Thursday, April 30, 2009

Expansion of unemployment benefits press conference

The Senate Democratic Caucus held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the failure of the Senate Republican Caucus to support passage of SB460. SB460, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Rodger Smitherman (D) of Birmingham, would allow persons who do not qualify for unemployment compensation to have their eligibility re-determined.

The democratic caucus accused the senate republicans of having no plan, no agenda, no vision to help Alabama out of the worst economic time in its history, and no votes for Alabama families, domestic violence victims, workers, or the Senate Democratic Caucus stimulus plan.

Senator Trip Pittman (R) from Baldwin County offered the opposing side’s view. He called this bill a short term plan that would cost more money for businesses and the citizens of Alabama in the long term. Pittman said this plan is unreasonable and unsustainable for the future.

The cost of expansion, using federal stimulus money, is $100 million, which would be paid through the program from calendar year 2010 to 2013. Beginning in 2014, the cost to the state would be $22 million.

SB 373 Passes the House

In a 67 to 24 vote, SB 373 that will deregulate landline telephone service has passed the House.

Since the bill has already passed the Senate, it goes to the Governor’s Office for final approval.

Representative Alvin Holmes of Montgomery blasts PSC and SB 373

In one of the liveliest speeches given from the House floor this legislative session, Representative Alvin Holmes scolded the Public Service Commission, and more particularly, the three newest members, Susan Parker, Jan Cook, and Lucy Baxley Smith. He emphatically declared that they were the “sorriest members of the Public Service Commission and need to be given a barbed-wire enema.”

Representative Holmes is in staunch opposition to SB 373 which would deregulate landline telephone service and said if legislators pass this bill, they might as well “have a hole in their head.”

He further reminded legislators that they should be standing up for the working people of this state and not the interests of big corporations.

As mentioned in the previous blog, others argue that the consumer will be the ultimate beneficiary from deregulation through increased competition and extended services. Opponents such as Rep. Holmes argue that the reverse is true, especially for those living in rural areas.

Still no BINGO for Greene county

After much debate, SB135 failed to receive its budget isolation resolution for the second time within a week.

House Debating Utility Bill

Before lunch, debate began on SB 373, a utilities bill that would deregulate residential landline telephone service, and lawmakers continue to debate the issue this afternoon.

Through deregulation, the Public Service Commission would no longer have oversight of residential landline telephone service.

Some lawmakers are concerned that this legislation will adversely affect citizens living in rural areas where services provided by telephone companies are already limited. Telephone providers argue that deregulation is good for consumers through increased competition.

This is the same utilities bill that was the source of much debate in the Senate earlier this month.

Local legislation, its personal

A heavy catfish lunch set the Alabama Senate up for some high emotions on local bills. After Senator Lowell Barron introduced the special order calendar, Senator Hank Erwin rose to the mic to speak against the calendar. Not agreeing with the first bills on the calendar, Senator Erwin voiced his concerns and intentions to filibuster. Senator Larry Means rose to the mic to question Senator Erwin and express his concern for Erwin standing in the way of local legislation. Means noted that the standing policy in the Alabama senate is to not stand in the way of a senator's local legislation. Erwin disagreed and things began to heat up.

The Alabama Senate adopted the special order calendar and Senator Bobby Singleton’s bill, SB135 pertaining to bingo in Greene county, is now up for floor discussion in the Alabama Senate. Singleton is passionate about getting this bill passed before the end of this session.

Stayed tuned for more updates from the Alabama Senate.

Ethics Legislation Passes Committee

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee considered two separate ethics reform bills, HB 582 and HB 594.

During the meeting, Governor Riley’s Policy Director, Bryan Taylor, presented a Power Point presentation that gave an overview of what this legislation actually does since the bills themselves are lengthy.

HB 582 would:

- Reorganize the ethics code to be more user-friendly
- Set new limits for public officials on gifts and travel
- Require full disclosure for lobbyist spending
- Grant subpoena power to the Ethics Commission
- Require the Attorney General’s Office to report back to the Ethics Commission once a case has been turned over within 180 days

Mr. Jim Sumner, Executive Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, stated during the meeting that this legislation is a tremendous step forward for the Ethics Commission. He also commended the Governor’s Office for their hard work in setting forth a bill that he referred to as “The Gold Standard” for ethics reform. According to Mr. Sumner, the subpoena power is “the most important tool you could give us.”

Representative Cam Ward ( R ) pointed out yesterday that we often use grand words saying we want to fight government corruption, but there are so many components to ethics reform and the issue is so complex that the process becomes more difficult.

After much discussion and several amendments being presented, Rep. Ward went on to say, and others on the committee agreed, that they did not want to vote for a patch-worked bill just to get it out of the committee so that they could go back home to their districts and say they voted for ethics in Montgomery.

Because of the lengthy discussion yesterday and in an effort to give committee members additional time to consider amendments to the bill, the committee recessed until this morning where they passed both bills.

Final legislative meeting schedule

The Alabama Senate concurred with a resolution offered by the House of Representatives this morning to set the final meeting days for the 2009 legislative session.

The schedule is as follows:
May 5-7 (3 day legislative week)
May 14-15th with the last legislative day on May 15th.

Senate welcomes Italian mayor and concurs with House on ed. buget

Convening this morning at 10:00 am; the Senate opened with a point of personal privilege for Senator Wendell Mitchell to recognize the Mayor of Montgomery, Todd Strange and his visitor Massimo Mallegni, mayor of Pietrasanta, Italy. The mayor addressed the full body conveying that he has visited the United States at least five times but he feels like he has really seen the U.S. since he has been to Alabama. Mayor Mallegni is visiting the state for a week.

