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.