Once again I find myself behind on the blog; the quickened pace of this year’s legislative session in the Senate has caused me to forgo the blog as I focus my time and energy on pending legislation. On the bright side, I’m almost caught up on emails. The Senate returns to session Tuesday of next week for the 23rd Legislative day...7 Legislative days remain, roughly 3 – 4 weeks and we’ve yet to pass a budget; it’s like Groundhog Day - we’ve been here before!
I enjoyed attending several activities over the last two weeks, visiting with people from across the district discussing important local concerns such as at the Madison City Schools PTA “Brown Bag” Luncheon. Pam and I also enjoyed a night out at the Madison Hospital annual fundraiser – The Medi Gras Bash last weekend. This weekend we will attend the Asbury United Methodist Church CHRIST Choirs Desert Night Out fundraiser (Fri and Sat). We worship at Asbury and our daughter participates in this choir. The local talent performing at this two night event is amazing – we are truly blessed – and the homemade desserts are amazing! I’m two weeks behind on the blog so I’ll focus on significant legislation from last week first (25 – 27 Feb) and then move into activities from this week. After posting this I’m going out to play in the sun today and hope you are able to do so as well! Semper Fi Bill The Senate passed a host of bills regarding welfare reform: Drug testing for welfare applicants with a prior drug conviction (SB63) Restore community service, job training or work requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients without dependents (SB87) Require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits (SB115) Prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs (SB116) The Senate also passed the Education Budget. While there are some good things in the budget, I voted against the budget based on several factors – the greatest of which was the lack of time for me to review the budget and its impact on the education community. In years past I have had an opportunity for the education community to review the budget and share their insight with me that I was later able to address with the budget chair. The education budget was passed out of committee around noon on Wed the 26th and we were asked to vote on it Thursday evening the 27th. I don’t view that as having amble time to study a budget and therefore voted against it. Highlights of the budget provided by the budget chair follow: Meets top 4 priorities of the State Department of Education
1. Funding for 250 new 7th and 8th grade teachers in order to lower class sizes ($10 million)
2. Increased appropriation for OCE (Other Current Expenditures) by $6 million
3. Increased appropriation for transportation by $1.5 million
4. Increased appropriation for textbooks by $2.8 million
Additionally, the budget - Increases appropriation for state’s voluntary Pre-K program by $10 million Increases appropriation for Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative by $2.5 million Maintains level funding for Alabama Reading Initiative Dedicated $62 million toward repaying the $437 million borrowed by the Democrat majority in 2008 I also voted against the move to change the proposed 2% pay raise for teachers and support personnel to a 1% bonus. I will continue to support the raise over a onetime bonus....and we still need to work out the PEEHIP issue with the board - more to come on this. Significant bills passed this week (4 - 6 March) include: The Alabama Ahead Act – (SB1) Technology Infrastructure for Education bill passed the full Senate and is on its way to the House. I have concerns with this bill as on the surface we are borrowing $100M...we don’t need to borrow anymore money (which is why I voted against the bill). However, I recognize the need to expand technology in the classroom but only after providing for the infrastructure and training required for such expansion to be successful. We were successful in amending the original bill to include this oversight and to require local system participation/funding match of 25%. Additionally, systems that have already deployed technology along these lines will be able to recoup some of their costs. Two government streamlining bills passed the General Fund Committee that I am a member of this week. We continue our efforts to streamline state government and reduce spending. SB412 would consolidate the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles into the Alabama Department of Corrections and the SB411 State Forestry Commission into the Department of Agriculture. To date, Republicans’ have enacted streamlining reforms that will save taxpayers millions of dollars annually – simply put – our state government needed to be put on a diet! This is not a question of someone not doing their job, this is a question of efficiency in state government and we are making business decisions to better allocate limited resources while continuing to serve the people of Alabama.
Today closed out the 6th week of the 2014 Legislative Session. This was a very busy yet productive week.
Wednesday was comprised of several committee meetings with departmental meetings interspersed throughout the day. Wednesday evening was filled with several receptions and a dinner. I was able to attend the Soil and Water Conservation reception, the Home Builders reception and the Independent Insurance Agents reception. Later that evening I attended the Alabama Federation of Republican Women (AFRW) dinner; House Speaker Hubbard was the guest speaker.
I began Thursday morning with the Tennessee Valley Authority Caucus meeting. The caucus hosted Col Bill Marks; Garrison Commander of Redstone Arsenal, at today’s meeting. Col Marks provided a great overview of the economic impact and growth opportunities Redstone Arsenal provides to our region and the state. I continued the morning chairing the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee meeting. We debated and passed three bills out of the committee. Of note HB211 passed – establishing a disabled veterans hunting license.
