This is my final blog post for the 2012 Session and Special Session. I resumed the monthly newsletter in July. Of course I will occasionally provide “the rest of the story” via the blog should a newsworthy event occur where the media needs assistance in reporting the full story…you know what I mean?
The 2012 Special Session came to a close at 4 AM on Thursday. This was a wild and wooly special session from the start and morphed into what one of my colleagues referred to as, “Is this the Alabama State Senate or a college frat house”. Yes, at the end it boarded on a circus sideshow.
Several items were included in the Governors Proclamation calling the special session, including immigration and legislative redistricting but in the end we didn’t touch immigration and the redistricting took center stage.
Linked below is a great article with embedded video of the final minutes of the special session. Before reading the article or watching the video, remember these points:
- After promising that they wouldn’t, the Democrats called for the Senate bill on redistricting to be read at length – this took over 17 hours and had caused us to stay in session one extra day costing taxpayers $20,000. If you can’t trust someone on their word, what can you trust them on?
- They could’ve called the reading off at any time but choose not to, going the full 17 hours. You’ll note in the article that the House Democrats tried the same thing but only let the reading go 4 hours before calling it off. What nice guys!
- They repeatedly threatened to have the House bill read at length in the Senate. Beyond being pointless; this would’ve required another 36 hours to read and caused us to remain in session for two additional days – another $40,000.
Montgomery Advertiser article and video on last minutes of the 2012 Special Session.
It is important to note that the Alabama Constitution allows for a legislator to have a bill read at length, meaning word for word, page for page. Let’s think about why that is in the constitution:
- It was before the modern age when paper copies could be printed and distributed to members (we kill a lot trees printing 35 copies of 100+ page bills)
- This was a long time ago; perhaps a legislator could not read?
Now let’s think about how it is used today:
- As a stalling, blocking tactic to consume time in a legislative day; simple as that.
One Democrat Senator even said that he will have every bill read at length next year…that’s fine with me, incentive for my colleagues to write smaller bills.
I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day. Please take the time as you enjoy family, friends and BBQ to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom.
Semper Fi - Bill
We are in day 4 of the Special Session. I’ll attempt to give a brief outline of what is going on and a recap of yesterday’s mischief.
I left Madison at 6 AM Monday morning, heading to Montgomery for day 3; we went into session at 10 AM and began debate on the Legislative Redistricting plans – the primary reason we are in a Special Session. The Democrats had supposedly worked with Republican leadership and an agreement was made that if the Democrats could offer amendments to the redistricting plans, and they were allowed to be voted on, then they wouldn’t request that the bill be read at length.
Readers may ask, what’s the big deal with having a bill read at length? Well, for starters it is a delay tactic solely meant to run out the clock on a legislative day. A legislative rule exists allowing any bill to be read at length – meaning page for page, word for word. This is rarely requested and always used to delay the process. Some bills may take a few minutes to an hour to read however the redistricting bill is a 343 page bill and at about 3 min per page equals 1029 minutes…that’s approximately 17 hours. Thankfully we have an automated reader to do this for us; listen live here.
Back to the day’s story…so Republicans played along with the plan we were briefed on and other than an hour recess for lunch we “debated” several amendments offered on the plan. Note, in more than one of the amendments where the Democrats redrew all the districts in the state, incumbent Republican Senators were drawn out of their districts. In one of the plans, Senate District 2 regressed in minority representation from 18% to 14%...that’s a no-go considering the district is the largest in the state with 180,000 people living in it. In other words, the plans offered were not within the guidelines established nor would they pass judicial review.
At about 8 PM as the Democrats had run out of amendments and alternative plans to offer and we were finally in position to vote on a plan a Democrat Senator made the motion – requesting the bill be read at length. Yup, just like Charlie Brown believed Lucy wouldn’t move the football, we believed the Democrats wouldn’t ask for the bill to be read at length. AAUGH!
