Monday was a very productive day back home in District 2. I started the morning visiting Madison Academy where I was able to present the girls basketball team with a Senate Resolution commending them for their state championship last month. Later I visited Tanner High School to present both the girls and boys basketball teams with Senate Resolutions on their 2A State Championships. I was able to spend some time with both teams and share my thoughts on their leadership role in the school and in their community. Later that afternoon I attended the Huntsville AEA Rally at the Botanical Gardens. It was nice meeting everyone and comparing perspectives on bills we are working in Montgomery. That evening I attended a three hour public hearing at the Madison City Hall on the proposed property tax referendum in the city.
I started this morning calling in to the Toni and Gary Radio Show at 6:20. We chatted for approximately 20 minutes on several items occurring in the legislature. I then called in to the Dale Jackson show at 7:00 to discuss the results of the three hour public hearing I attended last night in Madison concerning the proposed property tax referendum. I was able to get on the road a little before 8 AM, southbound to Montgomery.
Upon arrival in Montgomery around 11:00 I attended a couple of meetings concerning legislation I have pending in committee this week, I have two bills on deck tomorrow. SB192, the Brewpub Modernization Act will be debated in the House Economic Development Committee. Another bill, SB361, a bill allowing limited, direct access to physical therapist will be in the Senate Health Committee. I spent a significant portion of the day touching base with members of both committees, answering any lingering concerns on these bills.
The Senate went into session at 3 PM this afternoon. We started debate on what should have been a fairly non-controversial group of bills addressing a host of governmental issues from both sides of the aisle. However, our friends across the aisle had other plans and decided to once again intentionally slow the process by filibustering. Our first bill was SB239, allocating funding for the Children First Trust Fund. We decided to recess at 5 PM, to reconvene at 8 PM, allowing them to work through their concerns…turns out, they are a divided body. The filibustering quickly started again when we returned from recess at 8 PM and, after another brief 15 minute recess allowing the other side to get on the same page, we once again attempted to move forward with the Children First Trust Fund. The first bill finally passed at 9:15 PM…one down, many more bills to go on today’s calendar.
The next bill introduced was SB240, appropriations for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I ask myself, why would anyone want to filibuster this bill? At this point we are no longer surprised but readers of this blog need to be aware of the tactics being used. The Democrats first proposed an amendment to double the appropriation to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, taking it from $250,000 to $500,000. Of course we’d like to provide more funding to this program; however, the funding established in this bill is equal to funding from last year. At this point everyone understands that funding for every program is limited due to the economic conditions in our state. So, why are they playing these games…simple, they want to show that Republicans are not willing to increase funding for a domestic violence program. In reality, they know we are matching past funding and know that additional funding is not available. We’ll likely be here awhile!
I’ll be clear; I will not support pushing legislation through when meaningful, honest, open debate is occurring. However, when the intent is to clearly derail the process, preventing sound legislation from moving forward – I’m ready, willing and able to move for cloture, ending debate and passing good legislation. Case in point, after almost 4 hours of filibustering, SB239 passed the Senate in a 34 – 0 vote. It is now 10 PM and we have passed two bills today. Ask yourself, what agenda is being pushed by the Democrats in Montgomery?
UPDATED @ 12:24 Wed 4/27/2011
The Senate continues to work into Wednesday. We adjourned at 1145 and reconvened at 1205 this morning to continue working Tuesday's calendar. We start each day with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. I was honored to be asked to lead the Alabama State Senate in the pledge and yes, I started - in my rusty Marine voice - by calling "Attention on Deck!"
Yesterday’s session on the Senate floor can best be described as “growing pains”. We spent a majority of the day debating several aspects of SB256, a bill dealing with the illegal immigration problems in our state. Of course the problem is greater than just in our state as the federal government has long since turned a blind eye to the issue, causing several states to enact laws.