After the House of Representatives passed the Education Trust Fund Budget (ETF) on Tuesday, Senator Sanders offered the amendments from the House. With a vote of 30 yeas and 0 nays the senate concurred with the House’s amendments and the ETF budget will now go to Governor Bob Riley’s desk for his signature.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Education Budget Passes House Unanimously

The Education Budget just passed the House unanimously by a vote of 103 – 0.

Since some slight changes were made from the version the Senate sent down, it will go back to the Senate for approval before going to the Governor's Office.

Concerns Raised Over Budget Cuts for Reading Initiative and AMSTI

Representative Barry Mask of Elmore County (R) expressed concerns over specific programs’ funding being cut in this budget as opposed to the budget proposed by Governor Riley.

He pointed out the Alabama Reading Initiative which has been nationally acclaimed. Alabama was #1 for gains in 4th grade reading – it was the single largest gain in the nation. Yet, this budget cuts approximately $5 million from the Governor’s budget recommendations.

In addition, AMSTI is being cut almost $12 million from what the Governor recommended. Representative Mask stated that 45% of our schools have AMSTI. Referring to Rep. Richard Lindsey, he further argued that the $29 million would barely keep the program going – “no new school will be added to the program under this budget. The Governor had asked for $40 million.”

Rep. Lindsey agreed that under this budget the program could not be expanded.

Water into wine is not enough for Erwin

Senator Erwin continued to speak against SB263, which would raise the alcohol content in table wine. Erwin informed the full body that he has never had a taste of alcohol for three reasons; one, he is a believer in Jesus and believes it would not please Christ and affect his testimony, two, because he does not want to set a bad example for young people, and three, he does not need it.

Senator Ben Brooks offered an amendment to this bill, which would restrict convenience stores from selling wine with higher alcohol content. Brooks noted the reasoning behind restricting convenience stores from sales is because their age identification process is not as strict.

After passage of the amendment, Senator French requested to carry over SB263 at the call of the chair.

House Takes Up Education Budget

The House began debate of the Education Budget this afternoon. The Senate had already passed their version of the Education Budget during session last week.

Representative Richard Lindsey presented an overview of the budget emphasizing that the focus of this budget was to save jobs.

He said, referring to the House membership, “You wanted to save as many jobs as you could, and we have done that with this budget.”

He also informed the House that they were able to save such programs such as the Alabama Reading Initiative, AMSTI, Distance Learning, and Pre-K. They may have to face budget cuts, but according to Dr. Joe Morton, they will be able to operate effectively under this budget.

Rep. Lindsey said, “We can be proud of this budget given the current economic circumstances we face.”

While federal limitations on stimulus dollars were strict, Rep. Lindsey further elaborated that they were able to work out a plan. He said that having these additional dollars makes this budget more "palatable" as lawmakers attempt to administer these dollars.

The fiscal stabilization ratio between higher education and K-12 was ordered by federal government. K-12 will receive 71.64% of the stimulus money allocated for education and Higher Ed will receive the remaining 28.36%.

The Examiners of Public Accounts was given an additional $800,000 in order to audit the additional reports required by federal government in relation to the economic stimulus money.

50% of the stimulus money will be used in the 2010 budget, and the remaining 50% will be used for the 2011 budget. The only exception to this are Title 1 funds which will be used entirely for the 2010 budget. According to Rep. Lindsey, Title 1 funds primarily go to elementary schools and there is no flexibility for that at the state level.

We will continue to post on the education budget as the House continues debate this afternoon.

Free the hops carried over, Erwin continues to stall alcohol legislation

Senator Singleton decided to carry over SB132 and call up the House version of Free the Hops, HB373 by Representative Thomas Jackson, on which Senator Ben Brooks’ amendment was attached. Singleton carried over HB373 at the call of the chair which he can bring up at any time, especially when Senator Erwin is out of the chamber.

The senate is currently taking up SB263, which would allow the sale of wine with higher alcohol content than what is currently permissable. Senator Erwin is remaining consistent and filibustering on this bill as well.

Erwin fighting to "jail" the hops

Senator Bobby Singleton’s bill SB132 “Free the Hops” which would allow the sale of specialty beers in the state of Alabama with higher alcohol content is on the senate floor this afternoon. Once the legislation came before the full body, Senator Hank Erwin was the first to rise to the microphone to voice his concern and disdain for the bill. Erwin said that if he had it his way, he would not have any alcohol in his county or any other county in the state of Alabama. Senator Erwin further noted that he believes this legislation would set the state of Alabama up for sheer disaster. Erwin also believes that each senator could not leave the state house with their heads held high thinking they have done something good if they pass this legislation.

Senator Erwin mentioned that his opposition was not personal towards Senator Singleton but only towards the legislation. Senator Singleton questioned that comment noting that Erwin has only filibustered and stood in the way of his legislation. Erwin urged Singleton to pick better legislation.

Senator Erwin, speaking against the bill, mentioned that he tells his sons and grandsons to avoid alcohol like the plague.

SB132 received its budget isolation resolution with a vote of 16 yeas and 8 nays. Currently Senator Ben Brooks is proposing an amendment to the legislation that would only allow the sale of specialty beers at grocery and package stores, or restaurants.

Stay tuned for updates.

