It seems my presence and comments at the Faith Based meetings last week has caused somewhat of a stir from the Liberal Left. Someone called "mooncat" on the blog Left in Alabama posted comments and Mr. Greg Varner (who unsuccessfully ran for the Alabama State Senate as a Democrat in 2010) shared his thoughts on the blog Keatings Desk. It never ceases to amaze me how the uninformed become informed. From simply reading the Huntsville Times article both bloggers think they have me figured out. If they had only asked – it’s not like I hide my contact info on my website – they could have actually blogged on the facts leading up to my comments and attending the meeting…but they makes too much sense. I guess it is easier to stir up controversy; perhaps that is their point.So – for the casual reader of my blog (and mooncat and Mr. Varner…just in case you are reading) when the Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church (of which my church belongs) endorses a letter that incorrectly presents the law such as the following excerpt - Gives police the ability to stop anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” may be here illegally – I knew we had problems. By the way, there were several inconsistencies in the letter I could cite.I can only assume church leadership had not read the law, hence my comments – read the law. I know church leadership wouldn’t want to incorrectly present the law, right? Section 12 (a) states, Upon any lawful stop, detention, or arrest made…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States…yup, that clearly sounds like giving police the ability to stop anyone they have a reasonable suspicion about.I’ll be clear, my simple request on Friday, and today, is that we all read the law and at least have the same point of reference as a starting point. Words have meaning and we need to read all of them in the law. We can agree to disagree but let's start with the facts. It’s not really that hard.
I do not intend to continue a daily blog now that the 2011 session is over but, after reading a couple of editorials in the Huntsville Times this week I decided I was duty bound to provide the “rest of the story”.
Today’s editorial is by one of the most liberal reporters I’ve encountered. Mike Hollis is a close tie with Bob Lowery, the Huntsville Times reporter who thought an article about legislators sleeping in their office was more newsworthy than the 5 Pro-Life bills that passed the Senate on the same day he was compiling notes for his hard hitting investigative story.In today’s editorial, Hollis provides another fine example of reporters who only share parts of the story. You can read his editorial here. I can only assume they don't have room to print everything so – in my best Paul Harvey voice; following is the rest of the story:Mr. Hollis’ latest editorial completely misses the point concerning legislative pay. For starters, he indicates that legislators only work for 30 days during a 105 day legislative calendar. To the casual Alabamian this may seem accurate but to a seasoned reporter – Mr. Hollis simply knows better. The job of a legislator is anything but part time and carries over into our respective districts well after the session. Frankly, he should be ashamed of his “man eating fish” style of reporting. Furthermore, had Mr. Hollis done just a little bit of investigative reporting he could have reported on the roll call vote for Senate Bill 445; sponsored by Senator Phil Williams. This bill called for the creation of a pay commission similar to the ingenious idea Hollis proposes at the end of his editorial. Note that he failed to give credit to SB445 in his editorial…or perhaps just another indication of his sloppy reporting. SB445 creates a commission to independently determine what fair compensation for legislators should be. In the late days of the 2011 session, we were able to catch the Democrats in a roll-call vote to carry this bill over, showing their true intent. Republicans won the vote, keeping the bill alive but, after the Democrats threatened a filibuster, wasting precious time we did not have, SB445 was eventually carried over by voice vote. Again, to the casual Alabamian, relying soling on Mr. Hollis’ reporting, it appears no attempts were made to address the legislative pay raise voted in by the democrats in 2007…thankfully there are those willing to do the heavy lifting and address this concern.
Below is a copy of the recorded vote, a matter of public record readily available to the public and seasoned reporters such as Mr. Hollis. A "Yes" vote was to carry the bill over, effectively killing it. A "No" vote kept the bill up for debate and, ultimatley a vote. Note all of the Democrats voted "Yes" to carry the bill over...killing it for the 2011 session.
Two other bills were introduced during the 2011 session concerning legislative pay; Senator Sanford’s bill linking an automatic pay decrease to budget proration if determined by the governor, and my bill, a constitutional amendment preventing the legislature from raising their pay during their current term (this is what happened early in the 2007 legislative session, shortly after the 2006 elections).
Rest assured; we will see a bill creating a legislative pay commission again in the 2012 session. I fully support this measure as we must establish a fair, transparent way to compensate legislators for the work they do, year round. If we do not provide for fair compensation, we will end up with one of two things. A legislature comprised of independently wealthy Alabamians - who are potentially out of touch with those they represent, or a legislature full of Alabamians who prostitute their vote to special interest groups.
I'll keep watching for more "half stories" by reporters so stay tuned for more "Rest of the Story" updates.
Semper Fi - Bill
The day started with two great men in my life participating in the opening of the final day of the 2011 Legislative Session. Dr. Alan Weatherly, Senior Pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church where my family worships lead the Senate in our opening prayer. Col Leo Thorsness, USAF Retired and Medal of Honor Recipient, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. I am honored to know these men and am thankful for what they did and continue to do for our nation, state and community.