The growing pains within the Republican caucus experienced yesterday can best be described by a story from my minister in a sermon about Christian growth. He related a story about a star basketball player who makes the impossible look easy doing amazing things on the court. But, they had to work through the cumbersome times of growing into their big feet, lanky arms and legs and the literal growing pains of muscle and bone growth, etc long before flying above the rim. The Republican caucus, just as basketball stars and Christians, must also work through the cumbersome times as we mature. That is just what we experienced yesterday in heated debates. While the process may not have been pretty at times, I’m proud of how we worked through the issues, agreed to disagree, and in the end, passed a comprehensive illegal immigration bill.
One of the most significant battles from yesterday was based on granting policing powers to the Alabama Department of Homeland Defense. Several of us felt that this was not needed – others felt it was a necessary aspect of the bill. The amendment to pull the section passed, in a narrow vote. In a rare procedural call to reconsider, a second vote was taken and the amendment failed 17 - 15. In the end, the bill as passed grants policing power to the Alabama Department of Homeland Defense. The final bill passed in a 26 – 6 vote (6 Democrats voted against the bill). You can read the bill here. The Senate adjourned at 5:30 and I headed home shortly thereafter, arriving in Madison just before 9 PM
In other news, yesterday was Autism awareness day in Montgomery. Between early morning meetings and debates on the Senate floor, I was able to visit with several families from North Alabama whose children are autistic. I was able to discuss, first hand, some of the challenges they face ranging from education to treatment. It was very nice meeting everyone and I look forward to working with you on this important issue.
I plan to enjoy the Easter weekend with my family and hope you can as well. On Monday I will visit two local schools, one in Madison County and one in Limestone County. That evening I will attend an AEA rally at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens starting at 5 PM. I will have to leave that event in order to attend the 6 PM public hearing in Madison concerning the property tax referendum to repeal/replace the sales tax used for Madison’s new high school. On Tuesday morning around 6:20 I’ve been invited to call in on the Toni and Gary Show (WBHP, 106.5 FM and 800/1230 AM) to discuss happenings in Montgomery. I always enjoy talking with Toni and Gary – hope you can listen in.
Lastly, from my family to yours - Happy Easter!
Matthew 28:6 – he is not here; he has risen, just as he said.
Today was a normal day for a Wednesday in Montgomery…committee meeting after committee meeting sandwiched between meetings in my office with fellow legislators and lobbyist. I’m getting better at compartmentalizing my thoughts and conversations as I dash from meeting to meeting…a skill I must continue to hone daily.
A quick admin note from yesterday – a link to a document I mentioned concerning SB310 was broke. It is now fixed. I’ll provide more details on SB310 and the results of the committee meeting later in the blog. Special thanks to everyone that alerted me to the problem (wow, people are actually reading the blog!)
My first meeting of the day was the Education Policy Committee at 0830. We discussed several bills at the meeting but the highlight was SB310, Tenure Reform. An amended bill was offered by the sponsor who incorporated numerous changes as recommended by committee members. I want to thank the sponsor for incorporating those changes and again I thank readers of this blog who took the time to help me identify specific areas of the bill that needed improving. We still need to tweak a couple of areas and I ask everyone to read the amended bill and once again provide quality feedback. An overview of changes is presented here and the new bill is linked here. Feel free to share with with your network (...I double, triple checked today’s links).
The physical therapist direct access bill was the subject of a public hearing this afternoon in the Health Committee meeting. This bill (linked in yesterday’s blog below) has received some push back from the medical community as the perception is the bill erodes into the medical arena and their professional capability to diagnose and recommend treatment options. I do not question that concept. I see this bill from a different perspective, as a patient rights/choice bill enabling expansion of healthcare services. In short, current law mandates that one must go to a physician and receive a referral to then be seen/treated by a physical therapist. This bill allows Alabamians to make the choice - go to my doctor first or go directly to a physical therapist. After some debate with others we decided to include an amendment that makes the bill a “limited, direct access”. This means patents can be seen by a physical therapist but only for a specific time and that if the condition does not improve the patient must be referred to a physician (the “cards” I was holding before the public hearing that I mentioned in last night's blog). By the way, should this bill pass, we will be the 47th state to allow direct, limited access to the physical therapy profession. Read that last sentence again…anytime I read a statement like that it makes me wonder who our laws are trying to protect. This is the type of health care reform we need.