Sixty bill special order senate calendar

The Alabama Senate convened this afternoon at 1:00 pm CST. Following announcements the full body adopted a sixty bill special order calendar. On that calendar were some controversial bills such as SB132 “Free the hops” as well as SB407 pertaining to firearm possession.

House Passes Resolution Honoring Coach Gene Stalling’s Son

Today, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring former Alabama Head Football Coach Gene Stalling’s son, John Mark Stalling, who passed away approximately three months ago.

Coach Stalling’s son was born in 1962 with Down syndrome. For more information on “Johnny”, click on the following link to a story from the Dallas News.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

“It’s 5:00 Somewhere”

It may be 5:00 somewhere but not at the Alabama Statehouse. Perhaps lawmakers have not looked at their watches for the last hour, but it is 5:14 and the House is still in session.

This is the first time in over a month that the legislature has remained in session past 5:00. Three bills have passed this afternoon; however, filibustering over the grocery tax has begun yet again.

“No Wonder People Don’t Like Us”

Upon a questionable procedural vote in the Alabama House this afternoon, Representative Barry Mask ( R ), Elmore County, gave a spirited speech livening up an otherwise boring afternoon in the House Chamber.

After two hours of discussing the calendar, a procedural vote was taken to debate Representative Alvin Holmes’ hate crimes bill. Not actually receiving enough votes for the bill to move forward, the Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Demetrius Newton (D), moved the bill forward anyway.

Among the members angry about diverting from the rules was Rep. Mask who emphatically expressed that it is “no wonder people don’t like us” – referring to the Alabama Legislature. He reminded the membership that last week alone, legislators “took a cost of living pay raise, one member was arrested for a DUI, both houses have been filibustering for a month, and there was discussion about a $350 million new statehouse.”

Productive day in the Alabama Senate

The Alabama senate completed its fourteen page special order calendar with over one hundred bills. Controversial bills were carried over at the call of the chair but the Alabama senate functioned much better than the filibustering house this afternoon.

The senate continues to work beyond its special order calendar.

Senate flying through special order calendar

With over one hundred local bills, the Alabama Senate is flying through its ambitious special order calendar.

Joint Legislative Committee Presents Legislative Medal of Honor for Law Enforcement Officers

Today at 11:00, a joint session was held in the House chamber to honor law enforcement officers. Governor Bob Riley, Attorney General Troy King, Lt. Governor Jim Folsom, along with members of both the House and Senate were all in attendance to participate in the ceremony.

Each year, one recipient is chosen to receive the Legislative Metal of Honor for Law Enforcement. This year’s award went to Officer Larry Sharpley of the Decatur Police Department.

He was chosen for his heroism in saving a woman’s life whose car had gone off the road and into a lake. The incident occurred at night, and Officer Sharpley dove into the water to remove passengers from the car. Upon bringing up one woman, he then dove back into the water to search for additional passengers. Seeing no others inside the vehicle, he administered CPR to the woman – saving her life.

During Governor Riley’s remarks, he said that while talking to Officer Sharpley before the ceremony he said, “We don’t do this for the thank you’s or the recognition, we do it because it is our job.”

No B.I.R, no B.I.N.G.O for Greene County

With a vote of twelve yeas, nine nays and two abstentions, SB135 failed to receive its budget isolations resolution which is required before a final vote until both budgets (General Fund and Education) have passed the senate.

Erwin out, Greene county bingo up on the Senate floor

With Senator Singleton’s main gambling opponent, Senator Hank Erwin, away from the State House today, SB135 pertaining to Greene county bingo is up on the Senate floor. Senator Del Marsh is currently speaking on the budget isolation resolution and asking his other senators to back him in an effort to stall a vote.

Stay tuned for more gambling drama from the Alabama Senate. The Senate's special order calendar offered at 1:45 contains over one hundred local bills. If filibustering on SB135 does not slow down, it is unlikely that many bills on the special order calendar will pass today.

Committee Approves Bill Establishing Criminal Offense for School Officials Engaging in Sexual Activity with Students

The Judiciary Committee of the House approved a bill yesterday, HB 810, during a public hearing that would make it a crime for school officials to engage in sexual activity with students.

The bill’s sponsor is Representative Demetrius Newton (D) from Birmingham who pointed out that this is not only a national problem but a local problem as well.

In the state of Alabama the age of consent still remains at 16 years of age even though students attend high school up to 17 and 18 years of age.

Ms. Regina Fuller-Hopkins, parent whose 17 year old son was exploited by a 38 year old school teacher, presented her first-hand experience with this problem in the state of Alabama. She said that she was the last person to know that anything was going on between her son and the teacher while officials at the school in Birmingham were aware of the situation.

Once the information was turned over to the school board in Birmingham, it allowed the teacher to resign from her position without any information regarding the incident being reported on a record of any kind. According to Ms. Hopkins, the teacher “slipped through under the “sweet 16” measure.”

HB 810 would make a sexual act by any school official with a student under the age of 19 a felony and touching or any similar activity a misdemeanor.

Mr. Ronald Jackson, Executive Director of Citizens for Better Schools, was also present to testify on behalf of this bill. He pointed out, particularly, the vulnerability of special education students to being sexually exploited in the state. One specific case he spoke of took place in Brewton where a special education instructor would wait until students reached 16 years of age to assault them, thus eluding charges for misconduct.

Mr. Jackson also quoted a ruling by the Supreme Court on a case from Madison County in which there were 5 documented occurances of a school official engaging in sexual behavior with students. The court ruled that according to the current law, unless a school official is being “obvious and flagrant” with their actions, “rampant and demonstrating danger,” then that official can not be fired.