What does this mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, for starters the Special Session will now go at least one extra day. The minimum amount of days it takes a bill to become law is 5, we had planned on a 5 day special session. Now, because of the Democrats mischief, we will have to go 6 because we are taking 17 hours to have the bill read. More important – a legislative day in special session costs the taxpayers about $20,000 a day. Sure glad the Democrats think we have the extra money to extend the Special Session. I know better. To some, $20,000 may not be a lot of money in the big picture of a $1.5B budget. To me, $20,000 will always be a lot of money.
The plan for today is to continue with the reading of the bill, it should finish up between 7 - 8 PM tonight. At that point the Democrats will have run out of blocking tactics and we will have a vote on the redistricting plans. Good Government!
The Senate went into session at 9 AM this morning. We adjourned just before midnight last night and the Governor “made the call” for a Special Session shortly thereafter. I learned of the Special Session via an email from the Pro-Temp’s office. I discuss more on the Special Session below.
As a side note, as I was leaving to drive to the State House this morning I received a call from the Lt. Governor’s office asking if I would lead the Senate in prayer. Each morning we have a prayer and pledge; the prayer is normally offered by a minister - my first thought was, can’t someone else do this? But I realized the honor that was being extended to me and that when called, one should answer – so I agreed. I then pulled up my Bible on my phone (yes, I’m from the digital age) searching for scripture guidance, on one hand it is only a prayer but then, it is a prayer! I came across Exodus 4:10-12 where Moses was resisting God’s calling to speak. I decided to share this with my colleagues prior to my prayer. I realized that the tools of our trade, so to speak, are our votes - through our voice- and prayed that we would be willing to do the work He has called and equipped each of us to do, for His people. I was humbled to have been asked to give today’s prayer.
We were in session for about an hour for procedural votes. The Reapportionment Committee, of which I’m a member of, met at 10 AM. At 11:30 we held a General Fund Committee meeting where a few bills were introduced; more on that later as well. A public hearing was held by the Reapportionment Committee in the Capitol followed by another meeting to finalize “the plans” for legislative redistricting at 1 PM. These plans will serve as the starting point for debate as alternative redistricting plans will be introduced. We adjourned at 2 PM for the day. We will go back into session at 9:30 tomorrow morning for bills that were in committee today, to receive their second readings – setting the stage for Monday’s third day of the Special Session where we will actually vote on bills on their third reading and transmit them to the House. Subsequently, we will receive the House versions of the bills and work those through the legislative process. I plan to leave Montgomery tomorrow afternoon and be home for the weekend. If all goes well next week (read - everyone plays nice in the sandbox) the plan is for the Special Session to adjourn by Wednesday of next week, having completed the session in five legislative days which is the minimum amount of time for a bill to become law.
I’m behind on several emails and hope to get caught up on those later this evening and tomorrow. I’ve been asked to call in on the Toni and Gary Morning Show (WBHP) at 6:30 in the morning, hope you can listen in.
Some thoughts on the Special Session - A special session of the Legislature is called by the Governor based on “an extraordinary occasion” (Article V, Section 122 of the Alabama Constitution). I take “extraordinary occasion” very serious. I believe that the only bills we should take up during a Special Session should be those in the Governors Call (read the Proclamation for this sesson). A Special Session is not an opportunity to do “while we are here” or “do-overs” for bills that failed during the session that just ended yesterday. If bills of this nature were that important to the state as a whole, they would’ve been included in the Governor’s Call. Simple as that.
I can report that that will not be the case as I’ve already heard of legislation that will be introduced which fits both categories listed above: “while we are here” and “do-overs”. How is this possible?
Article IV, Section 76 of the Constitution states: When the legislature shall be convened in special session, there shall be no legislation upon subjects other than those designated in the proclamation of the governor calling such session, except by a vote of two-thirds of each house.
I oppose straying outside of the bounds set by the Governors call for several reasons. One, it’s simply wrong. We were in session for 30 legislative days (convened on 7 Feb and adjourned Sine Die on 16 May) – a legislative day is a day when we vote on the floor, committee days do not count. If a bill can't pass in that time frame it needs to come back around during the next session.
