To most people the re-election season is months away; but to elected officials the season is upon us. The primary elections will be held in June of 2014 – that’s only 10 months away!
Along with family and friends, I devoted a lot of time in prayer, contemplation, and general soul searching before deciding to run for the Senate in 2010. I felt called, but needed confirmation – was I doing this for His glory or my glory? Was I following His plan for my life or my plan for my life...the latter never works out!
Some readers may recall that I worked as a Government employee at NASA in 2009 and due to the Hatch Act had to make a tough decision requiring me to resign from NASA and run a 14 month campaign. Early on we learned that I couldn’t even be a candidate and work at NASA – I was either all in, or out. I called it being a full time candidate, my wife called it being unemployed; either way – we stepped out in faith!
And now, three years later, as an incumbent with re-election fast approaching - I didn’t want to assume anything. And so in late May through early June I started prayerfully seeking the same answers, or confirmation – is this what I am called to do, again? Am I following His plan for me?
Over time I was led to a You Version Bible Application devotion - Restart: Stepping Out in Faith. I immediately thought it was neat that it followed a 40 day plan; the significance of the 40 days was not lost on me. The devotion follows Nehemiah’s quest and leadership, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The devotion ties together the theme of seeing your community around you with new eyes and to discover God's heart for rebuilding broken lives and hopes.
Earlier this morning I finished the 40th day. I followed the devotion day-by-day (...for the most part), admittedly hoping for that “eureka” moment of confirmation but somewhere around the half-way point realized God’s plan was for me to simply take some R&R...Rest and Reflection as a part of his plan in starting the re-election campaign.
The devotion is linked here for those that would like to follow it. I’ll post more on the re-election in the days ahead. As always – it is my honor to serve you here in the District and in Montgomery and I do so for His glory.
Semper Fi - Bill
As promised in my last blog - Some Closing Thoughts on the 2013 Legislative Session - below is an overview of SB286, the Omnibus Gun Bill that passed this session.
I have been involved in attempts to update Alabama’s gun laws over the past three legislative sessions. After studying our existing gun laws it became clear that our current laws were unnecessarily placing law abiding citizens in conflict with law enforcement. We were successful in making some changes this year.
My principal concern has been with de-conflicting current laws on the books. It seems that some laws were changed or updated over the years with little regard to how a change might affect other sections of the law. For example, there were problems with both open carry and concealed carry conflicting with other areas of Alabama’s code. One section of the code prevents someone from carrying a firearm on property not their own – and thus could be applied to open or concealed carry. Another section prevents someone from carrying a firearm in a vehicle unless they possessed a concealed to carry permit. So, while you were legal to openly have a pistol in a holster on your hip on your property – you became illegal when you walked off of your property or drove your car off your property. I’ve not been contacted by anyone that was charged with this in the Senate District that I represent, but there have been instances where people openly carrying a pistol on property not their own - merely in the general public, were arrested and charged under a catch all “disorderly conduct”.
We corrected some of these conflicts through passage of SB286 during the 2013 session. Some people would’ve preferred we make more changes to the current laws but in the end I feel that we accomplished a great deal and want to thank the many stakeholders who worked very hard to make this legislation better. As with all legislation, the goal was to make as many positive changes as we could get support for in both the House and Senate, and that the Governor would then sign. I’ve attached a copy here and reference page/line numbers throughout the discussion below. Please note; changes to the law go into effect on August 1st of this year.
There were several areas we addressed in the new law that I’ve highlighted below. Feel free to contact me should you have questions or contact your local Sheriff or Police Department.
Shall vs. May Concealed to Carry Permit Issue (Page 8, Line 11) – Alabama’s Sheriff’s are granted the authority under Alabama law to issue persons a concealed to carry permit to carry a pistol in a vehicle or concealed on their person. As a wide range of people read my blog and newsletter – some gun enthusiasts, some not; it bears to state that you don’t have to have a permit to purchase/own a pistol. The permit simply allows a person to carry the pistol concealed on their person. The county in which a person lives is the county in which a person must apply to the sheriff for a permit. This can get confusing: i.e., a resident of Madison City would apply in Madison County if living in the Madison County side of Madison but would apply in Limestone County if living in the Limestone County side of Madison City.
While I’ve not been contacted by anyone that has been denied a permit, a sheriff could deny a permit as Alabama was a “may” issue state. This meant that even though someone didn’t have a legal reason to not have been issued a concealed to carry permit, the sheriff could choose not to issue them one. There are documented cases of this occurring in other parts of the state.
The new law moves Alabama into what we have referred to as a “hybrid shall/may”. Under the new law a sheriff must make a determination within 30 days of a person applying for a permit. The sheriff may deny someone a concealed to carry permit if the sheriff determines that the person is prohibited from the possession of a pistol or firearm pursuant to state or federal law. However, the sheriff may also deny someone a concealed to carry permit even though the background check is clear if the sheriff has a reasonable suspicion that the person may use a weapon unlawfully or in such other manner that would endanger the person's self or others. If doing so, the sheriff must state the reason in writing to the person applying. The person denied a permit can appeal the sheriff’s decision within 30 days to the County District Court and the court shall issue a determination within 30 days of receipt of the appeal.