The committee gave unanimous approval to this bill which will be the first step toward cracking down on this issue.

Senate passed resolution to rename ASU acadome for Joe Reed

The Alabama Senate passed a resolution, SJR116 this afternoon sponsored by Senator Zeb Little that, if passed by the House, would name the Alabama State University acadome the Joe L. Reed acadome in honor of his work in the state of Alabama and for the college.

WSFA's Eileen Jones spoke with Senator Little and he said, if passed by the Alabama House, this resolution would take action immediately.

General Fund Budget Unanimously Passes in the House

The House convened this morning at 10:00 and by 11:00 had passed the General Fund Budget for 2010.

In a 101 to 0 vote, they unanimously passed the $2.546 billion operating budget for the state. This amount includes one billion stimulus dollars coming into the state. Note that this does not include education dollars which are allocated separately through the Education Trust Fund Budget.

The General Fund Budget will now move to the Senate for final approval before going to the Governor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Long day in the Alabama Senate

Following passage of the Alabama Education Trust Fund Budget the Alabama Senate passed HB147 pertaining to breast and cervical cancer. Senator Benefield addressed the bill stating that this bill provides Medicaid coverage no matter where the patient is diagnosed. Current law only allows Medicaid coverage for those diagnosed at county health departments but this legislation would provide coverage for patients diagnosed at their private physician. According to Senator Benefield, fifty thousand people in the state are eligible for this coverage between the ages of fifty and sixty-four.

Senator Bedford stated that this bill closes the loop hole in Medicaid coverage. Bedford believes this is an example of how the Alabama Legislature can come together and do what’s best for the people of this state. He also stated that this is an example of how his life experiences can spill over into his professional life, since Bedford is a cancer survivor. Senators Bedford and Benefield noted their desire for Alabama to be a leader in healthcare for our nation, mentioning some of the state’s great facilities in south Alabama and Birmingham.

The senate is still going strong at a quarter until 7:00.

Senate passed the Education Budget

After a cloture vote of 28 to 3 the Alabama Senate passed the Education Trust Fund budget with unanimous consent.

Cloture looming for Marsh, still no ED Budget

Delays continue on the senate floor over the education trust fund budget. Senator Singleton proposed an amendment to assign more funding for the federally funded Head Start Program which was tabled.

Senator Del Marsh (R) continues to filibuster even after Senator Sanders has begged him to let the vote arise. There are discussions of trying to cloture Senator Marsh which would require eighteen signatures for the budget which some republicans might agree to sign.


Listen to the Alabama Senate Live

Senate Republicans stalling Education Budget

Senate republicans are stalling a vote on the education budget while Senator Sanders holds court with a bipartisan group on the senate floor.

It is rumored that Governor Riley's office is holding up the education budget but it unclear why the office would want to stall the vote.

Rep. Jay Love Shows Support for Beauty Queen Taking Stand on Traditional Marriage

In case you missed the Miss USA pageant this weekend, one of the pageant judges, Perez Hilton, posed a question to Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, regarding gay marriage.

He asked her if she felt all states should move toward allowing same-sex marriage to mirror the efforts of states like Vermont and California.

Ms. Prejean answered, “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other…same sex marriage or opposite marriage. I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman…that’s how I was raised.”

Not only has she been publicly criticized for her stance, but her answer has lead many to conclude, including Perez Hilton, that she did not capture the Miss USA title because of her position supporting traditional marriage.

In a show of support for Ms. Prejean’s willingness to stay true to her personal convictions, Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery (R) has presented a resolution commending Ms. Prejean.

Representative Love said that there are those “telling people what they can believe and what they can say” which he said is wrong. He further said he does not believe it is right that she should be punished for saying marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Beason picking a fight with four-year-olds

Discussion on the Alabama Education Trust Fund Budget continues.

Senator Scott Beason questioned additional funding for the pre-kindergarten program (First Class) in the State of Alabama. Senator Beason said he believes Alabama should have a strong K-12 program and put all of the funding into those programs rather than pre-kindergarten.

Senator Sanders noted that extended research shows that students who participate in pre-k programs tend to do better than students who begin with only kindergarten. Beason later noted that he didn’t even attend kindergarten and Senator Sanders did not have the opportunity to attend kindergarten because kindergarten did not exist.

Following Beason introduced an amendment to the Education Budget that would take away a large chunk of money from the pre-kindergarten program established in the budget and would reassign that money to classroom teachers. This would give schools approximately $400.00 per classroom for teacher use.

Senator Sanders made a motion to table Senator Beason’s amendment and it passed with a vote of twenty-six to three.

House Begins Debate on General Fund Budget

The House convened at 1:00 this afternoon and began initial discussions of the 2010 General Fund Budget.

Representative John Knight (D), chair of the Government Appropriations Committee, is currently presenting an overall view of the General Fund Budget in light of the stimulus dollars that the state will be receiving. For further details regarding this version of the budget, refer to last Thursday’s blog on the General Fund Budget meeting that took place in the House.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

Education Trust Fund on the Senate Floor

At 2:25 the Alabama Senate called up the Alabama Education Trust Fund Budget (ETF), SB570. Senator Hank Sanders is the chairman of the Finance and Taxation Education committee. Sanders noted that this budget is late this year because of waiting on including federal stimulus dollars in the budget.

