The Senate went into session this morning at 10AM. Unfortunately the Democrats continued in their delay posture in retaliation to the Senate passing a Resolution affirming our intent to not expand Medicaid.
The Senate was able to pass seven of the Sunset Bills throughout the day. Some readers may wonder why we didn’t cloture the opposition, pushing through the Sunset Bills as the problem is not really with the reauthorization of these boards, agencies or commissions. The answer – rules do not allow the Sunset Bills to be subject to cloture.
Some good news that I didn’t report from committee work yesterday – we passed a bill in the General Fund Committee meeting that begins to address some of the earmark concerns that plaque our budget process. I also passed a bill out of committee that will begin an annual certification and reporting process of the amount of tax exemptions that have been granted to organizations by past legislative action. This bill is a merging of several bills, including one from the Revenue Department. The concern is that over the years – some literally over 40 years ago – the legislature has granted certain entities an exemption from state, county and local sales or lodging tax. These are mostly non-profit groups that no doubt continue to perform great work in their respective communities. As we continue to work to balance our budgets without raising taxes I think it is equally important that we follow up on the entities that have been granted tax exemptions to ensure the exemption is not being abused and that they continue with their stated mission when the exemptions were granted.
The Senate adjourned at 4:30PM and will reconvene on Tuesday at 10AM.
Semper Fi - Bill
SB44, legislation I’ve worked that would reset the 54% Driver's License fee increase unilaterally imposed by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) back in February was debated in the House Public Safety and Homeland Defense Committee today. After a somewhat spirited debate the bill was killed in a 9-1 vote. Only the Committee Chairman, Representative Wood (R) voted in favor of the legislation. Early on I knew this bill would have issues moving through the House of Representatives as whispers in the halls of the State House made it clear that even after passing the Senate in a 29 – 1 vote last month, the bill would be “slow rolled” in the House. And it was, the bill passed the Senate on 31 March but didn’t move in the House for a full three weeks...sadly, politics as usual.
In the end ALEA successfully positioned this bill with House members as something it was not – a current year budget cut. I maintain that a fee increase imposed in February should have no impact on current Fiscal Year (FY) budgeting; we are in the 7th month of the 2015 budget. The FY 2016 budget is only now being debated.
As I’ve stated before, this legislation was about ensuring the voice of the people was heard in the process. A fee increase of some degree is likely warranted but the debate should be done in the open were the people’s voice is represented. Committee members Representatives Thomas Jackson (D), Dickie Drake (R), Chris England (D), Tommy Hanes (R), Mary Moore (D), Connie Rowe (R), Harry Shriver (R), Allen Treadaway (R) and Issac Whorton (R) vote no – that is 6 Republicans and 3 Democrats that willfully voted to silence the people’s voice today.
I maintain it is a travesty that the voice of the people is now silent on a $12.7M fee increase. By their vote these committee members just “green lighted” fee increases by any department or agency in state government.
What should keep you up tonight? Now that these House members have turned the “green light” on, what other czar like unilateral fee increase is coming and who in the legislature is willing to stand in the gap and ensure a representative of the people is heard in the process? Obviously for some members it is easier to tell folks back home that they didn’t raise the fee, it was done by the department through existing legislation. That’s the easy route. I don’t do easy, I do what’s right.
I will continue to fight the good fight in Montgomery – fighting for a government of the people, by the people, for the people; ensuring the people’s voice is heard. I hope I can count on others to stand in the gap with me.
Semper Fi - Bill
I started my this morning testifying at the Education Policy Committee meeting in support of SB348, legislation that would add trustees specifically nominated by UAH and UAB Alumni Associations to the Alabama Board of Trustees. The bill was carried over to continue to address some concerns with this issue.
I had several meetings in my office before the next committee meeting. As luck would have it, I wrapped up a meeting with the Madison County DA just as the Madison City Schools Superintendant was arriving for a meeting with a group from Madison City Schools that included Administrators, School Board and PTA members. I enjoyed visiting with everyone and sharing thoughts regarding various legislative items.
My next committee meeting was Banking and Insurance where we debated and passed five bills out of committee. Of note, a bill further regulating the Pay-Day-Lending industry was passed out of committee. Additional work is required on this legislation but I’m supportive of the direction the bill is moving. I then attended the County and Municipal Government Committee. We debated six bills, passing five out of committee.