Tomorrow I have a Tennessee Valley Caucus meeting at 0830 regarding the control of lake weeds in areas controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority. I then have two committee meetings scheduled back to back: Banking and Insurance, and Commerce and Transportation. We go into session at 1000 and should take up the Illegal Immigration Bill introduced by Senator Beason. I support this bill but realize we have some work to do on the bill in its current form. Should be an interesting day; you can listen live to the debate on the Senate audio feed here.
This evening I plan to take in a Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball game with several of my colleagues. We’ll have dinner at the stadium and, provided the weather holds, enjoy Military Appreciation Night as Montgomery plays Jacksonville. For those that are thinking it…no, we are not going to be wined and dined in box seats by lobbyist or special interest - that would’ve been the norm last year but no more under the new ethics laws. We are simply going to the ball park as a group of guys and I’m really looking forward to it! First pitch is at 7:05 – Go Biscuits!
OBE – a military term from my past – Overcome By Events; my excuse for not posting a blog update last Thursday. I had a busy weekend starting Friday that included many community events that I was honored to attend. I started Friday morning visiting the Ardmore Public Library on their anniversary and open house. I then visited the Athens Veteran’s Museum Annual Fish Fry. It was great seeing everyone at both events and I truly thank those that stopped by to discuss the work we are doing in Montgomery.
On Saturday my family and I worked the 7th annual Vets with Vettes and Corvette Owners Charity Car Show at the Bridge Street Towne Center in Huntsville. The event ran from 8 – 2 and saw over 200 registered participants (incredible cars, trucks and bikes) and raised several thousand dollars that will be donated to local charities such as Semper Fi Community Task Force, Tutt-Fann Veteran’s Home and Toys for Tots. Thanks to everyone that participated, to the press for the pre and post coverage and special thanks to the hardworking club members who coordinated this year’s show. Even with the cool weather, the bar has been set high for next year.
Monday afternoon I attended a Madison County Judicial update with several Madison County legislators. I enjoyed meeting the County Clerk, judges and staff. Afterwards I was able to spend an hour with the Madison County District Attorney discussing several legislative items. That evening my wife and I attended the Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame induction dinner at the VBC. It was great seeing so many of our community leaders recognized for their athletic accomplishments.
Funny story, I misread the evening dress code on the invitation and showed up in a tuxedo. Once we arrived at the VBC I realized everyone else was wearing business suites or sport coats and quickly realized that I was seriously overdressed. However, my schedule didn’t allow time to return home and change - so, in we went, tux and all! At the door I was immediately asked if I was an inductee…that’s the funny part. Trust me; I played sports in high school but there is nothing I’ve ever done athletically that would warrant me being inducted to any athletic hall of fame. Throughout the evening, everyone was very nice about the mix-up and commented how nice I was dressed in the tuxedo. I replied more times than I can count, “Thank you, I have to return it by midnight”.
Today I arrived in Montgomery a little before 10 AM. Of note, the Troopers were working pretty hard south of Hoover around the construction zones. I even saw a legislator pulled over! My day started with meetings in my office at 10:30 and 11:00. The Republican Caucus met at 11:30 and the Senate went into session at 2:00. We were successful in passing six important bills today dealing with tort reform. One democrat broke from his ranks and filibustered a final bill to show his frustrations. Near as I can tell he was frustrated in the fact that he was not invited to work on the bill in committee…dang, sometimes we need to just put our big boy pants on when we come to work. He repeatedly stated during his hour long filibuster that he would support the bill when we vote on it but it was just that no one took him up on his offer to help out on the bill (sniff, sniff) and his feelings were hurt. We finally voted the bill out at 5:20 and he voted for it.