Senator Sanders also noted that this budget has between $800 and $700 million dollars less than the current year’s budget and that the stimulus money will fill the hole with about $300 million dollars. Senator Sanders offered a substitute first before taking in questions on the budget.

Stay tuned for more ETF budget happenings.

Back to work in the Senate on the 22nd Legislative Day

The Alabama Senate convened this afternoon at 1:00 pm with talks of the Education Budget coming up on the floor. Currently the senate is taking up a house bill that would allow Sunday sale of alcohol in ALL Alabama counties, HB175.

Senator Hank Erwin who recently announced his candidacy for Lt. Governor has introduced four amendments to the bill. Including language to prevent any such election to take no sooner than two years apart.

Stay tuned for more from the Alabama Senate.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Expungement Bill Passes the House

A bill that would allow expungement of criminal records under certain circumstances and if specific criteria are met is one step closer to becoming law.

The bill, HB 59 sponsored by Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa, “would authorize a person charged or convicted of certain felony or misdemeanor criminal offenses, a violation, or a traffic violation to petition the court in which the charges where filed or in which the conviction
occurred to have his or her records expunged, including, but not limited to, arrest records, fingerprints, photographs, or index references in documentary or electronic form, relating to the
arrest or charge, or both, and conviction in .certain instances.”

Depending on the type of conviction an individual received determines the criteria that must be met in order to have a record expunged. If an individual has been convicted of a violent crime (capital murder, murder, rape in the first degree, manslaughter, attempted murder, sodomy in the first degree, and etc.), he / she does not qualify for expungement under this bill.

HB 59 now goes to the Senate for consideration; however, if the filibuster continues, most likely, no further movement on this bill will take place this legislative session.

Bills Moving in the House – Fish on the Menu

With applauding from a few in the House chamber, bills are finally moving!

If you are a seafood lover, one of the first, HB435, sponsored by Representative Spencer Collier of Mobile County, will require restaurants or other establishments serving fish for public consumption to inform consumers whether on a menu or plaque where the fish originated – either domestic or country of origin.

In a show of support for this legislation, Representative Thomas Jackson of Thomasville said that we need to make sure that what we are eating is safe and mentioned the contaminated food that has been imported within the last few years.

Before final passage of the bill, Rep. Collier also added an amendment that would allow establishments serving fish 6 months to comply.

Senate having a "midwife" crisis

Filibustering continued for three hours until Senator Coleman’s SJR75 pertaining to midwives was carried over at the call of the chair. With little members on the floor, HB595 was called up and passed the Senate.

SJR75 was called back up and filibustering continues with Senator Del Marsh at the mic.

Senator Marsh said that if this body doesn't do something soon, then the body is going to have a "midwife" crisis.

Stay tuned for updates from the Alabama Senate.

Yesterday’s House General Budget Meeting

The House Government Appropriations Committee met yesterday to discuss, among other issues, the State General Fund Budget.

If you find government budgeting complicated under normal circumstances, the 2010 and 2011 budgets are even more complicated with the addition of approximately $3 billion stimulus dollars coming into Alabama from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The rough breakdown of the $3 billion has been discussed in previous posts, but it is important to know the federal government provided strict guidelines and formulas in regard to where the dollars should go. They are also requiring state agencies that receive these dollars to provide feedback data in terms of how many jobs have been created and / or saved by the stimulus money coming into our state.

To summarize the current proposed budget for 2010 (including stimulus dollars), the State General Fund will see an increase of $579,234,602** over the 2009 budget (after reductions for the Governor’s Deficit Reduction Plan in which state agencies were asked to make budget cuts).

Debate has not yet begun on the budgets before the full House membership. With the Governor having sent 4 proposed budgets to the House thus far due to changes and updates with stimulus dollars, these numbers will likely change before final approval.

**This number was derived by taking the 2009 Budgeted State General Fund after reductions of $1,967,253,049 and subtracting that from the Government Appropriations Committee Substitute General Fund Budget for 2010 including stimulus dollars of $2,546,487,651.

House Back in Business?..Don’t Hold Your Breath!

If you were tuned in to the blog on Tuesday, you would remember that the House was indeed divided – Democrats were filibustering because of the grocery sales tax, and Republicans were killing the procedural vote required to bring Senate bills up for debate because the Senate had refused to consider Republican House bills.

Today, the Rules Committee in the House proposed a calendar that was free of Senate bills and had an equal amount of Democrat and Republican sponsored bills. It seemed a favorable environment for the House to finally make some progress after a month of stalling and filibustering.

That hope faded as Representative Alvin Holmes of Montgomery took the podium and elaborated for twenty minutes on his frustrations with a bill he is sponsoring not appearing further up on the special order calendar for the day. He stated, “I am going to filibuster and then filibuster real slow.”

Following Rep. Holmes, Representative John Rogers used his floor privilege to, once again, filibuster over the removal of sales tax from groceries.

From all appearances at present, the House may be stuck in the mud for this the 21st legislative day. The legislature, according to the Constitution, may only meet for 30 legislative days. That leaves 9 legislative (not consecutive) days for them to have a budget passed for 2010.

3 bottles of water, 2 brief cases, Senator Poole...looks like a filibuster

The Alabama Senate convened this morning at 10:00 am CST. Immediately upon convening Senator Phil Poole took to the mic to regain is place from Tuesday. Senator Poole without losing his time and place allowed HB41 and a local Walker County bill to pass.