Parking Lot Law (Page 17, Line 23) – Previously a business owner could declare through their employment hiring policy that an employee could not have a weapon in their car parked in the business’ parking lot. During debate I referred to this as the intersection of personal property rights and individual second amendment rights. I’ve always been a protector of personal property rights – a fundamental belief that our nation was founded upon. However, I’ve also been an ardent protector of our second amendment rights. I know of many people that hold a concealed to carry permit and carried a weapon in their car for personal security, to and from work; even though it violated company policy. I also know business owners that were well aware that some employees kept a weapon in their car even though the company policy stated it was not allowed. Employees knew they could keep a weapon in their car so long as they used common sense, such as keeping the weapon in a glove box, out of plain sight - when was the last time an employer conducted a search of employee’s cars? However, this issue came to the forefront in the sweeping gun legislation occurring across our nation this year. The new law prevents an employer – with certain exceptions listed in the law – from prohibiting an employee from keeping a lawfully owned weapon in their car, parked on company property.
Open Carry – The new law begins to address the conflicts with open carry that I mentioned earlier. I prefer concealed carry but recognize that others do not.
(Page 6, Line 14), Except as otherwise provided in this article, no person shall carry a pistol about his person on premises private property not his own or under his control unless the person possesses a valid concealed weapon permit or the person has the consent of the owner or legal possessor of the premises.
In short, you have no worries if you have a concealed carry permit – assuming of course that the business owner does not advertise a “no weapons policy”, and you respect their decision. Should you open carry, we are told that a business owner “gives consent” if they do not object to a person being on their premises with a visible holstered pistol. For example, if I enter a restaurant with a holstered pistol and the owner or manager does not object, they have given me consent. Should I be asked to leave, I must leave (and probably won’t be back but that’s another story...).
(Page 8, Line 4) - Except as otherwise prohibited by law, a person legally permitted to possess a pistol, but who does not possess a valid concealed weapon permit, may possess an unloaded pistol in his or her motor vehicle if the pistol is locked in a compartment or container that is in or affixed securely to the vehicle and out of reach of the driver and any passenger in the vehicle.
In simple terms – if you do not have a concealed to carry permit, your pistol must be unloaded and out of reach, locked in the glove box or the trunk. If you have a concealed to carry permit, nothing changes.
Last Thing - Federal Installations; please note, federal installations fall under federal law – therefore those working on Redstone Arsenal must still comply with federal laws concerning carrying a pistol on your person or in your vehicle. In short, federal law trumps state law.
A special thanks for the many, many emails regarding our gun laws during this legislative session. You input was a tremendous help during debate. No doubt we are a passionate lot when it comes to our 2nd Amendment Right and I’m proud to represent you in Montgomery!
Semper Fi - Bill
As everyone prepares to enjoy the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to provide some closing thoughts on the 2013 Legislative Session. I hope everyone enjoys the official start to summer and please take time to remember those who’ve served our nation and paid the ultimate sacrifice on this holiday.
I will resume the monthly newsletter now that the legislature is out of session. The newsletter is typically posted during the first week of the month and recaps events across Senate District 2 from the previous month. A brief email alert is sent out when the newsletter is posted; you can sign up for alerts at the home page.
As some have described - this was a rough and tumble legislative session. For a rookie legislator, it is refreshing to hear from the veterans – fellow legislators, staff members and lobbyist with decades of experience and service – who call this one of the most difficult sessions they remember. Below I touch on some of the highlights of the 2013 Session.
AAA – the Alabama Accountability Act. This was the most controversial item in the 2013 legislative session. I won’t rehash all of the details but as background, this bill started as a School Flexibility Bill and morphed into the Alabama Accountability Act. I was the Senate sponsor of the Flex Bill and had championed the bill with others for two years. Early opposition to the flex bill had nothing to do with the proposed flexibility that would be afforded to schools across the state. The real back story here was that the AEA had blocked efforts to establish charter schools in the 2012 session and they wanted another “win” for 2013. They attempted to broadly paint the flex bill as a back door to charter schools and were successful in dividing the Senate Republicans supporting the bill. Thus was born the tax credit section – championed by Pro Temp Senator Marsh to win over the holdouts, and the scholarship section – championed by Governor Bentley. In a matter of days the Flex Bill became the Alabama Accountability Act. Additional background is available at this blog post.
Days after the Accountability Act passed and the Governor signed it into law – albeit in a controversial manner – a ‘fix-it” bill was introduced. As passed, the bill had some flaws and we attempted to make it better by clearing up some language and strengthening sections of the tax credit and scholarship sections. I participated in numerous meetings as we worked to improve the law with input from various education stakeholders. Some measures, such as means testing that I supported did not have broad support in the legislature and therefore did not make it into the final version. The fix bill passed on the 29th legislative day and was sent to the Governor for signature. In a very surprise move – Governor Bentley sent the bill back with an executive amendment delaying implementation for two years.
As usual outside of Montgomery – everything is not as it appears; in reality, Governor Bentley’s Executive Amendment placed the much needed changes to the Accountability Act - requested by numerous stakeholders in the educational community – at great risk. Some of the more significant improvements included clearing up language regarding transportation, schools not being forced to accept students out of district, and ensuring special education students’ needs were met. Additionally, the definition of a failing school was clarified and the number of failing schools was reduced from 10% to 6%.
The Governor’s amendment came to the legislature on the final day of the session and, as the bill originated in the House, his amendment started in the House which non-concurred with the Governor’s proposed delay; setting the stage in the Senate.