Tomorrow morning I have several meetings lined up. I’ll start with an education policy meeting at 0830. A little after 5:00 PM today I received a copy of the amended version of the Tenure Reform bill (SB310). Guess what I’ll be reading tonight along with the other bills in committee? Several pieces of information have been provided publically, for and against tenure reform, most notably by AEA (Alabama Education Association) and AASB (Alabama Association of School Boards). The best piece I’ve seen to date compares both groups’ arguments, side by side. Read it here.(admin note, this link was fixed 4/20/11). Lastly, in yesterday’s blog, I linked to the memo sent to the bill sponsor that included comments on how to improve the bill as submitted. This memo included comments from 37 people who took the time to be a part of the solution. Thank you for your assistance.
At 10:30 I have a General Fund Committee meeting and at 11:30 a public hearing will be held on a bill I’m sponsoring concerning direct access to Physical Therapist. Currently, if someone wants to visit a licensed physical therapist in Alabama they must first go to their doctor for evaluation and receive a prescription to visit the physical therapist. This bill allows patients the option to visit a physical therapist directly. You can read the bill here. I’ll discuss further in tomorrow’s blog – after the public hearing (don’t want to show my cards yet!)
Today’s blog update will focus on SB310 and HB414. HB414 just hit my radar last week; this bill is yet another piece to the budget puzzle originating in Governor Bentley’s office. SB310 has been previously discussed on the blog and deals with Tenure Reform.
It is interesting to note that readers of this blog who communicate with me include those inside and outside of the educational profession. A friend of mine recently told me “I don’t know how you’ll survive in politics; you’re too honest and transparent”. I took that as a compliment…sort of. I do believe in transparency and I do not maintain a hidden agenda.
Tenure Reform – I submitted a letter to Senator Pittman (sponsor of SB310) on Thursday of last week. The letter compiles comments from emails concerning tenure reform. I wanted to share this letter and email comments with readers. I will continue to work with him and others to refine our tenure laws into a balanced solution. I will post updates as they become available.
One question posed to me concerning tenure reform – “what does tenure reform have to do with saving schools money?” The answer - a lot when I’m told a school system has spent $40,000 in arbitration costs defending the move of a teacher from one school to another, within the same system. Yes, there needs to be limits to moving a teacher from one school to another (i.e. only at the start of the school year or within a certain mileage radius, not across the county) but this is one of the many reasons we are debating tenure reform.
HB414 - I will continue to provide reader’s access to the same information circulated to legislators that I use in the decision making process. One of which is a 2009 report concerning teacher pay. This report is based on the 2008 school year by the John Locke Institute for the North Carolina Schools and included a review of every state in the nation. A subset of the report includes a focus on southern regional states. Alabama was ranked 28th in teacher pay according to the National Education Association. The Locke Institute report overlays additional factors such as cost of living, into the NEA ranking. When salary is adjusted, according to the John Locke report, Alabama teacher pay is ranked number 4 nationally and number 3 on the southern regional board states. While this report is almost three years old, I’ve searched several sites but am unable to find a more recent study. I will gladly share a link to a more recent report if someone knows of one.
Some information that needs to be considered; what is the current rate of pension and health care costs for public employees and how long the rate has been at that level. This leads into the debate of the public vs. private sector and the ongoing recession. As I’ve previously pointed out on this blog, the private sector has seen significant job losses (see chart below). Those in the private sector have also seen increased cost in health care and retirement matches and, in some cases, a reduction or complete stop in employer match to 401Ks.
Job losses in the private sector impact the public sector as the public sector is supported through taxation from everyone (both public and private sector pays sales tax, property tax, etc) but as consumer spending is reduced, so is sales tax, income tax, etc and thus the state (and nation for that matter) sees a reduction in funds available to pay for government supported programs. We simply cannot tax our way out of the budget hole we are in.
Additional information I’ve been provided reflects that state employee match for PEEHIP (Public Education Employee Health Insurance Plan) from 2001 through 2010 was $132 monthly for an employee with dependants and $2 monthly for a single coverage employee. In 2011 the rates rose to $162 and $15 respectively. Employee contribution rate for teachers in the retirement program has been at 5% since 1987. HB414 proposes to increase the retirement match by a total of 2.5% phased in over the next two years.
