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.