Two, mark my words, even bills introduced under good intentions in this Special Session will muddy up the process as votes are leveraged in support of other bills. Again, a Special Session should serve extraordinary occasions.
Lastly, following a personal precedence set in the 2010 Special Session on Ethics Reform called by out-going Governor Riley, I believe a Special Session is so important to our state that I am willing to conduct it at no cost to the taxpayers of Alabama. I will return to the State General Fund compensation provided by the state for the Special Session. Following is a link to the letter returning funds in 2010.
Semper Fi - Bill
I backed out of my driveway at 0545 this morning, headed to Montgomery for Sine Die - the final legislative day of the 2012 session. While this may be the final day of the legislative session it has yet to be determined if this will be our final day in Montgomery as the Governor has not called a special session. Leadership has asked for a special session to address legislative redistricting beginning as early as tomorrow morning. I’m ready for anything having packed for five days…
Immigration Bill “Tweak”
The Senate went into session at 0900 and shortly thereafter began debate on our first bill – the “tweak” to Alabama’s Immigration law passed in 2011. The House passed a version of a bill to tweak the immigration law and sent it to the Senate several weeks ago. The Senate opposed that version and introduced a substitute version last week…a substitute to that substitute was introduced this morning. Anyone confused?
Numerous amendments were offered throughout the morning and the debate oftentimes turned from legitimate debate to grandstanding by those who oppose the law. I supported the law then and continue to do so today. However, I maintain that while the Immigration Law that passed in 2011 (HB56) has its challenges; the intent of the law has been met as the U.S. Supreme Court is CURRENTLY reviewing the constitutionality of the law. And therein lays my single greatest concern with making ANY changes to the law. I have committed to remain “unwavering” in support of the law and voted to table the amendment repealing the law offered last week. I continued in that vein today and voted to table all amendments and substitutes offered on this bill throughout the day.
Once the Supreme Court has ruled on the overall constitutionality of the law we will then determine changes – or tweaks as we are calling them – that need to be addressed.
After a 3 hour filibuster…err, I mean debate, and one additional hour of delay by opponents who wanted to further put off voting by having the bill read, page for page, word for word, final passage of the “immigration tweak” occurred in a 20 – 7 vote…the bill now goes to conference committee between the Senate and House for a final version to be agreed upon. This is my greatest concern.
A conference committee is established when two version of a bill have been passed both bodies; the committee is charged with working out the details to establish a single version. Conference committee members are made up of six members, three from the House and three from the Senate. What I don’t like about a conference committee is my vote becomes silenced as once a conference committee report is complete my only option is to vote yes or no. I don’t view this as the best option. I support the Immigration Law but the drama is far from over here.
Later in the afternoon the Democrats hit a full court press to slow things down, filibustering every bill brought up. It was clear their intent was to stop the Republicans from passing any bills on the final day of the session. We recessed from 3 – 4 PM so that leadership could begin to work out some sort of resolution rather than using a cloture vote at every turn.
Upon return to the floor and after much debate the Senate concurred with Conference Committee Report for the Education Budget; $5.4B budget of which approx 73% goes to K-12 and 27% to Higher Ed. What I find most amazing? Remember the $22M from the State-Wide School Calendar bill? That was actually pulled from the Education Budget and yet the budget still worked out… Why was that passed again? A little bait and switch, perhaps?
We returned to the floor early in the evening and worked through a special order calendar to move some bills. I and others become frustrated that House Bills we were looking for are not on the Calendar. Some good bills died tonight.
The House passed the General Fund with about 30 minutes to spare. The Senate began debate on the General Fund with less than 30 minutes to spare. We eventually passed the $1.6B budget in a 22-12 vote.
The Senate adjourned “Sine Die” for the 2012 Legislative Session at 11:55...that was one long day having started in Madison at 5:45. The Governor has yet to make "the call" for a special session. Not sure what I’m doing tomorrow – heading home to Madison or working legislative redistricting.
Semper Fi - Bill
This is my second blog post for today; earlier I posted an update in order to catch up for Tuesday and Wednesday; internet connection problems prevented me from posting on Tuesday and Wednesday was simply one of those days that went to long for me to complete a blog.