Following is an excerpt from the Fiscal Office on H414: The reduced employer contribution rates will result in total savings to TRS state agencies of an estimated $116.5 million in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, of which an estimated $81.6 million would be employer costs normally funded by the Education Trust Fund. The additional savings to TRS agencies for fiscal year 2013 would be an estimated total of $29.1 million, of which an estimated $20.4 million would be employer costs normally funded by the Education Trust Fund.
Legislative Pay – as I’ve previously shared, I will reduce my legislative pay in step with any legislation that I support that reduces pay of any state employee. I returned the 1.9% consumer price index to legislative pay that was a part of the 2007 legislative pay raise. Should HB414 pass, I will reduce my legislative pay in a phased approach as well.
Emails - as you might imagine, I've been inundated with emails on several bills. The most popular include SB310 and HB414 as they have pretty much consumed my inbox. I'm reading and responding as best possible. Thank you for understanding if I've not responded to your email yet.
I started the morning with the first of six committee meetings for the day. The Banking and Insurance meeting, held at 8:30, was largely non-controversial. Things went downhill from there.
Next stop was Children’s and Youth Affairs at 9:30. We debated SB196 at this meeting. This bill deals with child custody and was the subject of a two hour public hearing last week. The sponsor of the bill provided a substitute bill based on changes from the public hearing. He provided an overview of the changes yesterday afternoon but was not able to have the new bill, incorporating the changes, completed until this morning. Some committee members did not have the opportunity to review the changes and were concerned about moving the bill out of committee until they had time to do so. Other committee members simply stated this bill needed to be killed in committee. I disagree. This bill has run its course through introduction, public hearing and committee work. It is time to move forward to a floor debate and stop the blocking tactics. I agree that further clarification is needed in some areas of the bill and moving the bill out of committee will continue to force the debate. Simply put – our system of determining child custody needs improvement. To further delay this bill implies that our children are being done justice through the courts. I believe that is not the case and thus this bill will be further debated. Last note, emails are running close to 50/50 on this very passionate issue. You can read the substitute bill here.
My next meeting was at 10:30, the General Fund Committee meeting where we had a controversial bill as well – SB 309 which addresses changes to the State’s public employee health insurance plans. This bill was carried over after a public hearing and the sponsor has agreed to tweak several areas. This bill is yet another piece of the budget puzzle and attempts to address the growing unfunded budget liabilities in health care that our state faces.
I then chaired the Veteran’s Affairs Committee meeting at 11:30 – no controversial bills here! Next stop was a couple of meetings concerning other legislation in the pipeline. I was also able to meet with representatives of the Alabama Supercomputer Authority (that’s just fun to say.)
After a snack for lunch I was off to the Education Policy Meeting for a two hour public hearing on SB310, the tenure reform bill. To be honest, I felt that we heard extreme stories from both sides of the argument here. Proponents shared stories where teachers, convicted of crimes, were still on the pay roll for years. Opponents shared stories where a coach’s wife needed a job so a non-tenured teacher was let go. The chair did a great job holding the public hearing and in the end I commented that the hire/fire practices of years gone by caused us to develop the tenure laws of today. However, the pendulum has swung too far to the other side and I’m committed to reforming (NOT repealing as some want readers to believe) tenure laws. We need to swing the pendulum back towards the middle but prevent it from going too far the other way. I’m optimistic we can do just that and am committed to working towards that end. Before going home tomorrow I will have compiled thoughts on SB310 sent to me by others via email and provide them to the sponsor for his review and distribution to the committee members. I want to thank those who thoughtfully and professionally sent me their ideas on improving this bill.
At 3:30 I was able to squeeze in one more committee meeting, Small Business. Thankfully, no real controversial bills at this meeting…okay, we carried one bill over but it will get worked out pretty easy.
We go back into session at 10:00 tomorrow morning. I have a Tennessee Valley Caucus meeting at 8:00 but, before that, will call in to the Dale Jackson Show concerning SB196 and other legislative items at 7:00.