With less than 5 hours left in the session our choices were clear to me: agree with the House and non-concur with the Governor’s proposed delay; ensuring the much needed changes take place, or disagree with the House effectively killing the bill that made the much needed changes to the Accountability Act leaving the original law in place. This was the least desirable action and as I recognized the position we were in, I supported overriding the Governor’s amendment so that much needed changes to the Accountability Act could be made.
By now I think most readers recognize that I don’t “play politics” very well – I don’t make symbolic votes. In my view a “no” vote on the Governor’s Executive Amendment was a symbolic vote as on the surface it supported the Governor’s position but in reality it placed the much needed changes to the Accountability Act in jeopardy. In the end I think Governor Bentley was ill-advised in submitting his Executive Amendment, he thinks the legislature was ill-advised – time will tell.
Omnibus Gun Bill – The omnibus gun bill was contentious to a point but after a majority of the stakeholders came to the table a pretty good bill emerged. I’ll put it this way – there were a lot of cooks in kitchen, some adding sugar and some adding salt. I would’ve preferred a saltier version but support what was accomplished. The final bill is linked here and I plan to provide an overiew in a special blog posts in the days ahead.
Responsible Budgeting – We passed both budgets earlier in the session this year and continue to push realistic, responsible budgets. Since taking office, none of our budgets have been prorated. That’s responsible budgeting!
Education Trust Fund Budget – The $5.7 billion dollar budget included a 2 percent pay raise for Alabama teachers and support personnel and protects funding for K-12 education programs – no increase in class sizes – and increases funding for the state’s Pre-K program. This conservative budget also includes a $35 million payment toward money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund under the previous majority, along with a conditional appropriation that would send an additional $65 million toward repayment if revenues exceed expectations.
General Fund Budget – The $1.7 billion dollar budget provides level funding for most state agencies and includes the first installment toward repaying money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund last September. Leading by example, this fiscally-responsible budget also reduces funding for the Legislature and Senate leadership office by roughly $1.7 million from last year. As promised, the Alabama Trust Fund Repayment legislation was the first bill passed and signed into law by Governor Bentley, guaranteeing automatic annual payment toward paying off money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund through the September 18th referendum.
21st Century Workforce Act – I served as the Senate sponsor of this legislation strengthening the state’s investment in career technical education. We worked on this bill throughout the off season, making sure high school students across the state have access to updated technology and equipment. I personally found myself in the “Vo-Tech” track when in high-school where I learned some life-long mechanical and wood working skills. I followed a path into the military but so many of our children that do not opt for a four year degree program can use these skills to enter the work force. The 21st Century Workforce Act will help prepare tomorrow’s workforce with the skills needed for a successful career in whatever field they choose. This also ensures that Alabama businesses have the tools, and employees, they need to succeed in the 21st century. Lastly, a workforce trained on modern equipment is a tremendous plus in economic recruitment.
Elder Abuse Law – There is a growing trend across our country where an elderly person is taken advantage of financially. We passed an elder abuse law last year dealing with abuse in a nursing home of other facility but this bill address elder abuse from a financial perspective. Whether it is a family member or someone from the financial industry, exploitation of someone’s finances is now against the law in Alabama.
Veterans Hunting License – Most readers know of my involvement with several veterans organizations. I’m proud to have been able to sponsor this law, working with the Department of Conservation and fellow legislators. This law provides for a special, physically disabled military veteran's appreciation three-day event hunting license for groups to purchase one hunting license allowing up to 10 Wounded Warriors to hunt on that license. I’ve seen firsthand the sheer joy of a physically disabled veteran who is able to once again do something they once enjoyed before sustaining their injury in service to our nation – enjoy the great outdoors and hunt! A special thanks to everyone who is helped make this legislation possible and to the many volunteers that work to take these Wounded Warriors back into the great outdoors!
Working Across The District - Even in the days leading up to the end of the session, and since session ending, I’ve been honored to participate in numerous events across District 2. Some events of note – I attended the Veteran’s Job Fair hosted by Still Serving Vets and the Women’s Business Center for North Alabama. I spoke at Certified Commercial Investment Member’s (CCIM) Annual North Alabama Market Symposium. I spoke at the year-end Madison County Teenage Republican meeting – what a wonderful group of teenagers, grounded in solid conservative beliefs. I joined the other four State Senators representing Madison County to provide a legislative update at the Madison County Republican Men’s Club Breakfast. I attended the Monrovia Middle School graduation – we have a bright future here as well! I also attended the Limestone County Economic Development Association’s annual lunch where we heard from Carpenter Technologies plant manager about their multi-million dollar investment in Limestone County. I will continue to attend events across the district in the months ahead and look forward to meeting with you and listening to your concerns as we work together to better our communities. As always, feel free to contact me with questions or concerns at 256-651-5921 or via email.
Semper Fi - Bill
I left my home in Madison at 6:30 this morning and enjoyed an uneventful drive to Montgomery. I was able to return a couple of phone calls, even in the early morning drive.
The Alabama Senate entered into the 26th Legislative Day at 10 AM this morning. Including today, there are 5 legislative days remaining in the 2013 session. Our State Constitution limits the legislature to 30 legislative days within a 105 day calendar window. We started on 5 February and should adjourn in mid-May. We have several high priority bills remaining to work through to include a few favorites I am working on and the budgets. The Senate has passed the General Fund Budget and the House has passed the Education Budget...both budgets have passed their respective committee (albeit greatly amended) and so here we are again, eerily similar to last year when the budgets were sent to the Governor in the final hours of the final day of the 2012 session – literally at 11:30 and 11:59 PM respectively. And so with only a few days remaining in the 2013 session the budgets remain in play.