I started today at 8:30 AM with the final committee meeting of the 2012 session. The Senate went into session at 9:30 and we’ve been going strong for almost 10 hours now. It has been a long day as numerous, last minute bills came to the floor, some were passed, and some failed. The most significant bill to pass was the General Fund after an almost 4 hour debate. The General Fund and Education Fund budgets now go to a conference committee between the Senate and House.
School Calendar - I fought the good fight on the School Calendar bill but after two days and five attempts to carry over the Governor’s Veto with Executive Amendment, I was unable to gain support beyond the 8 members of the Senate who stood with me for the duration. The only good news in the bill is a 15 month hard sunset and a requirement for actual data to be gathered and reported to the legislature to determine how good the predictions were.
The Senate adjourned at 9:30 PM. We will return for the final day of the 2012 Regular Session next Wednesday at 9:00 AM. Several bills remain for us to take up, including the immigration tweak - should prove to be an interesting day.
Redistricting – An item I failed to mention that occurred on Wednesday was the unveiling of the proposed legislative redistricting plans. I’ve talked for months about the significance of the 2010 Census on our legislative redistricting, referring to the changes as “seismic”. As a snap-shot of this change, Madison County Senate Districts had to shrink by over 80,000 voters in order to stay within the 135,000 we are to represent. The Senate District I represent, District 2 was the largest District in the State, growing from the 2000 Census data of 125,000 to almost 180,000 – meaning I had to shrink by almost 40,000 voters; hence the seismic change. This is a testament to the continued growth in our state and the focus on North Alabama.
The plan is for the Governor to call a special session in the days ahead for the legislature to deal with these plans. We may even see a special session on budgets; who knows. I will stay the night in Montgomery and head home in the morning. I have a couple of meetings lined up for the afternoon and then I’m looking forward to a weekend at home with my girls…don’t forget, Sunday is Mother’s Day!
Readers can view the proposed Senate and House Redistricting plans at the links below. These are large PDF files and may take several minutes to download.
Senate Plan: http://www.legislature.state.al.us/reapportionment/Dial_Senate_Plan_Map.pdfHouse Plan: http://www.legislature.state.al.us/reapportionment/McClendon_House_Plan_Map.pdfSemper Fi - Bill
I’ll share highlights from Tuesday and Wednesday as we prepare for a long evening ahead of us today...budget constraints and ongoing battles over bills to increase revenue have cast a shadow over the day. When the going gets tough... I plan to post a blog update for Thursday later this evening.
I’m reminded that there is a reason we meet for only “30 Legislative Days within a 105 Day legislative Calendar”… today is the 29th legislative day and as the session comes to a close, patience is wearing thin, tempers are short – sort of like a family reunion that has gone a day too long!
This has been a busy week and many bills are seeing the final chance to pass this year. Just today, a I exited the elevator and walked the hall to my office at 8 AM (after adjourning last night at 10 PM) I was approached by no less than three lobbyist, some handing me talking points, asking for my support for a bill that was in committee at 8:30. In some instances these bills were not even on my radar – I had thirty minutes to digest these bills and make a decision on how I would vote in the committee meeting. I’m tired and the day has just begun.
I started the blog update on Tuesday but was unable to post the update that evening as the internet connection was down where I’m staying the night. Wednesday was simply too long of a day to get caught up on the blog so here I am three days behind. I'll touch on a few highlights below:
State-Wide School Start Date – I continue to work to gain support to oppose this bill. The bill passed both the Senate and House last week; most of the North Alabama delegation opposed. I opposed based on local control should remain in the local boards hands. I worked with others and offered three amendments during the floor debate…an almost 7 hour debate, to allow for some form of “opt out” for local school boards. We eventually lost the fight and the bill was sent to the Governor. Surprisingly the Governor vetoed the bill and provided an executive amendment to…Opt Out! The House overrode the Governor’s veto and the bill now awaits action in the Senate. It has been brought up three times for a vote and I’ve spoken on the bill, sharing emails and newspaper articles written about why this is a bad bill, placing our children’s education behind a supposed increase in tourism dollars. My hope is to win over enough of my colleagues and, when this comes to a vote later today or on the last day of the session, be successful in protecting our children and local control of our school calendars.