Tonight will be our second in a series of Joint Senate Caucus Dinners. While we often find ourselves on opposing sides of issues, I enjoy breaking bed with and getting to better know my colleagues from the other side of the isle.
Tomorrow morning we will reconvene the Legislative Contract Review Committee meeting at 0830 where we will finish the agenda that we had to carry over due to running out of time from two weeks ago. The Senate will go into session at 10AM.
Semper Fi - Bill
I hope everyone enjoyed a great weekend. The weather Saturday was perfect for the second annual car show at our church, Asbury United Methodist Church in Madison. Over 150 people participated in the show with some incredible cars, trucks and bikes ranging from a Model T to the latest and greatest performance cars. The event raised about $2,500 for missions at the church. A special thanks to the many volunteers and participants who made this event a success.
As much fun as the car show was the highlight of my weekend was the ribbon cutting Friday morning for the long awaited interchange at County Line Rd and I565. A great number of former Madison City Mayors and Councilmen joined the current Madison Mayor and Council members, Madison and Limestone County Commissioners, business community leaders and legislators at the ribbon cutting. Governor Bentley and others provided remarks prior to opening the road. I know that thousands of commuters living along the County Line Road corridor in Madison and Limestone are enjoying the new road. For the first time ever, commuters heading home from work on Friday were able to drive past the Wall Triana exit on I565 west and take the new interchange for County Line Road. I heard from several commuters on Monday that they saved 10~15 minutes off their morning commute. This project was a long time coming and I’m proud to have been able to serve as a member of the team that made it a reality.
As has been the pattern this session, I backed out of my driveway a little after 7:30 this morning and arrived in Montgomery just before 11:00 to meet with the Caucus and plan our week. After lunch I met with a few special interest groups and lobbyist in my office prior to the Senate going into session this afternoon. After some procedural votes the Senate began debate of the $5.96B proposed Education Budget.
I received positive feedback from all local superintendents and school boards regarding the proposed budgets. Highlights of the Education Budget include Current Units funding – was $0, now $14M. This is important for growing systems such as those in Madison and Limestone Counties. In years past a system would not receive funding for students that moved into the district over the summer months until the following school year; not a problem for a system growing by 30 students a year...a very big problem for a system growing by 300 students a year. The voluntary Pre-K program was also increased by $13M (from $0 in 2011 to $54M in 2015). I’m told that Pre-K is an important program in that it reinforces cognitive learning in the early years and has a positive impact in that children have a foundation to build upon in the early grades. Other highlights include a reduction in the divisor for 7 – 8 grades (reduced divisors equal smaller class sizes), and level funding of PEEHIP; the Public Employee and Educators Health Plan. The Teacher Retirement System was another story; a total of $6.6M was moved to TRS as law requires the legislature to make up the differences in returns on investment – which unfortunately continue to fall short of projections.
I also passed two veterans related bills in today’s Senate actions. SB263 authorizes state agencies to establish a veteran’s preference for employment and HB2, a bill that establishes the Stolen Valor Act as related to persons fraudulently representing themselves as having received military decorations or medals with the intent to defraud. It is unfortunate that a Stolen Valor Act is required but I am honored to have assisted in making this legislation law.
In closing tonight’s blog, most readers know that Pam and I are new grandparents and I’ve resisted sharing too many photos but couldn’t pass this one up. Our daughter and grandson stopped by the house as I was out mowing the lawn. Holt even had his overalls on! And yes, I still mow my own yard – yard work is one of my top three “stress busters”...the other two? - running and driving a Corvette.
Semper Fi - Bill
I started the morning attending the Alabama Aerospace Breakfast where attendees enjoyed listening to MSFC Director Patrick Scheuermann and Astronaut (and Navy Captain) Scott Tingle. I then attended two committee meetings – the Transportation and Energy Committee and the Banking and Insurance Committee. We debated and passed several bills in both committees but carried a few over for additional work. Of note, we are working on a payday lending bill that I support as currently written but we need to refine some sections. This will be voted on next week. The Department of Insurance had a bill that increased several user fees resulting in a total $10M increase. This bill has passed the House last week but was carried over in committee today for more discussion. I commend the Department from bringing the bill through the legislative process where the people’s voice has been a part of the process. Important to note that the fees increased have not been increased in over 20 years and are supported by those in the industry.