The Senate went into session at 10 AM and we began debating several bills that were in position for passage out of the Senate. Bills passing the full Senate include:
SB85 – This bill removes the war time or hazardous duty clause for veteran’s education benefits.
SB319 – This bill clears up implementation issues raised by the Administrative Office of Courts and Department of Public Safety for the Ignition Interlock device that we passed in 2011. I was the sponsor of this legislation supported by MADD.
SB98 – This bill addresses pre-need – or pre-paid – funeral services and was brought about after a few cases of funeral homes across the state going out of business - after accepting payment for pre-paid funeral services, leaving grieving families in a terrible circumstance. This legislation requires payments made for pre-need funeral services to be placed in a secure account.
I will keep a watchful eye to the West as I drive home later this evening, hopefully arriving home ahead of the forecasted storms. I am looking forward to running my first 5K of the year this weekend – the 5th annual Grissom JROTC Wounded Warrior 5K.
The Senate will return to session on Tuesday for the 17th Legislative Day.
Semper Fi - Bill
The big news from this week is of course the Huntsville Remington announcement. As this has been covered extensively by local and national media, I feel confident that readers are fully aware of the significant economic impact this has on our area and for our state. I’m truly honored to represent you in the Alabama Senate and at this point I simply want to thank everyone who supports the pro-business, pro-right to work and pro-second amendment team that I’m a part of! We have more work to do and I stand ready to capitalize on opportunities such as the Remington announcement - the best is yet to come!
I started this morning with a meeting in my office in Madison (some of you know this as Starbucks on Hwy 72) and then enjoyed a beautiful sunny drive south to Montgomery for the week’s session. Once in Montgomery I met with the caucus to review the weeks plan. The Senate went into session at 1 PM. After some procedural work, the Senate began debating what is known as the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights. This legislation has passed the Senate in previous years – in 2013 the bill passed both the House and Senate but due to a technical error while engrossing the amendments to the bill the Governor was unable to sign it. The version we are working on this year, HB105 passed the House in a 97 – 2 vote. Long story short – here we are again and the debate on this legislation is renewed for another year. The debate continued for 5 hours until approximately 6 PM at which time the bill was carried over. We finished the day passing several local bills and adjourned until Thursday at 10 AM.
I wanted to remind readers that it is not too late to sign up for the Grissom JROTC Wounded Warrior 5K slated for this Saturday, February 22nd. Proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project and Grissom JROTC Program. I am honored to have been asked to serve as the Race Marshall for this the 5th annual 5K and look forward to running the event. My Achilles heel injury continues to mend well and I’ll be ready for the race on Saturday and hope to see many of you out there supporting the event. More information is available at this link.
Tomorrow’s schedule consists of several committee meetings starting at 8:30 AM. In Education Policy we will debate 3 bills, in Commerce Transportation and Utilities we will debate 8 Bills, and in General Fund we will debate 8 bills; that’s 3 committee meetings with 15 bills...before lunch. Tomorrow afternoon I have several departmental meetings scheduled in between presenting one of my bills, SB325 - providing confidentiality for any person or entity participating in an execution or performing any ancillary function to the Judiciary Committee. Tonight I plan to join the Alabama Cattleman’s Association for their annual legislative reception here in Montgomery but will turn in early to prepare for tomorrow!
I started the morning with the Education Policy Committee meeting at 0830. In all I had a total of 3 committee meetings where a total of 12 bills were debated throughout the day.
A bill that I am sponsoring, SB319, was passed unanimously by the Commerce, Transportation and Utilities (CTU) Committee this afternoon. This bill is supported by MADD and will help with implementation of the Ignition Interlock legislation that we passed in 2012. Of note, I was honored to have been named a MADD Legislator of the Year in Alabama and am committed to continuing to work on this important legislation.
The Senate went into session at 3 PM and worked to pass several non-controversial bills in a very cooperative spirit. There was indication that the “wheels would come off” early on in today’s session but agreements were made concerning another bill pitting members of a delegation against each other. The parties were able to come to an agreement, avoiding a Senate shutdown...at least for today.
The Senate adjourned at 6 PM and will reconvene at 10 AM tomorrow morning.
In other news – having nothing to do with legislation or the State of Alabama – most readers know that I'm an avid Corvette enthusiast, supporter and Life Member of the National Corvette Museum (NCM). In case you have not heard, the NCM had a sinkhole open up early this morning, swallowing a total of 8 priceless Corvettes. I’m sad that this happened, but happy that the incident occurred while the NCM was closed and no one was hurt. The cars – while expensive to repair – can hopefully be retrieved and repaired. The picture below was sent to me early this morning. A security camera video of the beginning of the incident is linked here.