Charter Schools – I’m most disappointed to report that Charter Schools and the accompanying School Flexibility aspect have been lost for the 2012 session. The House version was hung up in committee; the Senate version passed the Senate but failed to move in the House. In their original form both bills addressed Charter Schools only. I had worked with several groups to develop a stand-alone School Flexibility option, allowing school systems to apply for waiver of requirements such as teaching certificates and budget relief. Both Chart School Bills were amended to incorporate the School Flex option of my stand-alone bill to garner support….unfortunately not enough. I wish we were able to pass the stand-alone School Flex but reality is, if we pass this bill we will likely never pass Charter Schools in Alabama. For those not aware - the stand-alone School Flexibility Option would allow local schools to apply with the State Board of Ed to hire advance degreed professionals such as scientist and engineers to teach those type classes without requiring them to complete a teaching certificate program – often lasting two or more years. A budget relief example is allowing the system to use 25% of transportation dollars for a specific project such as a science lab after assuring the State Dept of Ed that transportation would not be impacted and that test scores would remain at or above current levels. I’ll champion the School Flex bill again next year.
Immigration Law – We had an interesting debate on the Immigration law on Wednesday evening…turned into a filibuster of half-truths and far flung fear mongering…in short, the same baseless arguments we’ve heard since the law passed last year. After two-hours of filibuster a substitute was offered to effectively repeal the act all together, happy to say we allowed the substitute bill to come to vote and it failed 20 – 14. The original sponsors of the Immigration Law continue to work to develop a compromise bill to “tweak” the law passed in 2012. I remain vigilant to the fact the immigration issue is under review by the Supreme Court and at this point am not confident in passing any legislation to “tweak” the current law.
Tuesday's Blog - For what it is worth - below is my post from Tuesday that I was unable to publish due to internet connectivity problems.
I left Madison at 6:30 on Tuesday morning, heading south to Montgomery for the week. We are voting three days this week; there are only four vote days left. The plan is for us to go into a special session sometime next week to focus on legislative redistricting. If all goes well we will adjourn from the Regular and Special Session the week of Memorial Day to close out the 2012 session.
My first meeting this morning was the General Fund Committee meeting at 0900. This meeting lasted a little over two hours as we began to debate a substitute for the General Fund that passed a couple of weeks ago…we have a lot of work to do, little time to do it, and a lot of tough decisions before us.
I was able to attend a Caucus lunch after several impromptu meetings in my office to discuss various legislative actions late in the session. The Senate went into session at 2 PM. The Senate adjourned at 7:45 tonight…it was 13 hours ago that I backed out of my driveway in Madison. I have an 8:30 General Fund Committee meeting and we will reconvene at 1100.
It has been a long, challenging week in Montgomery. Once again I find myself a day behind on the blog…a recurring theme this year. The Senate session went long yesterday; we adjourned after 8 PM, and again today as we adjourned just after 7 PM. We have four voting days left in the 2012 Regular Session so things are quickly coming to a close. We are planning a three day voting week next week, followed by a Special Session (yet to be called by the Governor) the following week where we’ll debate and hopefully pass the legislative redistricting based on the 2010 Census data. That leaves us with 1 day the last week before Memorial Day to close out the 2012 Regular Session. That’s the plan anyway…a great friend and fellow Marine Officer once told me, “A plan is nothing more than a common point we will all deviate from upon first contact with the enemy.” Well, at least we have a plan for the remaining days in the Senate. I hope it holds together.
I’ll get caught up with the blog going in reverse order. The Senate adjourned just after 7 PM today. We had a productive day, working through a long, wide ranging Special Order Calendar. The highlight of my day - today was NASA Day in Montgomery. I helped coordinate this event with Rep McCutcheon and others to showcase the Marshall Space Flight Center’s dedication to our country and state. I want to thank everyone that worked behind the scenes to pull this day off as it was an historic day.
