in Athens Alabama. I had already planned to participate in the event as I'm an avid runner and proceeds supported the Athens Veteran's Museum. The weather and turnout was equally amazing for this race. The crowds along the course made the event very special.
Also duly noted were the fireman who RAN the course in full turnouts! Semper Fi Gentlemen!
Friday, the 4th Legislative Day of the 2015 Special Session:
Highlights of Friday’s activities in the State House were focused on the Senate General Fund Committee where the battery of House tax and fee increases was debated. We roll-call voted each bill (as opposed to voice voting which I have been critical of some committees for doing) and by my count I was the only Republican present who voted against these tax/fee increases. The bills that passed committee included a $400 per bed fee increase for each bed in a nursing home, a $0.15 fee on each prescription filled or refilled at a pharmacy, and a $0.25 tax increase per pack of cigarette...take that in, fifteen cents per prescription and twenty-five cents per pack of cigarettes!
In other votes taken on Friday, SB24 a bill I’m sponsoring and I reported in an earlier blog passed the Senate in a 24 – 4 Vote. SB24 establishes an administrative procedure requiring state departments or agencies that plan to close a local/regional office or facility such as a park to follow the Administrative Procedure Act. This bill accomplishes a couple of things in addressing the posturing of some agencies, threatening to close state parks or driver’s license offices should their agency’s budget be cut. First, it ensures the representatives of the people are involved in the decision making process proposing the closure of an office or facility. Secondly, it places in full light the debate of which offices or facilities are being proposed and will ensure the people most affected by a proposed closure have representation in the process. In short, passage of this bill prevents the threatened overnight closing of any state office or state park.
It is interesting to note that a rally was held at Several State Parks over the weekend and apparently a representative from State Parks specifically mentioned SB24 as a bill that lays out how to close state parks. I’m left wondering if the speaker was misinformed or was the intent to mislead the people at the rally. Could it be that the department doesn’t want to discuss their decisions in the full light of public debate? I want to thank those who contacted me via email/phone in a professional manner and asked for clarification on this matter. I encourage you to read SB24 for yourself.
Monday, the 5th Legislative Day of the 2015 Special Session:
The Senate went into session today at 2 PM. Throughout the day there was much planning, negotiating and deal making in an effort to cobble together some budget solution that not only the House and Senate could support but also the factions within each body. The “no new taxes” crowd is pitted against the “raid the Education Trust Fund” crowd and both are pitted against the “budget reform” group. Certainly an interesting day.
By 8 PM two bills had passed the Senate, HB29 and HB30. Both of these bills move funds in some form or fashion from the Education Trust Fund or the Rolling Reserve. As I’ve stated before, I do not support moving funds from the Education Trust Fund without some designated backfill. I am not going to dig a hole in one budget to fill another. Similarly, I will not support raiding of the Rolling Reserve, a reserve we created just a few short years ago and is now beginning to grow in funding at the sacrifice of what could be spent on education. This fund was specifically intended to grow to a certain amount and be used as a means to prevent the Education Trust Fund from going into pro-ration in the future. Raiding this fund is akin to your family saving money for a specific event/item and then just when it grows to a sizeable amount a family member decides they need it for something else. Do we need to make adjustments in the Rolling Reserve? Yes, the floor/ceiling used for calculations initially was set too high. I support adjusting those to something more realistic now that we have some real-time data to base those numbers from. I will not support using those funds for anything other than what they were designated for.
Both HB29 and HB30 have passed the Senate with amendments. The House has non-concurred on the amendments and the bills are now in a Conference Committee where hopefully some measure of an agreement can be met.
The Senate remains in session but is in recess until 10PM. I will update the blog throughout the rest of the evening.
Edited @ 10:30. The Conference Committee was unable to come to an agreement and the House and Senate have adjourned until tomorrow.
Semper Fi - Bill