Senator Rodger Bedford said that the passage of the HB41, the Autism bill, shows that the Senate can come together even in tough times. Immediately following the passage, Senator Phil Poole took back his place at the mic. It seems he will hold his spot for a while because he brought three bottles of water and two brief cases with him to the podium. Tuesday Poole tried to bait the media to write on his wows and promised to bring an audio tape to play during his filibuster.

Note: Senator Bedford said that he hopes to deal with the special education trust fund and general fund supplemental next week.

Look for more updates from the Alabama Senate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Which rules apply?

Interrupting Senator Phil Poole on his second hour, Senator Bobby Singleton made a point of order to note that there is a piece of legislation that Senator Hank Sanders introduced last week, SB578, that was assigned to the wrong committee. According to rule 50 adopted three years ago in the Alabama Senate, all gaming legislation should be referred to the Tourism and Travel Committee. SB578 was mistakenly assigned to the Finance and Taxation Education committee rather than the Tourism and Travel committee which Senator Singleton chairs.

Senator Singleton asked that this bill be moved to his committee where he is a supporter of gaming. Lt. Governor Folsom noted that once the bill is introduced in committee the bill cannot be reassigned to another committee.

Senator Phil Poole is back to filibustering after a heated debate over the assignment of SB578.

“Maybe Let the Budgets Pass”

During the ongoing filibuster in the House, Representative James Thomas, member of the Black Caucus, speaking on the importance of removing the sales tax from groceries stated that he does not intend to see anything passed this session – “maybe the budgets because it is constitutionally required, but they had better be right.”

Is Representative Thomas foreshadowing a special session to address the budgets? “Wait and See” certainly seems to be the name of the game for the 2009 Legislative Session or better perhaps "Wait, and Wait, and Wait.....and See".

No diving...more Poole filibustering

Senator Phil Poole (D) Tuscaloosa has just begun his second hour at the mic. Senator Poole challenged the media to report on his concerns. He says the media will not cover his distress because it is too complicated and they only cover what is easy to report.

Poole is currently reading from a contract that was given to local officials about a road project in Brookwood, Alabama during Governor Siegelman’s term.

Earlier the Senate Pro Tem, Rodger Smitherman, had to warn Senator Poole because he was referring to the Mike Eckles group as crooks. Poole noted that there were also crooks in the legislature, judiciary and executive branch of the government.

Look for more updates from the Alabama Senate

Logjam in the House

Tensions in the House continue today as Democrats and Republicans have been unable to come to a compromise over the calendar.

Last week as Democrats were filibustering over the grocery tax bill, Republicans, likewise, began blocking voting on bills until more of their bills begin to appear on the House calendar for consideration. Today, the House calendar included 5 Republican and 5 Democrat bills, and Representative Ken Guin, chair of the House Rules Committee, said “this is as fair of a calendar as we could put together.”

Representative Mike Hubbard, chair of the Republican Party, presented an alternate calendar that did not change any bills appearing on the calendar but merely rearranged them so that Senate Democrat bills were moved to the bottom of the Special Order Calendar. Republicans have taken this posture against Senate Democrat bills because the Senate refuses to take up House Republican bills. Without naming names, Representative Hubbard stated that one member of the Senate has promised to kill all Republican House bills. Representative Hubbard emphasized that by allowing one senator to block bills essentially “disenfranchises our constituents”.

By a vote of 43 to 39, the proposed alternate calendar failed to pass, and Republicans plan to block the procedural vote that would be required for Senate Democrat bills to be voted on in the House. Representative Hubbard went on to say that Republicans are not trying to be obstinate but asked members of the Democrat Party to think of what they would do if one senator was blocking their bills and the interests of their constituency from being considered.

They may never have the opportunity to do so today though, as filibustering on the grocery tax currently continues.

PACT program deals and more Poole filibustering

The Alabama Senate convened this afternoon at 1:00 PM CST, shortly proceeding with talks of cutting a deal on the PACT program bill (SB581) the Senate stood in recess until 2:00 pm.

Upon coming back into session at 2:10, Senator Rodger Bedford thanked the body for their patience and noted that he, along with Senator Jimmy Holley, was working on the PACT Program Legislation SB581. Bedford stated that they were trying to come together and solve this problem for the students of Alabama.

Senator Holley addressed the body noting that this is the first step on a journey to help the PACT program. Senator Holly noted that the Retirement Systems of Alabama, Chancellor Bradley Byrne of the two year college system, Lt. Governor Folsom, and four year college institutions have all contributed and helped this legislation. Governor Folsom said this is a very important issue and one that the senate needs to address.

Senator Phil Poole is currently filibustering but it is presently unclear why.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Alabama Senate.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

House Vs. Senate Softball Game

It's time to put political party, business suits, and verbal debate aside and take it to the softball field! The annual House versus Senate softball match is coming up. It should be a fun evening for all.

When: Tuesday, April 28, 2008
Time: 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. (following conclusion of the legislative day)
Where: Auburn University Montgomery Baseball Field

Representative Randy Hinshaw Calls for Media Clarification

This morning Representative Randy Hinshaw of Madison County spoke directly to the members of the press from the House floor in reference to the grocery tax bill.

He expressed his concern that the media has only recognized the Black Caucus as supporters of the grocery tax bill and duly pointed out that many people are standing to support removing the sales tax off of groceries.

On that note, both the Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for removing the sales tax off of groceries; however, the method to accomplish this end result has caused conflict.

