Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Legislative Day 11-Inside the Alabama House of Representatives

HB 67 sponsored by Representative DeMarco passed the Alabama House this afternoon. This bill which was carried over from last Thursday is relating to commercial motor vehicles and trucks carrying metal coils passed the Alabama House. It invokes criminal penalties for failure to comply with federal regulations and for violations where metal coils fall off onto public roads.

HB 68 sponsored by Representative Collier was carried over until Thursday, March 12, 2009. This bill is also referred to as Officer Keith E. Houts Act. Representative Collier introduced this bill last year and brought it for consideration once again this year.

The bill seeks to establish criminal status and invoke penalties for individuals eluding law enforcement officers. There was some confusion on the version of the bill to actually be considered for a vote on the floor; so it was carried over for clarification by the Rules Committee and will be the first bill brought on the special order calendar for Thursday.

Representative John Rogers, Jr. of Jefferson County brought discussion relating to identifying and distinguishing law enforcement officers from imitators at night and expressed concern over citizens’ safety and potentially facing criminal charges for taking time to determine a vehicle’s identity and not immediately stopping. Additional changes may be made to include a provision for instances such as this.

Alabama Senate passes bill that would raise the high school drop out age to 17 with parental consent

Senate Bill 334 passed the Alabama Senate this afternoon. This bill would raise the drop out age to 17 and require parental consent. If the bill passes, a student could no longer drop out at 16 years of age.

Senator Barron rose to the microphone and noted that he thinks this is a bad piece of legislation, because when a 16 year old gets to the age where they no longer want to attend school trying to make them stay in the school would be difficult. Barron believes the students would become disruptive in the class room. Barron said he understands what Senator Orr is trying to do, but notes that it would have a bad impact on those students who actually want to be in school.

Senator Orr responded to concerns about disruptive students by saying that the school systems have a system to expel disruptive students who are in the class room. Another alternative that some of our systems have is to send the students to an alternative school.

Senator Orr said the up side of raising the age, is if the law requires a child to stay in school until age 17 that child will be closer to graduation and closer to their goal. Alabama is one of the few states that has a 16 year drop out age. Orr noted that some states have an age 18 year drop out age. According to Orr the statistics are astounding with regard to the economic cost to every child that does not receive a diploma, stating that close to 85% of those in our Alabama prisons are high school drop outs.

Prior to final passage, Senator Beason said that he agrees with Senator Barron, which obviously frustrated Senator Orr. Beason said that he doesn’t think the law should force people to stay in school when they clearly do not want to be there. Senator Beason further noted that students will drop out mentally and will cause problems in the classroom for the thirty other students who actually want to be there.

After debate SB334 passed the Alabama Senate with a vote of 19 yeas to 4 nays.

Debate over Senate Special Order Calendar

The Alabama Senate convened at 2:00 pm CST this afternoon. Upon convening tensions began to rise quickly. Upon Senator Lowell Barron (D) introducing the Special Order Calendar from the Rule Committee, Senator Jabo Waggoner (R) approached the podium to discuss his concerns and the timeliness of receiving the Senate special order calendar.

Senator Jabo Waggoner spoke to Senator Barron and the entire body conveying that the minority (Republicans) does not receive the special order calendar until convening each day. Senator Waggoner said that the minority party does not have time to review the bills and prepare for discussion and debate.

Speaking on behalf of the minority, Senator Waggoner noted that the minority requests that the Rules Committee provides them with the Special Order Calendar at least 24 hours-one legislative day prior to the legislative day. Senator Waggoner said the minority thinks its only fair and would give the minority the same opportunity as the majority (Democrats) to discuss and debate on that legislative day.

Senator Waggoner warned that if the minority cannot make that agreement on Thursday they are going to give the minority ample time to read and discuss the bills because the minority will stall the senate until the minority has time to read and discuss the bills. Senator Waggoner asks that the minority have the same advantage as the majority does.

Lt. Governor Folsom stepped in after Senator Author Orr threatened to use his fifteen minutes while he colleagues had a chance to review the bills on the special order. Lt. Governor Folsom said he would not like to see this turn into a major problem when its not. He feels that everyone is getting a long, and would like to continue that way.

Following Lt. Governor Folsom, Senator Barron, Chairman of the Rules Committee which produces the Special Order Calendar, said he is surprised that the minority did not come forward and discuss this with him earlier. He said he has been in the Senate a long time and has never been a part of this process were the rules committee had a more open and fair process of handling the special order calendar.
Senator Barron said he gave the rules calendar to Senator Waggoner about 10:30 am this morning and that he doesn’t want to hear anymore of this harping. Barron noted that he has been fair and said the minority is getting under his skin.

Addressing Senator Waggoner’s request for the special order calendar 24 hours-one legislative day before the legislative day, Senator Barron said that no chairman has ever passed out a rules calendar any earlier than the morning of the legislative day. Barron said the Senate is not the House (The House receives their calendar no later than 24 hours before the following legislative day) and they are not going to operate like the House.

As for the threats by the minority party, Senator Barron replied saying that they can shut down the Senate until the cows come home but as for him, he is going to keep coming with good non controversial bills without any surprises. In closing Senator Barron said that if the minority really cared about the calendar that they should have attended the rules committee meeting this afternoon at 1:30 pm which is open to anyone to attend.

Committee Report-Senate-Governmental Affairs

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Meeting

This morning the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Alabama State Senate held a meeting to discuss among other agenda items Senate Bill 298 sponsored by Senator Lowell Barron. The bill as amended by Senator Barron deals with the length of time the Ethics Commission has to launch and complete an investigation. SB 298 stipulates that the commission has 30 days from the date a complaint is filed to begin an investigation and six months to complete the investigation. If the commission is unable to finalize an investigation within the specified six month period and more time is needed, the director of the Ethics Commission may petition to the Montgomery Circuit Court Judge who can allow up to an additional six months.

Senator Barron stated that currently there is no time frame for the Ethics Commission to operate under when conducting an investigation, and this bill would expedite the process and help bring about a more timely conclusion. He further elaborated that nothing in this bill addresses the prosecution of an ethical violation but rather deals with the amount of time allowed for the determination of probable violations.

The Director of the Ethics Commission, James Sumner, Jr., was also present at the committee meeting and expressed concerns over the proposed ethics legislation. Mr. Sumner explained that currently the commission has three investigators on staff and that proper investigation of complicated matters can easily go beyond six months. He stated that the commission received 223 complaints in the last year alone. Also of concern to Mr. Sumner was the Ethics Commission being required to petition a circuit judge to request additional time to complete an investigation and felt that this bill “rips the heart and soul out of the Ethics Act.”

After nearly an hour of discussion, debate was closed on SB 298 with Senator Barron’s amendment until next week’s committee meeting.