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.