The Senate went into session at 10 AM and immediately took up a four bill Special Order Calendar, passing the following.
SB141 – Automatically makes it a Capital offense to murder a person with a protection order issued against the defendant.
SB93 – The Second Amendment Preservation Act makes any federal act infringing on the right to keep and bear arms a violation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and declared void in the State of Alabama.
SB383 – Authorizes security personnel and resource officers that may be employed by a local board of education to carry a firearm. The Act also requires them to be certified and trained to the standards of the Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission as a law enforcement officer, to include annual active shooter training.
SB260 – A Constitutional Amendment increasing the bonding authority of the state by $50M to issue bonds where the proceeds are for building and maintenance of National Guard armories. An amendment was introduced that changed the bill, preventing the increase but allowing bonds to be issued to build and maintain National Guard armories. I supported the amendment as I do not want to expand the overall bond issue authority of the state but realize the need for the bond issue to upgrade our armories. The amendment failed and the vote will now go to the people.
After a Caucus Lunch the Senate took up a second Special Order Calendar, of note SB446 – Is a bill originated by the Attorney General’s Office and increases the penalty for the act of promoting gambling, or possession of a gambling device from a misdemeanor to a Class C Felony. This does not change whether or not promoting gambling is illegal, it does not address electronic bingo, it does not address lottery tickets; it simply increases the penalty of promoting gambling or possession of a gambling device to a degree that rather than the proverbial slap on the wrist, violation of the law carries weight, has teeth and means something. The debate lingered on this bill for an hour and a half. A cloture petition was filed to end debate and the petition failed in an 18 – 12 vote (a cloture petition requires a 2/3 vote of the majority or 21 votes). Several republicans voted against the cloture petition, supporting keeping the promotion of or possession of gambling devices a misdemeanor.
We then moved on to a couple of other non-controversial bills before working on SB445, a bill making changes to the Fair Campaign Practices Act – ensuring a greater degree of transparency. After a good debate, from both sides of the aisle – just when we thought everyone was playing nice in the sandbox...the Democrats decided to filibuster the bill...of course they oppose transparency in campaign financing! After a successful cloture vote, forcing an end to the so-called debate, they pulled one of their favorite ticks and had the bill read at length.
The Senate adjourned at 9:43...making for a long 15 hour day. Committee meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and the Senate will reconvene at 10 AM on Thursday.
Semper Fi - Bill
Common Core Update: I’ve not updated the blog for a few days, primarily in order to keep my most recent blog posting – The Common Core Bogeyman – in the forefront. I know this has been a divided issue across the state and I appreciate the open debate. My position remains – this is a 10th amendment, state sovereignty issue and I’ve been clear in my goal that the state board of education shall never give up control of Alabama’s educational standards, must protect student data and restrict usage to educational purposes only, and required the State Board of Education to hold public hearings in each State School Board District.
Proposed legislation however went a step further – repealing and defunding any progress made to this point. I opposed that position but was unsuccessful in amending the proposed bill in a committee meeting last week, losing the vote to delete the repeal/defund provision in a 5-4-1 vote (yes, another vote to abstain...I’m always lost when someone votes “maybe” on a bill. I didn’t come here to vote “maybe” – I was sent here to vote “yes” or “no”!) The Common Core repeal bill was then voted out of committee in a controversial voice vote reported here.
Proponents of the repeal had hoped it would be picked up by the full Senate this week. After discussions over the weekend, continuing into mid-day today, the Pro Tem of the Senate determined that the bill lacked overall support in the Senate and determined that the full Senate would not debate the bill further. Make no mistake, we will see legislation regarding the repeal and defunding of Common Core again and I predict it will be a campaign issue in upcoming elections. I truly appreciate everyone – parents, teachers, administrators, businesses and so many others that contacted me and expressed support for my position.
Busy Weekend – On Friday morning I spoke with members of the Pachyderm Club in Huntsville. I enjoyed visiting with this group and the opportunity to answer their questions regarding the Common Core Standards. On Saturday I joined members of Vets with Vettes and Corvette Owners for our annual Cars and Camouflage Charity Car Show. This year’s event was held at Joe Davis Stadium with over 400 cars present. It was a fun but long day; the continued volunteer effort and public support for this show is amazing, allowing the club to support several local charities. On Monday I spoke at the Madison Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon concerning the impact of education to our state’s economic development and encouraging the business community to become involved in the political process beyond legislation effecting businesses. It was great visiting with everyone – I’m told over 80 people were in attendance – and am truly thankful for everyone adjusting the normally scheduled luncheon to accommodate my legislative schedule. Of note, on Friday morning of this week I will participate in a “Brown Bag Lunch Forum” hosted by the Madison PTA Council along with Madison City Superintendent Dee Fowler at the Madison City Schools Central office concerning the Alabama Accountability Act.
I left Madison at 7 AM this morning, headed to Montgomery for the week. I started the day visiting with 12 students from the Bob Jones High School Young Politicians Club. I enjoyed visiting with these young adults; we toured the Senate Chamber and I was able to share some of my life's experiences with them. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon was filled with meetings concerning pending legislation. I attended the Banking and Insurance Committee meeting where we debated several bills followed by a brief Caucus lunch. The Senate went into session at 1PM and once again took up the Sunset Bills discussed in previous blog posts. After passing a couple of these bills the Senate moved on to other bills.