To be more precise, House Democrats, along with the Black Caucus, have stood in unison to support HB116 (the bill which has been debated so many times over the last three weeks), and Republicans oppose this bill due to the manner in which the bill seeks to make up the tax dollars that will be lost by the removal of this tax. Republicans presented an alternative plan yesterday that would provide grocery tax credits for families making less than $22,000.

Many individuals, both elected officials and citizens, across the state believe strongly that the sales tax should be removed from groceries and deserve to be commended for their concern for our state as well as their work to make Alabama a better place to live!

Singleton livid over passage of SB373

After Senator Barron introduced his special order calendar from the Rules committee, Senator Singleton made a motion to bring up SB135 pertaining to bingo in Greene County. This motion did not receive unanimous consent to bring up SB 135 out of order because Senator Hank Erwin opposed.

Senator Singleton spoke to Lt. Governor Folsom stating that he would like the same consideration to bring up his bill without unanimous consent just like the AT&T bill came up without consent. Governor Folsom noted that no member raised his or her hand or stood at the mic to speak against the AT&T bill to request unanimous consent.

View SB135

Is there any loyalty in the Alabama Senate?

The Alabama Senate convened this morning at 10:00 am CST. After recognizing two basketball teams for their accomplishments this season the 1st bill on the schedule voted out of order was the AT&T bill (SB 373). SB373 passed the senate as amended and Senator Bobby Singleton was livid. He took a point of personal privilege to convey to the body that SB373 is bad for the state of Alabama and its citizens. Senator Singleton said he is going to speak on every bill and that he was going to close down the Senate. Senator Singleton made a motion to adjourn which after a vote of 13 yeas and 16 nays did not pass the Senate.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Alabama Senate.

View SB373

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Teacher Jobs Saved by Stimulus Money

This morning, a joint education budget meeting was held where Jim Main, State Finance Director, Dr. Joseph Morton, state school Superintendent, and Justice Drayton Neighbors, appointed by Governor Bob Riley to oversee disbursement of the economic stimulus money coming into the state of Alabama, were present to give a report and answer questions on the effect the stimulus dollars will have on education.

Of the $3 billion allotted to Alabama, $1 billion will go to education. Per stipulations set in place by the federal government, 60% of the dollars will go to K-12 and 40% to higher education.

Dr. Morton reported that 100% of the dollars coming into the education budget will go toward saving teacher jobs. Because of the economic situation in the country as well as in Alabama, before the economic stimulus package was passed, state-wide we would have lost an estimated 3,790 teacher jobs. Now, most, if not all, of those jobs will be saved.

Dr. Morton further stated that as far as accountability is concerned, each school system is required to file an expenditure of federal funds before they ever get a dollar. Further, each district has to post and account for every dollar spent from the stimulus money.

The $1 billion dollars will go toward the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The state will not receive the $1 billion in on lump sum, however. Two draw-downs of equal amounts from the federal government will occur in July of this year and the following draw-down in July of next year.
At the end of the meeting, Dr. Morton reminded everyone that the stimulus money is not a cure-all for our financial woes and that we are still, in fact, under proration

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Continued frustrations and filibustering in the Senate

Frustrations ran high this afternoon when Senator Singleton stood at the podium for three solid hours. Senator Singleton yielded the mic but not his place at the podium for a number of local bills from both the House and Senate to receive final passage.

At 4:52 the Senate adjourned until this coming Thursday.

Whose Filibuster is it Anyway?

After the Black Caucus filibustered the special order calendar for the day, Republicans then began blocking the procedural vote that is required before a bill may be considered on the House floor.

According to a Republican source, they are upset that the Democratic leadership is not allowing their bills to come up for consideration on the floor and pointed out that the grocery tax bill has now come before the House three times. They feel that they are not able to represent their constituents well when their bills are not coming before the body for an up or down vote. Sources indicate that Republicans plan to continue blocking legislation until their bills begin to appear on the House calendar.

With two forces now filibustering in the House, one can’t help but wonder if an end is in sight, save for the end of the session coming in a few short weeks.

The House adjourned today at 3:15 to reconvene again on Thursday at 10:00.

Groundhog Day at the Alabama House

Borrowing an analogy used in the press room at the statehouse, the last two weeks at the Alabama House of Representatives is reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray.

For those of you who may not have seen the movie, everyday that Bill Murray wakes up, it is Groundhog Day. He relives the same day over and over again.

If you were to visit the Alabama House today, the debate would sound almost identical to every other legislative day beginning two and a half weeks ago. The Black Caucus continues to filibuster over the House’s failure to pass HB 116 that would remove the state’s portion of the sales tax on groceries.

Those supporting and opposing this legislation have reached a stalemate. Proponents of the bill continue to argue that they owe it to the hardworking citizens of Alabama to give them a tax break on their groceries. Opponents are concerned about the effect HB 116 will have on small businesses in Alabama (including LLC’s, LLP’s, and S Corporations) that would bear the brunt of the tax burden created by removing the sales tax on groceries.

Senator Singleton Filibustering in the Alabama Senate

The Alabama Senate convened today at 1:00 pm. All moved smoothly, two locals bills were passed, until around 2:10 pm when Senator Bobby Singleton rose to the mic to filibuster because his local bill SB135 (Greene County Bingo Bill) has not passed the Alabama Senate. Senator Singleton threatened that he would filibuster the entire afternoon. He even encouraged other senators to go get some lunch, play some golf, get comfortable, etc. because he was going to be there for a while.

Yielding to let HB609 by Representative Hammet pass, Senator Singleton also yielded the mic for four of Senator Ted Little’s local bills.