Oil Change Ministry Day - Summer 2014
The Senate went into session at 10:30 and shortly after procedural work recessed for a few minutes to honor the work of the Marshall Space Flight Center team as a part of NASA Day here in Montgomery. I was honored to introduce special guests MSFC Director Patrick Scheuermann, Astronaut (and Navy Captain) Scott Tingle and Robert Hillan - an Enterprise AL High School senior who won a nationwide contest by designing a hand tool to be used on the ISS that can be printed on a 3D Printer.
The Senate then worked through a Special Order Calendar that included passage of SB22, a bill I’ve worked that allows local school systems to establish a school calendar based on 1080 total hours versus 180 days.
The Senate adjourned for the day at 1:30PM allowing members to visit NASA exhibits and with students participating in Higher Education Day.
This weekend I am looking forward to participating in the first car show of the season. Asbury United Methodist Church is hosting their annual car show at Asbury (Hughes Rd in Madison) on Saturday from 8 - 3. The show benefits a great outreach, the Oil Change Ministry. Several times a year the church hosts the oil change day where members from the community in need of routine car maintenance can have their car serviced for free...courtesy of some shade tree mechanics like myself!
I attended three receptions last night – first, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce reception; they are in Montgomery this week for their annual legislative visit, followed by the League of Credit Unions and then the Alabama Sheriff’s Association BBQ. I enjoyed visiting with everyone at the receptions and discussing legislation actions. The hard part was not partaking in the food and beverage available at each reception – in order to remain on track I needed to put in a few miles for the day and am happy to report that after attending the three receptions, I put in three miles on the treadmill. I’m at 280 miles for 2015 on my quest to run 1000 miles.
Today started with meetings in my office followed by the General Fund Committee meeting. The most surprising vote in that meeting was SB115, the bill to get the state out of the liquor business, something I’ve supported in years past. I support the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) in areas such as enforcement and licensing – I simply struggle with justifying the state remaining in the liquor sales business. In fact, I doubt the concept of state run liquor stores would even be introduced in today’s legislature (the ABC concept originated in 1937) but for reasons lost on me, some legislators fully support the concept. By the way, the ABC After a public hearing and further debate the bill failed to receive a favorable report in a 7-6 vote. Of note, the Fiscal Note showed an increase to the General Fund budget of between $18M - $20M...and I thought we supported right-sizing government and efficiency strategies?
Later in the afternoon I met for about an hour with the Governor’s Director of Finance to review the status of the Governor’s budget and tax increase proposals. This was followed by Joint General Fund Budget hearings in the House Chambers where detailed reports from Medicaid, Corrections and Mental Health were presented.
Tomorrow morning I plan to attend the Aerospace Association Breakfast. We will recognize NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center on the Senate Floor. I have two committee meetings – Banking and Insurance committee and Transportation and Energy committee were we will debate a total of 8 bills...all of this before the Senate goes into session at 10:30!
Semper Fi - Bill
I began this morning at 0700 visiting with Dale Jackson on WVNN as we discussed the bill to rollback driver’s license fee increases and the impact to current year operating budgets. My comments were essentially covered in last night’s blog posting.
I chaired the monthly Legislative Contract Review Meeting at 8:30. For the first time in memory we were unable to complete the agenda in the time frame allowed as the House went into session and the Senate had committee meetings. We finished about half of the agenda and carried over the remaining contracts. I plan to hold another meeting next week to take up review of the remaining contracts.
The Senate went into session at 10:00 this morning and after some procedural work took up the Prison Reform Bill, SB67. A majority of the day was devoted to debating this legislation and numerous amendments were adopted. I commend the Prison Reform Committee for their months of work on this legislation and feel that we are on the right track for not only addressing prison overcrowding but conducting sentencing reforms as well. Prisons and Medicaid reforms have been priorities of this legislature as they continue to consume significant portions of our General Fund Budget.
The Senate adjourned for the week at 5 PM. We will return to session next Tuesday at 2 PM. I’m excited to have a lot of people from North Alabama visiting Montgomery next week as we will be celebrating Alabama Aerospace Week at the Capitol. This is an expansion of NASA Week that we started several years ago to showcase to the impact of the Aerospace Industry to the rest of our state. Many activities and outreach programs are planned by members of industry and Marshall Space Flight Center.
I hope everyone enjoys spending time with family and friends this weekend and especially on Easter Sunday as we celebrate, for He has risen!
Semper Fi - Bill