The Senate passed SB303 – expanding the board Teachers Retirement System (TRS) Board. This was a controversial bill from the start when the original bill was voted out of committee in March. The concerns are that participants from higher education, representing over 25% of the membership, but have not had representation on the board since changes were made to the TRS Board make-up in 1980. The teachers, support staff, principals and superintendents are all represented on the board. The original bill, as voted out of committee last month, added two members from higher education and removed the AEA Executive Director representation. The bill was amended on the Senate floor today, leaving the AEA Executive Director on the board but adding two members for higher education.
Other concerns with the TRS Board include preventing some shenanigans that happened when electing new members just this year. I wasn't fully aware of the internal power struggle with the board but under current rules, one organization distributes, collects and counts the ballots - the AEA. Several requests have been made that an outside, third party be charged with performing these duties. Lastly, the bill changes voting for membership so that principals across the state vote for principals, support staff vote for support staff, teachers vote for teachers, etc. The bill now goest to the House for debate.
After a lengthy debate – over five hours – the Senate passed SB231, the Gulf State Park bill. Essentially this bill allocates anticipated funding paid by BP from the BP oil spill settlement to build a convention center, hotel and restaurants at the Gulf State Park. I do not oppose building a convention center but do not support the state building/operating a hotel and restaurants. I offered an amendment to that end, allowing the building of a convention center only. My thoughts are that the convention center will drive an up-tic in local hotels and restaurants that are currently operating. This up-tic is the only true indication of the free market at work and will then be the driving force for increased economic development activity. The amendment failed and I voted against final passage as I oppose public funding (event if derived from the oil spill settlement) being used to interfere with the private businesses and the free market. This bill now goest to the House for debate.
The Senate then passed SB7 – a bill preventing the use of public funds, aka Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)...or welfare, for the purchase of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, lottery tickets, adult-oriented entertainment, etc. Of course the Democrats rallied against this bill for a variety of reasons...all lost on me. Public benefit funds should only be used for the benefit of truly needy families and their children.
The next bill taken up was SB414. This is the “Double Dipping” Bill. One of the first actions of the newly elected Republican majority in 2010 was to prevent those serving in the Alabama Legislature from working for the state. There are several issues here – most notable being influencing and voting on budgets for departments where a member works. Several members are affected by this law as detailed in this report. The procedural vote (BIR) allowing for debate on this bill passed in a 16 – 10 – 1 with several members not voting. I voted against the BIR and against the bill for final passage. If readers recall, I had to make a decision in late 2009, prior to announcing as a candidate for office whether or not I wanted to keep working as a government employee at NASA or serve in the Alabama Legislature. A federal law, the Hatch Act, prevented me from doing both...I had to make a decision and I know I made the right one. Final passage of the bill allowing those currently in the legislature to work for the state failed in an 11-18-2 vote.
It was a long night and the Senate adjourned just before mid-night...and then reconvened at 5 minutes after mid-night to take up the two bills that we ran out of time on the previous day. I’ll blog on those bills tomorrow...
I have two committee meetings tomorrow - the Education Policy Committee and Children and Youth Affairs. Of note, changes to the Alabama Accountability Act are on the Ed Policy Committee meeting – just in time for the Friday PTA meeting!
We all have a Bogeyman. Generally our Bogeyman lives in the shadows of our minds and vanishes in the light of day. If enough of us believe in the same Bogeyman, he gets bigger, stronger and even more real.
Common Core – a set of national education standards adopted by over 45 States and embraced by business, industry and education leaders – has a Bogeyman. The Bogeyman that haunts the Common Core is that our children will be brainwashed through public education and turned into mindless beings that support a Washington DC based leftist agenda, ultimately destroying our conservative principals and thereby the conservative base. It is too early to tell if the Common Core Bogeyman is real or not in Alabama, but the light of day causing the Bogeyman to vanish is state maintained control over educational standards.
Common Core Standards represent a minimum standard so that a child in a grade in one state is taught the same level of math as a child in any other state. The importance of this minimum standard to education, business and industry is to ensure a globally competitive, college and career ready work force – needed for a vibrant, recovering US economy.
Several bills have been introduced during the 2013 legislative session relating to Alabama’s adoption of the Common Core Standards. I’ve introduced and I support legislation that accomplishes the following: prevents the State Board of Education from relinquishing control of our education standards to an entity outside of the state (i.e. the federal government), fully protects the privacy of student data for educational purposes, and requires the State Board of Education to hold public hearings in each State School Board District for future changes to curriculum.
Legislation has also been introduced going one step further; repealing and defunding Alabama’s adoption of the Common Core Standards. Just last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution supporting the repeal of the numerous federal regulations, which interfere with State and local control of public schools, and also supporting the rejection of the Common Core Standards plan “which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”
I agree in part with the RNC; it is paramount that Alabama maintains state sovereignty over our educational standards and that local boards of education remain empowered to develop curriculum. However, I fail to see the “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement” if the states and local schools maintain control over their standards.
As the Common Core plan is a minimum standard; it gives students an equal starting point and allows our local and State Boards of Education a foundation to build upon. It allows our children in Alabama to equally compete for college admission slots as children from other states. Likewise, if a family relocates, it ensures children are on the same level as their peers in their new classroom. At the same time, Common Core establishes a base of information students need to master before moving to the next grade level –this doesn’t mean that the base is all we can teach. By maintaining state and local control over our standards we can use this base as simply that –as a base—and then build on that base, challenging our children further. I don’t believe the Common Core Bogeyman when he says these standards are limiting or corrupting; I see the Common Core coupled with Alabama maintaining control of its education standards as providing our children with unlimited opportunities.