Senator Singleton remains at the podium and it is still uncertain if the Senate will accomplish much on its special order calendar today.

Stay tuned for more up to date reports from the Alabama Senate.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lively Smoking Bill Debate in the Senate

A passionate and sometimes colorful debate took place this afternoon over SB 130 which would eliminate smoking in most public places.

Senator Vivian Figures has been a pioneer of this legislation for the past 11 years and saw some success in 2003 with the passage of measures banning smoking in certain public places and establishing requirements for designated smoking areas in public establishments. This bill would extend the areas in which smoking is prohibited.

In an emotional appeal, Senator Figures emphatically stated that “we are playing politics with people’s lives. I want a fair chance and a fair debate – a fair chance for it to come up or down. 80% of Alabamians want a smoke-free state. It is our obligation and duty to protect the health and welfare of the citizens of Alabama”

Senator Bishop raised concerns of this bill taking away the individual rights of citizens. He definitely got the attention of the chamber when he expressed “When someone can’t smoke or have sex in their private office we are in bad shape!”

Ultimately, the bill has been carried over for discussion at a later date.

Groceries at the Statehouse

Reminiscent of Governor Sanford in South Carolina bringing two pigs into the statehouse named Pork and Barrel in expression of his frustration with the out of control spending, Representative Knight wheeled in a shopping cart with $50 worth of groceries as an example for his grocery tax bill. He wanted this illustration to show the challenging numbers of the reality of just how much it costs to buy groceries for home and how little $50 purchases today.

Montgomery has a 10% sales tax, so the tax on his purchase was $5 which Rep. Knight expressed was “criminal”. It is important to note that the proposed bill only removes the state’s 4 cent portion of the grocery tax; counties and cities would still be able to tax grocery items. In this instance, if this bill were enacted, this same cart of groceries would still carry a sales tax of $3 in Montgomery.

Some argue that the language in the proposed bill actually prohibits counties and cities from removing their portion of the tax on groceries. HB 116 states on page 3 that “Local governments shall continue to levy sales taxes on food at the same rate collected for the local portion of the retail sales tax.” Represenatative Knight feels that this is not so. He stated that the bill would prevent local governments from raising their sales tax on groceries.

It is also argued that this bill creates a tax increase on those individuals that will be affected by losing their federal income tax deductions on their state income tax return. On the fiscal notes to the bill, it states that “if ratified, will increase revenue to the Education Trust Fund by an estimated $426 million annually and will reduce revenue to the Education Trust Fund by an estimated $364 million annually.” Using this date, there would be an estimated tax revenue increase to the Education Trust Fund by $62 million.

Once again, the bill failed to gain enough procedural votes in the House to move forward; however, lawmakers promised to continue working on this issue. Removing the state grocery tax may be gone for today but certainly not for good.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bill to Remove Grocery Tax Fails Again

As lawmakers met late this afternoon, atop the House calendar was Representative Knight’s bill that would remove the state’s 4 cent sales tax on groceries. This is the same controversial bill that shut down the House last week after the bill failed to receive enough procedural votes to go before the House.

This afternoon, new measures were included in the bill attempting to reach a compromise that would move the legislation along. By removing the sales tax on groceries, the state must seek alternative methods to make up the approximate $426 million that is generated each year through this tax.

The controversial portion of this bill revolves around the manner in which the state will make up those foregone tax dollars. Under this legislation, those dollars would be made up by phasing out the federal income tax deduction on the Alabama income tax return over three years. By year three, married couples with an adjusted gross income of $125,000 or more as well as individuals with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or more would lose their federal income tax deduction.

Opponents to this bill feel that small businesses (including S-corps, LLC’s, and LLP’s) will be adversely affected. They purport that the $426 million tax burden would be placed on 10% of the state’s population.

The bill failed to receive enough votes again for consideration on the House floor.

Alabama to Receive $3 Billion from Economic Stimulus Package

If you are wondering where the dollars from the federal economic stimulus package are going, we now know that Alabama can count on 3 billion of those dollars.

A hearing was held this afternoon in the House chamber relating to the money that will be coming into Alabama. Jim Main (state director of finance), Drayton Neighbors (appointed by Governor Riley to oversee disbursement of stimulus money), and David Perry (also assisting with oversight of stimulus money) were present to answer questions and give an update on where Alabama is in the process.

Apparently, the dollars available for states to receive from the stimulus package are divided into two pots. From the first pot, we know that Alabama will receive $3 billion dollars. The second and larger portion of money represents dollars that states can compete for.

The $3 billion will be allocated in our state as follows:

$1 billion to education
$1 billion to general fund
$1 billion to be divided equally between transportation and existing programs (programs under ADEM)

So that Alabama may be more competitive and efficient in competing for dollars from the second pot of stimulus money, all agencies have been divided into 4 working groups: public safety and law enforcement, economic development, health and human services, and education. These groups will be provided the resources necessary such as grant writers, information, and etc. to make them as competitive as possible for those federal dollars.

In addition to providing states with additional dollars to fund programs and projects, the ultimate goal of the stimulus money is to create and maintain jobs. As a basic formula, for each $1 billion dollars spent, an estimated 28,000 jobs should be maintained / created.

The federal government is requiring states to report how many jobs have been created and / or maintained due to the receipt of these dollars. The first reporting period is in July of this year and figures will be placed on a public website for viewing.

For more information regarding the economic stimulus dollars coming into Alabama, a website has been established at