As we closed out the third week I'm happy to report that in general this legislative session is moving along quite well. There is very little drama/conflict between or within any party in the Senate. We seem to all be on the same page...for now. I remain optimistic that we'll continue in that form for the days ahead.
I will admit that the impeachment process has began to suck most of the air out of the building. Some interesting updates on that from this week. With renewed interest (pressure?) for the House Impeachment Committee to resume their work, additional experts are studying/interpreting existing law regarding the impeachment process. Remember - Alabama has never impeached a Governor. As most readers know I'm not a lawyer and have very limited interaction with the legal process - a good thing I believe as we need the "common man's (and woman's) viewpoint in lawmaking...at times common sense is not very common in lawmaking! However, back to the topic, we are now told that if/when the House votes on Articles of Impeachment, and the simple majority of the 105 members vote in favor of the Articles, the Governor is immediately removed from office. The Lt. Governor will immediately assume the office of Governor. This could happen in a week or a month. The ball has been and remains in the House of Representatives court.
Should/If/When the House votes to impeach the Governor, the Senate will then form as a Jury with the Supreme Court Chief Justice presiding over the formal impeachment hearings. A group from the Senate was appointed last week to begin formalizing the rules for this process that the entire Senate will vote to approve. Again, we are breaking new ground here...Alabama has never impeached a Governor.
A question from our weekly Coffee and Conversation has prompted me to include a link to the Special Order Calendar from each Legislative Day; I'll admit, the website can be difficult to navigate. The Special Order Calendar is compiled by the Rules Committee and places legislation with a second reading (received favorable report from a committee) in priority to be voted on by the full body. This is an easy way for you to read the legislation we voted on. Just click on the links below and then click on the bill number to read the legislation.
Tuesday's SOC included 10 bills; I'll highlight actions on a couple of them below.
SB153 is a remake of a bill that we saw last year. Most of us refer to it as the Longitudinal Data Bill. Opposition remains strong for this legislation which attempts to collect data on students from Pre-K through 12th grade, into Community College/University and then the workforce. Simply put I think we are going about this the wrong way - we need to invert the proposed format and rather than government collecting data to share with industry to drive education we need education to better interact with industry to ensure we are educating students in accordance with the evolving needs of the real world. The bill failed to achieve enough votes to pass the procedural Budget Isolation Resolution (A BIR vote is required for each bill brought before the body until the budgets are passed by both the House and Senate. The BIR was incorporated as a Constitutional Amendment in 1981 and is intended to force the legislature to give the budgets priority...it really doesn't work that way but that would be a whole blog unto-itself!). We will likely see another push for this bill in the coming days.
SB2 further defines in Alabama law that a county or municipality cannot add taxes to firearms, ammunition or ammunition accessories other than what is allowed for normal sales tax. This concern has come about due to some cities nationally attempting to impose gun restrictions through adding special taxes on-top-of sales tax for ammunition and firearms. While I normally vote against any legislation which restricts local elected bodies (city councils/county commissions) from acting on behalf of their constituency, this is an exception as it impacts 2nd Amendment Rights.
With exception to the last bill listed on the SOC, SB154, all other bills were passed by the Senate. I supported each of them. SB154 deals with adding Fentanyl and similar drugs to the controlled substances list. This bill was "Carried Over" as a member wished to further review some of the language in the legislation.
Thursday's SOC included 10 items; I'll highlight a couple of actions on them below.
SB16 abolishing the current judicial override of a jury's verdict by a judge for life in prison vs. the death penalty has passed the Senate. Alabama is the only state that allows this and obviously needs to be repealed. This article provides a great overview of the law if you'd like to read more.
Both SB93, SB84 and SB136 were all Carried Over due to members concerns. SB93 would prohibit the legislature or local governing body from naming a building or road after an elected official while they are still in office. It never really became clear to me why some members opposed the bill during debate. I support the bill but admit that I fail to see this as a pressing issue to be addressed at this time. SB94 deals with an existing Parking Deck Authority law that allows the state to build parking decks around the State House and Capitol. I have some concerns with borrowing money AND relying on Federal Funds paid to various agencies that supposedly would offset cost for the project (federal funds - in part or whole - may not be there in the coming days yet the costs will remain). I am interested in the proposal as parking for constituents is something I'd like to see. There would be a charge - similar to airport parking I'm told. I'll continue to provide updates as debate continues. SB136 regarding Insurance was carried over to allow for clarification on language in the bill.
I supported the remaining bills on the Thursday's SOC.
In other work, I was able to move four bills out of committee this week. SB96 relating to DHR verifying if a child abuse/neglect case is a military dependent unanimously passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee and is now in position to go before the House for final passage. As discussed in earlier blogs posts, I am sponsoring a group of bills for the Military Stability Commission and Department of Defense. Three of these passed the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee - SB203 ensures military recruiters receive the same level of access as colleges and universities in our high schools. SB204 conforms the Alabama code of Military Justice to the Federal UCMJ. Recent changes to the UCMJ with sexual assault and other areas have prompted changes to state law. Finally, SB218 formalizing a process for communities adjacent to military installations around the state to use joint funds for infrastructure.
Upon return from Montgomery on Thursday evening, I enjoyed visiting with several groups in the Senate District on Friday and was able to provide some grant funding for various projects. This included The Huntsville Drumline, a great program serving 60 plus children in Huntsville City Schools, The Alabama Chapter of ALS which is producing a video with someone with ALS locally to increase awareness and better assist those diagnosed with ALS and their faimly on the various services available to them. I also visited with the Veterans of North Alabama Services Assistance Program. This is a great example of a group working to fill the needs of Veterans in a unique way. Oftentimes a homeless Veteran is successfully moved into a house but the home doesn't have any furnishings or items such as pots and pans needed for daily living. This organization picks up unwanted furniture, etc, stores it and then delivers it to Veterans moving into a home/apartment. I was also able to stop by the Madison Senior Center to visit with the director, staff and seniors enjoying a Mardi Gras celebration hosted by Madsion Rotary. What fun!
We held our second Coffee and Conversation on Monday and, even though it was President's Day, we had a nice turnout to discuss various issues in State Government. We will meet again this Monday at 0600. I provide the coffee and we discuss what happened last week and what I anticipate will happen the coming week in Montgomery. No need to make reservations. Hope to see you there!
Semper Fi - Bill