I don’t want the federal government telling us when and what to teach our children and I don’t want the Alabama legislature doing it either. The day may come when the Common Core Standards become the Bogeyman some fear. If so, we will raise the blinds and allow the light of day – through Alabama maintaining control over our educational standards –to cast out the shadows and mystery that is the Common Core Bogeyman. State and local control will ensure Alabama’s children are taught high standards for a globally competitive, college and career ready work force encompassing the conservative values we demand.
This is the first I’ve updated the blog this week – its been a rather busy week and I've not had a chance to get caught up.
We worked late into the night on Thursday of last week, adjourning after 8 PM. I know my limits and decided to stay the night in Montgomery rather than fighting falling asleep on the 3 hour drive home. Several years ago I wouldn’t have given a second thought to driving long distances late at night...guess I’m getting older and wiser!
On Saturday morning I participated in the Chick Fil-a’s 5K in Athens. It was a beautiful day for a run and over 400 people turned out to support the event. The volunteer turnout of those working to make the event a success was most impressive!
I left Madison at 7 AM on Tuesday of this week, heading to Montgomery for the week’s session. My first stop was the League of Southern Credit unions (LSCU) annual luncheon where I was honored as the Alabama Legislator of the year for work I had done on some legislation in the 2012 session.
The Senate went into session at 1:30. Dr Alan Weatherly, Senior Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church, where my family worships, lead the Senate in our opening prayer. His usual words of wisdom were inspirational to my colleagues as we started the week's work.
We continue to work on the package of “Sunset” Bills in session this week, with other “non-controversial” bills interspersed throughout the days. The Sunset Bills are prioritized as this is the periodic legislative review of the laws enabling various Boards and Commissions to regulate their respective industries across our state. These Boards/Commissions would sunset – thereby losing their authority to regulate their respective industry – if the legislature does not reauthorize their existence.
Tennessee Valley Caucus - This morning I attended the Tennessee Valley Caucus meeting where we were honored to have Mr. Bill Johnson, President and CEO of TVA join us. This meeting proved especially interesting as President Obama announced the selling of TVA as part of his 2014 budget. The economic importance of TVA to our region in providing reliable, efficient and economical power should not be underestimated. Mr. Johnson shared in our meeting that TVA is fully self funded and maintains a AAA bond rating...it will be interesting to watch this unfold and I can’t help but notice the political implications at play here – is TVA in a blue state?
Education Budget - Most notable this week – the House passed the Education Budget on Wednesday evening. This is the first time in the three years that I have served in the legislature where both budgets have passed the first house this early in the session. Alabama maintains two budgets, one for General Fund and one for Education. Each year a budget starts the legislative process in each legislative body, and then passes through the other body. The Senate passed the General Fund budget in late March. The Senate begins working on the Education budget next week. Highlights of the proposed $5.7 billion Education Budget includes:
- A $175 million increase over the current 2013 budget.
- A 2% pay raise for teachers and support staff – the first raise since 2008
- $5 million is set aside to provide liability insurance for teachers. Currently teachers receive this coverage through a third party – paying dues to the Alabama Education Association (AEA). This proposal has teachers receiving the same coverage as state employees currently receive through the state.
- Combined – the 2% pay raise and cost of membership dues – an education employee would see over a 3% pay increase should they elect not to be covered by the AEA’s insurance.
- The proposed budget also includes $12.5 million for the state's pre-kindergarten program.
I remind readers of what I often call - “we’ve inherited the sins of our fathers” as the state has substantial debt to be repaid from past legislative borrowing; most concerning – the legislature borrowed $437M for the Education Trust Fund in 2009 that must be paid back by 2015. Note that this borrowing arrangement, made under a Democrat controlled legislature, contained no defined repayment schedule...and we still owe over $420M borrowed five years ago...a direct result of irresponsible and unrealistic budgeting. The Republican controlled legislature – starting with the Rolling Reserve Act in 2011 – continues to budget realistically, preventing pro-ration or borrowing.
The Senate adjourned at 3 PM for the day and my normal three hour commute back to Madison turned into almost 4 hours as I hit the storms and Birmingham rush hour at the same time. It is nice to be home and I look forward to the weekend!
I started the day chairing the monthly Contract Review Committee meeting at 8:30 this morning. We reviewed 26 contracts. I expressed my disappointment that 12 of the 26 contracts – totaling $3.7M – were slated for award to out of state companies. We continue to work to improve the process by which companies are notified of contracting opportunities within the state and I am planning a mini-seminar of sorts with local chambers of commerce.
Bronze Star License Plate – I left the Contract Review Committee meeting early – turning the meeting over to the co-chair, in order to attend the Commerce, Utilities and Transportation Committee meeting at 9 AM. A bill I had in the committee, which passed unanimously, creates a Bronze Star license plate for Alabama veterans who have been awarded the Bronze Star. I know several veterans that have been awarded this medal and I am honored to be able to sponsor the legislation.
The Senate went into session at 10AM and immediately began debating SB286, the Omnibus Gun Bill. After almost 7 hours of debate the bill passed in 27 – 5 vote (4 democrats voted in favor of the bill, all 5 of the no votes were democrats).