I started my day at 7:30 AM calling in to The Dale Jackson Show to discuss the so-called Flexible School Calendar bill that we attempted to defeat in a 7 hour debate on Tuesday...still a bad bill and I hope the Governor will veto but admit it is a long shot. By 8 AM I was at the State House for the arrival of a Space Shuttle Main Engine from the Marshall Space Flight Center; a most impressive arrival, complete with police escort – lights and sirens – as they escorted the tractor trailer down Union Ave towing this incredible piece of hardware from Huntsville. Once the trailer was in place, positioned squarely in the middle of the street between the State House and the Capitol, we went inside to prepare for a Joint Session of the Alabama Legislature where the Center Director, Mr. Goldman delivered a speech and the Alabama Legislature presented MSFC with a Joint Resolution. The Director was joined by T. J. Creamer, an Astronaut that had lived on the International Space Station for 6 months. After many photo opportunities with members of the legislature, we went to a press conference attended by several local and state-wide television stations and print media.
The Senate went into session at 10:30 AM and so I had to leave the NASA event to go to the Senate Floor. We were able to pass a long list of local bills and then moved into a very wide-ranging Special Order Calendar. I was able to duck out of the Senate Chamber and join the MSFC Team in the Governor’s Office along with members of the Madison County Senate delegation for a brief meeting with the Governor. This was very productive and reinforced the relationships across the board. At lunch we were able to join a reception hosted by the Huntsville and Madison County Chamber of Commerce sponsored by industry partners from the Alabama Coalition for Space Exploration. Again I want to thank everyone for helping make NASA Day in Montgomery possible.
The Senate returned to session after lunch and picked up on debate. As the day grew longer we were successful in moving several bills. Two bills dealing with the Second Amendment were included in the debate today, SB337 by Senator Beason and SB331 by Senator Sanford. SB337 addresses several elements in our law such as instances where a sheriff can issue a conceal to carry permit and if a person can carry a weapon in their car without a concealed to carry permit – an extension of the Castle Doctrine; your car is an extension of your home. SB331 addresses instances when an employer prohibits an employee from bringing a weapon to work, leaving it in their car when at work. The question is; do my rights as a citizen end when I park in my employer’s parking lot? Both of these bills were filibustered by Democrats and Republicans and without support from fellow Republicans we were unable to move a cloture petition to cease debate and pass these bills. I supported both of these bills in procedural votes leading to debate and will continue to support our Second Amendment Rights.
On Wednesday I started the day with committee meetings at 8:30 AM. I had a total of four committee meetings. We debated and passed several bills and as we are in the final days of the session, committee meetings often become more interesting. My last committee meeting ended at 11:30 and we immediately went into a caucus meeting for lunch.
After lunch I was able to meet with several groups in my office, including members of the Limestone County Commission who were in Montgomery for the County Commission Meeting. The Senate went into session at 2 PM. We started with debate on several bills ranging from requiring Public Housing Authorities to notify local municipalities of and surrounding property owners, to Charter Schools and ultimately the Education Budget.
A significant amount of deal-making has been going on in an attempt to come to an agreement on the Senate version of the Charter Schools and School Flexibility Act. This bill had caused quite the log jam and it was important to come to a decision as the days in this year’s session are running short. We debated and ultimately passed a Senate version of the Charter Schools and School Flexibility Act, known as the Education Options Act of2012, in a 23 – 12 vote along party lines. We now have a Senate version that has passed the body and a House version that has passed a committee…will we be able to come to an agreement between the two bills? You can read the Senate version here – it is on its way to the House Committee. I would post a House version but I suspect it will change on the floor as it has not passed the full House yet.
I have always been supportive of a limited application of Charter Schools in Alabama utilizing best practices from other states with strict oversight. 30+ states allow some form of Charter Schools – what’s holding us back from limited application? The Senate bill accomplishes that as it only allows charter schools to be implemented in Class 3 municipalities with oversight from the legislative delegation – it doesn’t get much tighter than that…in fact, it may be too tight as there are only four Class 3 municipalities in Alabama: Huntsville City, Birmingham City, Montgomery City and Mobile City. That’s what I call “limited application”.