I want to thank regular readers of the Blog for contacting me asking why I’m behind on the blog...it is nice to know that I was missed! In simple terms, I was overcome by events (to include Mother Nature) and simply fell behind on putting my thoughts on paper...well, in electrons! I will not attempt to cover legislative events from the days missed other than to say that two weeks ago the Senate and House struggled to achieve a quorum due to the snow/ice storm that hit the Birmingham area, and last week we doubled down on committee work in an attempt to get back on track doing two weeks of work in one week.
I left my home in Madison late Monday afternoon – ahead of the snow and ice for this week – arriving in Montgomery last night. Today is the start of our fifth week of the 2014 Legislative Session. The state constitution limits us to 30 legislative days within a 105 day calendar window. The window opened on 14 January and today is the 12th Legislative Day; a legislative day occurs any day the Senate goes to the floor for a vote.
I was able to join the Alabama State Retired Employees Association for their annual meeting and luncheon this afternoon. The Madison County Chamber of Commerce was scheduled to visit the State House on Wednesday but had to cancel due to the snow and ice. I know we are all looking forward to Spring!
Action on the Senate Floor today included finishing up the Sun Set Bills. These Bills are the process by which various boards and commissions are reviewed and allowed to continue their work. Our rules call for this re-authorization to take place by a certain legislative day.
The Grissom JROTC Wounded Warrior 5K – I’m honored to have been asked to serve as the Race Marshall for the 5th Annual Grissom JROTC Wounded Warrior 5K on Saturday, February 22nd. Most readers know that last year I ran a 5K a month (I doubled up on two months and actually ended up running 14 races) attending events in Athens, Madison and Huntsville, supporting a wide variety of causes. This race will be my first race of 2014 as I’m nursing an Achilles tendon injury suffered while running after Christmas. After several weeks of “self medication” I finally ended up at Nesin Physical Therapy. The staff there is taking great care of me and I should be ready for the full 5K on the 22nd...albeit at a slower pace! I encourage you to sign up at the link above. Remember – to finish is to win, but you must start to finish! I hope you will be able to join us for this great event.
A couple of pictures from last week in Montgomery: Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong visited the State House to share some insight on economic development activities from back home. General Via, CG of the Army Material Command at Redstone Arsenal spoke to a joint session of the Alabama Legislature commemorating Military Appreciation Day. I had a great visit with Athens City and Limestone County Superintendents regarding education initiatives.
In other events across Senate District 2 – even though we are in session I continue to work across the Senate District when back home.
Friday night Pam and I attended the opening reception of the Madison Connect – the Mayor’s Annual State of the City Event at the Davidson Center before heading over to the 25th Annual Greater Huntsville Humane Society Dog Ball. We where honored to walk “Buzz” down the runway for the show. Buzz is a shelter dog available for adoption. Saturday morning I attended the Tennessee Valley Republican Club monthly meeting and that evening Pam and I attended the Project Management Institute – North Alabama Chapter Annual Awards Dinner at the Ledges where I was the Key Note Speaker. It was a busy weekend but we enjoyed visiting with so many of you and supporting a wide range of great causes!
I will start tomorrow morning with committee meetings at 8:30 and the Senate goes back into session at 3 PM. I hear that several inches of additional snow is expected to fall across North Alabama this evening so please be safe on the roads, check on neighbors and the elderly especially if the power goes out...also please don't forget to bring our four legged friends inside!
Semper Fi - Bill
I arrived at the State House this morning a little after 0700 in advance of a 0730 Republican Caucus meeting. Knowing this would be a busy day – a total 14 bills across three committee meetings plus two high profile bills I’m sponsoring that were debated in Senate Judiciary – I needed a good breakfast!. My first committee meeting of the day was Children, Youth and Human Resources Committee where we discussed two bills. One of the bills, SB87 was carried over after some debate. This bill would require anyone receiving public benefits (i.e. food stamps, unemployment, etc) to perform 20 hours of public service a week. Debate on this bill lead to comparison of someone “awarded” public service as a punishment by the court to someone doing community service because they are receiving public assistance, "we should not blur that line", as I was quoted in this article covering the meeting. It is easy to assume persons receiving public assistance are “gaming the system” and should have to do some sort of work. I have always supported a “hand-up” and not supportive of “hand-outs” but could not support this bill as currently written. I take a broader view and know that there are people receiving public assistance who are trying to find a job or a better paying job allowing them to come off public assistance. Having someone “volunteer” 20 hours a week doing public service is counterproductive to having someone find a job or improve their situation through education or training to seek a better job. My next committee meeting was Banking and Insurance where we debated a total of 6 bills. Most of these bills originated from the Insurance Commissioner. One, dealing with auto insurers ability to raise rates, was carried over.