My goal in supporting this bill – beside the obvious of supporting our 2nd Amendment Rights – is that our current laws unnecessarily place law abiding citizens in conflict with law enforcement in several areas. This was a broad based bill and several amendments were offered throughout the almost 7 hours of debate. Amendments ranged from requiring a serial number to be added to all gun accessories such as magazines (for tracking purposes according to the bill sponsor???) to limiting the cost of a concealed to carry permit to $1.
I opposed any amendments that limited 2nd Amendment rights in any way. I supported amendments that strengthened a business owner’s position with regard to liability in a case where an employee might retrieve a firearm from their car and cause harm to other employees. This is a key component of this legislation as this bill attempts to address the intersection of personal property owner rights (the business owner) and individual 2nd Amendment Rights. Currently, as a condition of employment, a business owner can prohibit an employee from transporting a firearm in their car that is parked with the firearm locked in the car, in the employee parking lot. It is my intent to support both sets of rights – property owner and individual – as best possible – and the amended bill accomplishes this. I will post a link to the amended bill once one becomes available (it will take Legislative Resource Service a day or two to compile the amendments).
Some closing thoughts – I continue to get caught up on emails but was notified that the email address firstname.lastname@example.org was not working properly. I was able to get that corrected with tech support for my website hosting service today and apologize for any inconvenience to those that had an email returned via that email address...honestly, I was not blocking anyone!
My wife and I plan to run the Chick Fila 5K in Athens on Saturday morning, benefiting the Bridge of Hope Adoption Ministry.This will be my third 5K this year and I have set an ambitious goal of a 25 minute run time...we will see!
I hope everyone enjoyed some time with their family on Easter Sunday. We enjoyed a wonderful Easter Sunday service followed by a great lunch with family and friends...we also watched some basketball. I’ll admit that I start watching college basketball when the Sweet Sixteen brackets are finalized...football is my sport of choice. By the way, the SEC season starts August 31st with Ole Miss at Vandy!
In local district news, the Limestone County Legislative Delegation opened a local delegation office in Athens on Monday. The opening was widely attended by the public and elected officials. This office follows the model established by the Morgan and Madison County Legislative Delegation Offices and will help us better serve the residents of Limestone County. The office is located at 110 College Street, Suite E-4 and will initially be open from 9 – 5 Monday – Friday. We may adjust hours as needed. I encourage you to stop in and visit with Anna Russell, the Executive Director. I will share the office phone number, website and email address as they become available in the coming days.
I closed out the blog prior to the spring break with an update on the school calendar bill. I’ve had a few calls and emails for an update – a prognosis of sorts – regarding this bill. The short answer – I consider the bill dead because the committee adopted an unfriendly amendment introduced by the committee chair (and supporter of the original calendar bill) making the opt-out provision in the bill effective after the 2013 – 2014 school year. This amazed me as the portion of the bill requiring every school district to follow the mandated state-wide calendar expires in October of 2013 - what is the point of the amendment?
Now for the long answer – a strategy used by opponents of my bill was a classic “delay and defend” tactic. They recognized early on that time was on their side. Everyone knows the current school year is winding down and next year’s calendars must be set so as to accommodate school maintenance cycles, training, etc over the summer break. The opposition knew that if they could delay moving my bill through the legislative process (it took three weeks to bring it up in committee, and the vote was delayed two weeks after a public hearing) that any new calendar provided by the “opt-out” provision would become moot. I recognized their strategy and had a built-in goal of moving this bill out of the Senate no later than the spring break. We simply ran out of time to pass the bill and allow school systems to adopt another calendar. I do not want the opt-out to become counter-productive when the law sunsets after the 2013-2014 school year. Now the mandatory state-wide calendar will expire this year and, for the 2014 – 2015 school year, local school systems will once again have full control of setting their calendars.
The Senate reconvened from Spring Break today. This is the 16th legislative day; we are now at the half-way point of the 2013 session (our state constitution limits us to 30 legislative days within a 105 day calendar). I’ve provided a recap of the first half of the session; located at the bottom of today’s post.
We spent several hours voting on “Sunset Bills” today. This is the periodic legislative review of the laws enabling the various Boards and Commissions to operate so that they can regulate their respective industries across our state. These Boards/Commissions would sunset – thereby losing their authority to regulate their respective industry – if the legislature does not reauthorize their existence.
A special order calendar was introduced a little after 4 PM this afternoon. The first bill up was HB57, the Women’s Health and Safety Act. This is an important Pro-Life bill as no provision provides for comprehensive standards of medical care for abortion or reproductive health centers under existing law. This bill corrects this and further requires physician involvement in abortion or reproductive health centers. The bill also classifies an abortion or reproductive health center as an ambulatory health care occupancy and requires certain standards be met. HB57 passed the House with 73 yes and 23 no votes. After over three hours of debate HB57 passed the Senate in a 22 - 10 vote.
The Senate continued working through the remainder of the calendar, passing several noncontroversial bills and adjourned at 9:00 PM.
Finishing off today’s post with some great news - HB9, the Homebrew bill, was debated in the House for several hours today and passed in a 58 to 33 vote. I will continue pushing...err, working with my Senate colleagues to move the Senate version and/or positioning HB9 for Senate passage.
2013 Legislative Session: First Half Update
During the first half of the session the Legislature focused on passing bills that will help boost the economy, reduce the size and cost of state government and improve education for Alabama children.