HB414 – the first bill of the day was HB414. This bill has troubled me greatly as it is the first item I’ve voted on that affects someone’s pay. In short, this bill increases state employee’s contributions to their retirement by 2.5%; they currently contribute 5% of their pay towards retirement. This amount has not increased since 1987…24 years.
The press likes to say we are raising their contribution by 50%...a true statement, 50% of 5% is 2.5%, but it certainly makes it sound worse than it is…anything to sell papers I guess!
I supported the bill for a couple of reasons. First, this was brought to the legislature as a part of Gov Bentley’s plan to balance the budgets. If the bill were to fail, public schools and colleges would have to come up with over $82 million from the state Education Trust Fund to pay pensions for employees and retirees next year. This money can now be spent on salaries or other operating expenses. Estimates showe that passage of this bill will prevent over 1,500 layoffs alone in 2012.
From the Democrat perspective you’ll hear and read them say we should have closed business income tax loopholes that could have raised millions instead of raising employing contribution costs for pensions. These loopholes were not created last November and I remind readers that the Democrats controlled the legislature for decades. Why didn’t they work to close the alleged loopholes then? As I’ve previously spoken to in this blog, Governor Bentley is working with the Revenue Office to close loopholes through executive and administrative orders. Read more here.
Make no mistake, I’m frustrated at the position I’ve been placed in regarding this bill. No easy answers to be found. On one hand, it is a travesty that those “protecting” the state employees from seeing an increase in employee contribution let this go on for 24 years. The State match has grown to near 13%...paid by the taxpayers. Does anyone think that the cost of retirement has not gone up in 24 years? Simple math, when the outflows outpace the inflows, the end is near! This is not an option as so many retired state employees struggle in these times as well. And as the Democrat lead legislature decided upon a hands off approach for years – we are left cleaning up the mess. Again, this was a very difficult vote for me but the alternatives of laying off state employees or raising taxes were not options for me.
Lastly – making good on a promise I made months ago; I will cut my legislative pay in the same fashion as state employees when this bill goes into effect in October 2011.
HB18 – the next bill of the day was HB18, a Pro-Life Bill. The bill requires a physician to determine the age of the unborn child before performing an abortion and prohibits abortion after 20 weeks. The bill is based on medical findings that an unborn child is capable of feeling pain by the 20th week after conception. Failure by any physician to follow the regulations outlined in the bill will result in a Class C felony. Of note, I’ve been told that a Pro-Life bill has not passed the Alabama legislature since…,well forever. HB18 passed the Senate in a 26 – 5 vote and is on the way to Governor Bentley for signature into law. I’m proud to have been a part of this historic vote, protecting the unborn in our state.
Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obama Care. The next vote the Senate took up was HB60. This bill proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama that would prohibit mandatory participation in any health care system. Funny, but sad to watch the D’s filibuster, pretending they care about the people but actually are simply in lockstep with their national agenda. Proving my point – one of the D’s filibustering the bill voted for it in 2010; amazing. The bill passed 24 – 9 and will now be on the ballot for the people to decide as a Constitutional Amendment.
The next bill debated was a Voter Photo ID Bill. This bill requires voters to have a photo ID to vote and allows for the Secretary of State to provide photo IDs at no cost to those who need them. The democrats argued that this bill disenfranchised the elderly, poor and under privileged making it harder for them to vote. I have no doubt that some people will need a photo ID because they don’t currently posses one but the bill makes provisions for them to obtain a photo ID at no cost and therefore I fully support this bill. The argument of disenfranchising voters holds no merit. This bill will ensure that a person voting is in fact that person and serve as a tool to address the fraudulent voter practices prevalent in areas of our state. I do question the logic that a large number of people will suddenly need a photo ID…think about how often you have to show a photo ID; how are these people getting along now? The bill passed the Senate 22-10 and is headed to Governor Bentley for signature.
Other than the HB414 vote today was a banner day and a pretty good way to wrap up the 2011 Legislative Session. We eventually went to the very last hour of the very last day, adjourning at midnight as the democrats delayed progress at every turn. They actually had the State Board of Education redistricting bill read at length prior to the vote...burning 3 hours of the final day...3 hours were productive bills could have been passed. Bet you wont read about that in the papers.
This will be my last daily blog (unless we go into special session later this year) until we reconvene in February of 2012. I will restart the monthly newsletters in July.
Thanks to all for reading the blog and allowing me to share my thoughts in this manner. While we may agree to disagree on some points, I hope you've found it helpful. As I return to the District my focus in the months ahead will be on jobs, roads, schools and continued tornado recovery efforts.