I plan to catch up on a few emails tonight; I’m waaaaay behind with all of the reading and studying bills for committee and floor votes. Thanks for understanding if I’ve not gotten back to you. I have every intention to reply to emails and am still working on replying to hand written letters sent to me on various topics.
I was able to do a little yard work and attend several community events over the weekend. On Saturday morning I was a speaker at the Tennessee Valley Republican Club monthly meeting. It was nice seeing everyone and sharing thoughts about the session. That evening my family and I attended the Bob Jones High School Musical “Guys and Dolls”. We really enjoyed the play and the music…even though the A/C was out. The students did a wonderful job enduring the bright lights under the heat and delivered a top-notch performance. Sunday after church I was able to take the Corvette out for spin and join fellow Vets with Vettes and Corvette Owners at the Tut-Fann Veteran’s Home in Huntsville. We had about 20 members and 17 cars show up to help deliver Easter Baskets to the Veterans and help with an Easter program. We had fun taking them for a spin around the parking lot in their wheelchairs to see our cars on a warm spring day. Pictures of this event are on my Facebook page.
I headed to Montgomery a little after 7 this morning, arriving around 10. I’ll admit, the three hour drive back and forth is starting to feel like “ground-hog day”. Seems like just yesterday I was on the road… again!
I had a couple of meetings this morning before we had the weekly caucus meeting at noon. Our caucus meeting was a little longer than usual as we strategized for the remainder of the session. We are already nearing the half-way point.
The Senate went into session at 3 PM. The Senate adjourned just before 6 PM…three whole hours. I’d have to close a business if I ran it this way. The problem is the Democrats are upset about some procedural areas and feel that their bills are not getting fair treatment in committees. It is news to me if that is the case. I serve on 8 committees, chairing one, and have seen no evidence of Republicans blocking bills. Now, I’m new to Montgomery but I also know that the Democrats controlled the legislature for decades and blocked many a bill that Republicans wanted moved. But – back to today’s session.
A great bill was introduced for debate that would close the 7 remaining gas chambers used by county animal control departments to euthanize shelter animals…tragic that our state ever allowed this. The Democrats decided to filibuster this bill and we listened to one of them discuss their dog, the breed (a Pikachu named Puffy for those that care) how they came about selecting the pet, etc, etc, etc. At one point I requested a point of order in that what the speaker was talking about must be “germane” to the bill being debated. And unless he was planning to gas poor puffy, I saw no connection to the bill being debated. This got them back on track for 20 minutes or so. Of note, you can listen to a live audio feed of the session at the Legislative Website. Or, if you don’t have time to listen live, the recorded version is archived at Doc’s Political Parlor and Home of Lawn Mower Repair. This is a great website and I recommend checking it out. I note they are a little behind on loading the archived recordings…give them time and remember to listen to today’s time wasting session – then ask yourself if you’d close up shop if business was done this way. Hopefully Thursday will be a better day.
Tomorrow is committee day and as usual I have several committee meetings stacked up; a total of six in all. Two most interesting bills in committee tomorrow include SB196 (Child Custody) and a public hearing on SB310 (Tenure Reform). I’m fortunate to serve on both committees concerning these bills and look forward to the continued debate. I suspect both will receive amendments during the committee meetings tomorrow. I’ll spend the remainder of this evening reviewing bills for committee and visiting members of the House on the 5th floor as they debate the Education Budget long into the evening.
I continue to sleep in my office while in Montgomery. I’ve not stayed in a hotel since the organizational session back in January. With the price of gas I don't see me doing so either. I’ve got a routine down and find it easier to stay focused on legislation when I stay here. The janitorial and security staffs are getting used to having me around late at night and early in the mornings. I sometimes lose track of time, staying up past midnight reading and studying legislation…all in a day’s work living the high-life here Montgomery! Thank you for sending me here to serve.
Today’s blog is prompted by an email exchange from last week concerning my thoughts on a proposal to decrease the school year by five days. This exchange was with a teacher in Madison City Schools who later forwarded it to others. A friend (who is a teacher) that received the email shared that my comments were easily misconstrued as a generalization of all teachers in that by the end of the school year, teachers are simply showing movies rather than teaching. This is not the case and I sincerely apologize to those who interpreted my comments as such – and thus, email fails to communicate.