Fourteen bills passed both the House and Senate, of those eight has been signed into law by Governor Bentley, one was vetoed, and the remaining five await the Governor’s signature. An additional 24 bills have passed the Senate and are awaiting action by the House. This includes the state’s General Fund budget, which passed the Senate in record time.
Bills that have passed both the House and Senate
HB94 – Alabama Trust Fund Repayment - Guarantees automatic annual payment toward paying off money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund
HB84 – Accountability Act of 2013 (School Choice Tax Credit) - Provides parents and children stuck in failing schools with an income tax credit to be used at a non-failing school
SB96 – "Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zone Act" - Allows cities to borrow money to buy land, improve roads, add water and sewer lines and construct manufacturing facilities which will help spur economic development projects
SB108 – Law Enforcement Consolidation - Consolidates state-level law enforcement agencies to create a more targeted, streamlined law enforcement effort and is estimated to save $30 million annually.
SB117 – Streamlining State IT Functions - Establishes a Secretary of Information Technology who will identify ways to save money and improve coordination within the state’s IT networks. Estimated savings: $30-$60 million annually.
SB238 – Alabama Commercial Aviation Business Improvement Act - Levels the playing field between Alabama and surrounding states in the recruitment of aviation industry suppliers. Neighboring states already have similar laws in place and this legislation will ensure Alabama remains competitive with other, nearby states in recruiting jobs by attracting those suppliers.
Senate-Passed Bills Eligible for House Vote
SB4 – Prohibiting the Application of Foreign Law – This is a Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit the application of foreign law that would violate the rights of American citizens under the U.S. and Alabama Constitutions
SB29 – Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act - Provides protection for people 60 and older in cases of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation
SB60 – Education Accountability and Intervention Act - Clarifies the State Board of Education’s authority to intervene and exercise direct control over the decision making and operational functions in the state’s persistently failing schools
SB68 – Informed Voter Act and Fair Ballot Commission - Establishes a commission to provide clear, objective information about proposed amendments and remove voter confusion and uncertainty over ballot language on future proposed Constitutional Amendments
SB116 – Streamlining of State IT Services - Creates the Alabama Technology Authority to provide for a more streamlined, cost effective delivery of IT services to state agencies. Combined with a new law to create a state IT Secretary, estimated cost savings are between $30 and $60 million a year.
SB122 – Legislative Services Streamlining - Reorganizes a number of legislative agencies and committees charged with overseeing operations within the Legislature to establish a more centralized oversight structure and combine the work currently performed by eight committees into four.
SB143 – General Fund Budget - Passed in record time, this budget provides level funding for most state agencies. The proposal also includes the first installment toward repaying money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund and reduces funding for the Legislative agency and President Pro Tem’s office by roughly $1.7 million from the previous year.
The State-Wide Calendar Opt-Out Bill - As discussed in the blog a couple of weeks ago, I offered a win-win solution for the mandatory school calendar bill. To recap, the Act creating the mandatory state-wide start/stop for the school calendar had two silver linings in it. One, the sunset provision that made the state-wide start/stop date effective for only two school years, expiring with the 2013 – 2014 school year; and two, schools must be in session for 180 days but may use an “hourly equivalent of 180 days” to meet this requirement. This provision also expires with the 2013 – 2014 school year.
The win-win solution I introduced through a committee amendment saves the hourly equivalent provision by removing the expiration, thereby making the state-wide start/stop date permanent, along with the hourly equivalent clause, IF the “opt-out” provision going into effect this year was supported.
The committee adopted the amendment in a meeting this morning but further adopted a second “surprise” amendment making the bill effective after October of 2013. Unfortunately supporters of the mandatory state-wide calendar failed to realize that their amendment undermines the intent of my bill. The “opt-out” provision that I championed going into effect immediately (the 2013-2014 school year) is no longer in the bill. To that end I will not support the amended bill and the current law will expire, as does the hourly equivalent portion.
I’m disappointed in the way this worked out as my offer allowed everyone to gain something - local schools could opt-out in the 2013-2014 school year and the hourly equivalent of 180 days clause remained. Now the mandatory state-wide calendar will expire this year and for the 2014 – 2015 school year, local school systems will once again have full control of setting their calendars.
Teacher’s Retirement Board Changes - SB303 was introduced by Senator Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) and championed by higher education and members of the Teachers Retirement (TRS) Board.
The concerns are that participants from higher education represent over 25% of the membership but they have not had representation on the board since changes were made to the TRS Board make-up in 1980. The teachers, support staff, principals and superintendents are all represented on the board.
Other concerns include preventing some shenanigans that happened when electing new members just this year. I wasn't fully aware of the internal power struggle with the board but under current rules, one organization distributes, collects and counts the ballots - AEA. Several requests have been made that an outside, third party be charged with performing these duties.
Lastly, the bill changes voting for membership so that principals across the state vote for principals, support staff vote for support staff, teachers vote for teachers, etc.
Senate Cost of Living Increase – For the third year in a row I have declined the automatic pay increase set by the legislature in controversial move in 2007 (read letters to the Secretary of the Senate here: 2011, 2012 and 2013). It has been reported that some legislators have once again accepted the cost of living increase. This issue will be resolved in 2014 as the legislative pay reform passed via a constitutional amendment in 2012.
The legislature will not be in session next week for spring break. We will reconvene on Tuesday, April 2nd.
Semper Fi - Bill