However, key to my support for this bill is the flexibility option, allowing local boards to apply contractually with the State Board of Education for a waiver of certain state laws. In return, the school system agrees to maintain accountability measures that are monitored by the state. A key provision allows for exemption of teaching certificates for full-time teachers with an advanced degree in the curricular area in which they teach, such as aerospace, engineering, etc. This is 99% of a bill I’ve previously introduced, SB365, a standalone School Flexibility bill – sans a Charter application. My hope is that we are able to keep the Senate Charter/Flex bill intact but, should we deviate from the “Plan” upon contact with our opponent, we execute “Plan B” and pass SB365.
I enjoyed a nice weekend at home and was able to attend several events and meetings across the district. Of note, on Saturday I attended the Athens on the Square car show…amazed to see over 700 cars show up for this event! I enjoyed a great day, talking with people, reading the Education Budget, and listening to some great music. Later that evening I enjoyed visiting with everyone at the Athens – Limestone Hospital Gala. On Monday I was able to squeeze in a few hours of work for the “day job” and attend a ceremony honoring UAH Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams for their record setting seasons. I then attended a meeting at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce to learn more about The Schools Foundation A+ College Ready Program, a program assisting local schools in offering Advance Placement (AP) classes.
I left Madison at 6:45 AM this morning, headed to Montgomery for what I know will be a difficult week. I arrived at the State House just as the Senate was going into session at 10 AM. We began debating HB360, the state-wide school calendar bill shortly after coming into session. This bill has caused me great concern because it strips local power from school boards and superintendents. I offered the first amendment, allowing school systems to “opt out”. The Senate sponsor of the bill, Senator Pittman (Baldwin County) moved to table the amendment. In other words, a yes vote was a vote to oppose the amendment as it tabled the amendment. After significant debate I lost the amendment in a 23 – 11 vote. The next amendment offered was by Senator Sanford (Madison County) his amendment was to allow school systems to apply for a waiver that must be granted by the State Superintendent….an end around to a system being able to opt out. His amendment failed in a 13 – 17 vote…we thought we were getting closer. A successful amendment was offered by Senator Dial. His amendment accomplished two things, first, the amendment places a hard, sunset provision on the bill in 15 months and second requires the Legislative Fiscal Office to gather data and provide a report to the Legislature on the impact of this act on state tax.
In the end I opposed the bill, even as amended with a hard sunset. I continue to believe that this bill strips power from the local boards of education, dictating from Montgomery what is best for the local systems. I simply could not support that. We fought the good fight for almost 7 hours but final passage occurred in a 25-10 vote. The House concurred with the Senate amendments and the bill has gone to the Governor for signature.
The Senate then picked up the debate on the Education Trust Fund Budget a little after 6 PM. After some debate the Senate version of the Education Trust Fund passed in a 30 – 4 vote.
On other news, SB28, a bill establishing the age a child must start school at age 6 passed the House and is on the way to the Gov for signature. This bill passed the Senate last month. I voted against this bill in committee but helped craft an amendment on the floor allowing the parent, legal custodian, or guardian of a child who is six years of age to opt out of enrolling their child in school at the age of six years by notifying the local school board of education, in writing that the child will not be enrolled in school until he or she is seven years of age. I not only believe in local control for schools, I believe parents know what is best for their children - not the government.
The Senate adjourned just after 9 PM...making for one long day that started at 7 AM. In closing, after a long day where I feel somewhat battered having spent most of the day in the trenches attempting to defeat the school calendar bill, I thought I’d share a cartoon from last year of Max and Scout discussing the budget. Max and Scout are a couple of characters I doodled last year. I may have lost my “creative edge” with them as I've not drawn them in some time but I am glad I saved these cartoons and hope new readers of Bill’s Blog enjoy them. You can read more and see the actual Max and Scout here.
Semper Fi - Bill