And so I bid readers of Bill’s Blog; Sine Die and Semper Fi
I started updating the blog several times last week but always found myself pushing it aside in favor of answering emails or returning phone calls. No more – tonight, I finish what I started – a look inside hardball politics in Alabama.First - please allow me to get caught up on the home front. I returned to Madison last Thursday evening a little after 10 PM. Saturday morning I attended the monthly coffee call at the Athens’ Veterans Museum. I always enjoy this event and was honored to be on hand to wish Mr. Calendar a Happy 91st birthday…he is a Pearl Harbor Survivor that now lives in Madison…talk about being in the presence of heroes! Afterwards I spent a couple of hours visiting with people on the Square during the annual Athens on the Square Car Show. There was a great turnout, even for the heat and the wide range of cars displayed by proud owners was amazing. The event organizer always does a great job coordinating this event with the City of Athens.On Sunday afternoon I attended the Anderson Hills Home Owner’s Association meeting. This neighborhood, located in the heart of North Madison County, was devastated from the April 27th tornados. The event was widely attended by residents as well as local and state elected officials, FEMA representatives and others. Today I attended a press conference at UA Huntsville where Teledyne Brown contributed $75,000 to efforts to move the National Solar Observatory to Huntsville. UA Huntsville and the University of Colorado in Boulder are the finalist. Read the story here.Tomorrow I will tour several National Guard Armories across the state with leadership of the Alabama National Guard and members of the Senate and House Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committees.Thursday the Senate reconvenes for the final day of the 2011 session – we will adjourn “sine die” that evening and reconvene in February 2012…unless of course Governor Bentley calls for a special session later this year. My focus in the District during the months ahead will be on jobs, roads, schools and continued tornado recovery efforts. Tomorrow will be the last blog entry for this session but I will restart the monthly newsletters in July!For Last Weeks Blog Update – An Inside Look at Hardball Politics Several events occurring over the course of the 2011 Legislative session met on a collision course last week. I’ll attempt to provide a brief, but in-depth look.First, I remind readers that early on I committed to being a “student of the legislative process” during this session. It is one thing to get behind a piece of legislation; something entirely different to understand and work the process, using leverage only when and where leverage is needed to shepherd legislation through.This story starts early in the session where I sort of got crossways with some of the Senate leadership regarding the Forever Wild Legislation. Regular readers of the blog know I didn’t oppose the bill, rather I didn’t support passing the legislation this year (read "Looking for Option C" Editorial here – which, by the way, is what eventually occurred).At the same time the Forever Wild legislation was coming along I introduced a bill requiring multiple DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed on their car. The law requires a driver to blow into a device that analyzes the driver’s breath, determining if there is alcohol present before allowing the driver to start their car. Some legislators didn’t like the bill, viewing it as “big brother-ish” and, initially it met with some general resistance. I worked support for the bill and was eventually able to get it passed through the committee process; next step, a full debate on the Senate floor. Problem – getting leadership to place the bill on the calendar for debate…remember the part about being crossways with some of the leadership who makes the decision about what bills are placed on the calendar? Certainly no ill will intended against anyone…simply politics at work.And so as my bill lingered, a house version of the bill (the bills are identical) was making its way through the house committee and eventually onto the house floor. The bill passed the house in a 90 – 23 vote and was on its way to the Senate. We quickly realized the Senate version was running out of time for action so we began working the house version. The house version received a first reading in the Senate and was sent to committee where it easily passed; next step, getting the house bill on the calendar for full debate in the Senate. Tick-Toc-Tick-Toc; time passed and still no movement getting the DUI bills placed on the calendar despite intense lobbying across several fronts. But this is where being a student of the process and understanding leverage came into play…the Senate is a deliberative body and thus has several interesting rules. One of which is that a bill originating in the Senate cannot be sent to the House after the 26th legislative day without unanimous consent from Senators present…meaning one vote could stall a bill on the 27th legislative day. Leverage Time - Upfront, I do not have anything against Auburn University or their board of trustees. I simply needed leverage to move the DUI bill and saw a target of opportunity as I reviewed the Senate calendar for last Tuesday…the 27th legislative day. Neither the Senate nor the House version of our DUI Ignition Interlock bill were on the calendar BUT a bill to revise the process by which trustees are selected at Auburn was on the calendar. Making matters worse (in my mind) this bill had been introduced less than a week ago. As important as Auburn Trustee selection is, how was it fair that this bill was making its way to the front of the line and the DUI Ignition Interlock bill was still waiting in the winds? .As we began to work the calendar, I purposely watched and waited until the Auburn bill passed (31 – 0) and then objected to it being sent to the House, effectively stopping it in its tracks. The Senate floor got a little quite when I objected. I’ll admit, I felt like a spoiled brat but, it worked. Suddenly, my vote to not object to the Auburn bill being sent to the house became very important…and so did the placement of the DUI bill on the calendar. In my view, fair was fair and the Auburn Trustee bill, introduced on 24 May should not be in front of DUI legislation that was introduced months before (the Senate bill introduced on 24 March and the House bill introduced on 29 March).I won’t bore readers with more details but in the end the Auburn Trustee bill was sent to the House for action and the DUI Ignition Interlock bill was placed on the calendar, debated on the floor and passed the Senate in a 25 – 0 vote. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature to become law. So there you have it – an inside look at hardball politics in the Alabama legislature. No doubt, legislation sometimes follows a long winding road before becoming law. Of note, I’ve apologized to my colleague who sponsored the Auburn Trustee bill, explaining no ill intent, rather a case of collateral damage. While he was not happy about the delay he was a gentlemen and a statesman regarding the matter as was the Senate leadership in allowing the DUI Interlock bill to be debated on the Senate floor.
I’m proud it finally passed; read the MADD Press Release here.