I’ve included a link to the email string here (best read from the bottom up). Please note, as you read through the brief email exchange, my comments were highlighted in red by the teacher who forwarded the email to the entire staff. I can only assume it was done so in order to draw the reader’s attention to the statement. Some readers thought I had bold/highlighted the statement in red in my original email, making it appear even more inflammatory – and thus, email fails to communicate, again.
I feel it is important to share this email with readers of my blog – those inside the educational profession as well as those outside of the profession – to illustrate the magnitude of the debate at hand.
To expand on the five day proposal – legislators are being presented with few options concerning the education budget. One is to reduce the number of days in the school year (these days were added in 2008 with no additional funding). Another is to increase the classroom divisor, resulting in larger student to teacher ratio. This option potentially reduces the number of teachers employed in some systems. Neither option is ideal for our education professionals or our children.
However, reducing the number of school days keeps everyone working and keeps class room size where it is now – that is why I supported this option in SB51 when it was voted on in the Education Policy Committee on March 24th. I’ve never been a fan of increasing class sizes as it makes for a challenging learning environment on children and teachers; a lose-lose scenario. However, as I hear from teachers that do not support the reduction in the school year, I'm beginning to question that position.
The declining revenue in our state, compounded by increased job losses in the private sector (over 400 contractors, government support jobs in Huntsville announced last week that will likely trickle down into other private sectors) continue to make our budget decisions in Montgomery challenging. We continue to look to other options for the education budgets such as ensuring large corporations doing business in Alabama are paying their fair share of taxes owed. I continue to find it interesting that this issue has suddenly become the battle cry of some parties during this session – obviously this concern did not suddenly appear after the November election.
Today was a very full day. As mentioned in yesterdays' blog, I needed a coordinated plan in order to make all of my meetings. In the end, my day of committee meetings went off without a hitch other than one item. I was held up in the Banking and Insurance Committee discussing a substitute bill addressing the “right of redemption” process on foreclosed property....the morning rapidly turned into a process to prioritize which meeting to attend. I arrived at the Education Policy Committee meeting just as they adjourned. Fortunately SB310 was not on the agenda. I would have made that the priority.
Several bills were debated in other committee meetings; the highlight of which was passage of a DUI Ignition Interrupt Bill. In short, Alabama remains as the only state that does not have this requirement…there were four states at the beginning of the year but the other states have passed similar laws during their legislative session. The bill passed committee and should be debated on the floor in the coming days.
Some highlights of the bill – government does not bear the cost of the device, costs are borne by the driver, once convicted. Driver’s get a special code on their driver’s license requiring them to drive a car with the device attached. This helps if they get pulled over for some other offense and the officer will see the code and the driver is now in violation of their probation. The bill does not reduce current license suspensions times, etc so it does not “water down” current laws. The DA’s and Public Safety are also in support…all very important to me. I never want to legislate something that causes concerns with enforcement; important to have everyone on board on the front end. You can view a fact sheet on Ignition Interlocks here.
Later this afternoon I attended a two hour Public Hearing on SB196, a bill to reform child custody requirements and shared parenting. As you might imagine, this is a very sensitive subject. I appreciate the bill sponsor holding the public hearing and the many people that turned out to share their concerns. I think this issue needs to be addressed but the bill, in its current form, needs additional work. The sponsor has already started working on amendments. Bottom line – the introduction of this bill has brought the child custody issue to the table. I took several notes from comments during the hearing – one note I took “We don’t need to change the laws; we need to change the judges." Hmmm, some truth to that.
I have the monthly contract review meeting in the morning where we have a full agenda that I need to review tonight..for inquiring minds - the agenda is posted here. The Senate goes back into session at 1100 tomorrow morning. We have SB215, a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting mandatory participation in a health care system and the General Fund on the agenda. Should be a great day!
Bill Holtzclaw is the Senator for the Alabama 2nd District representing Limestone and Madison Counties in North Alabama.