At 1300 I presented two bills to the Senate Judiciary Committee. These bills were the subject of a Joint House/Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing yesterday so there was little surprise in the debate as reported here. The first bill up was SB193. This bill expands the enumerated capital offense sections to include murder of someone on a school campus, in a day care or under a protective order from a court. This bill passed unanimously with minimal debate. The next bill up was SB194, also known as the Fair Justice Act and addresses the appeals process of capital murder offenses and caused some debate....mostly civil. This is not a matter of whether of not someone supports the death penalty, rather this is about the lengthy appeals process – on average 16 years and growing – for the sentencing to be appealed. These excessive delays only serve to prolong justice being carried out. I was especially thankful for the courageous testimony presented at yesterday’s public hearing by victim’s families. The bill passed in a 7 -1-1 vote, with one Democrat voting No and one abstaining. The bill will now move to the floor of the Senate for a full debate.
At 1400 I chaired the first Veteran’s and Military Affairs Committee meeting of the 2014 Session. We debated a total of 6 bills supporting veterans and our military communities around the state. Of note the committee continued to support legislation removing what I call the “Combat Requirement” for some Veteran educational benefits. Under current law, a requirement exists for the service of the veteran to have been during wartime or extrahazardous conditions in order to qualify. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has in the past provided benefits to dependents of any veteran based on any service, but starting in January of 2011 began providing benefits only to dependents of veterans who served during certain designated conflict periods. It is our goal to have these benefits returned to pre-2011 qualification standards. SB85 passed committee with unanimous support and will now move to the Senate floor.
The Senate went into session at 1500 and after some administrative matters proceeded to Senate Confirmations for various Boards and Commissions. We later moved into floor debate of SB11. This bill deals with the Legislative Council – the body that guides the legislative staff, budgets, hiring, etc of the House and Senate. In general, this bill serves to streamline and increase efficiency of the legislative branch of government. The bill was debated for several hours with several amendments added. In all fairness at first this debate was not of a filibuster nature but rather due to the seismic shift in how things have been done for so many years. However in the final hour the filibuster emerged forcing the first cloture vote of the 2014 session. Of note, this bill is not new; it was drafted and worked through the process last year but failed to make it to the floor in the final hours of the 2013 session.
The Senate adjourned for the evening a little after 2000...making for a 13 hour day at the State House. I have a Commerce, Transportation and Utilities (CTU) meeting at 0900 tomorrow and the Senate will go back into session at 1000. On the plus side, tonight will be an easy night reading bills as we only have 3 bills in CTU tomorrow!Semper Fi - Bill
I backed out of my driveway in Madison just before 8 AM this morning, arriving in Montgomery at 11 AM...once again, navigating the Birmingham traffic is key to an uneventful trip to Montgomery! My first meeting was a Senate Republican Caucus meeting where we discussed strategy for the week. I then introduced my first bill of the 2014 session as late last week I introduced two bills – SB193 and SB194. Both bills were the subject of a Joint Senate/House Judiciary Committee Public Hearing today. You can read a report of the meeting here. I am truly grateful to the victim’s families for not only making the trip to Montgomery but for their heartfelt, difficult testimony at today's meeting. The bills are scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow.The Senate went into session at 2 PM and after some administrative activity the first bill of the week was introduced – SB15 regarding absentee voting for emergency responders and others in instances when the Governor declares a state of emergency such as after a tornado, hurricane, etc...the Democrats immediately launched into a filibuster because allowing emergency responders to vote absentee while they are saving lives and protecting property is in reality a way to enhance opportunities for fraudulent voting????
I’m happy to report that everything is not as it appears in Montgomery. Fact is the Democrats will support this bill (to prove my point, I’ll capture the vote count as I suspect they will all vote for it...after filibustering it for hours on end!). Reality is, they were filibustering another bill in the hopper and simply want to delay and defend the progress of good government. After almost three hours of filibustering, the bill was carried over.
Tomorrow will be a busy day of committee meetings; I have a total of 3 committee meetings where we will debate a total of 14 bills...in addition to my two bills - SB193 and SB194 discussed above that I will present in committee tomorrow afternoon. The Senate will go back into session at 3 PM tomorrow afternoon and I’m suspecting another round of filibustering!
Now for some light reading of bills before bedtime in preparation for tomorrow’s meetings.
Semper Fi - Bill
How a Bill becomes a Law
The Senate went into session at 10 AM this morning and began debating the first bills of the 2014 session. Several bills were passed: SB20 – establishing an Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team. This will certainly assist our farmers and agriculture industries across the state. SB58 – amending the Alabama Open Meetings Act to allow governmental bodies to participate in meetings via telephone or video conference. I successfully amended the bill to clarify that a member of a committee participating in a meeting remotely could not receive any compensation for attending, to include claiming any sort of travel expenses...not saying anyone I know would do that but I feel it is best to clarify this in the law! SB7 – a constitutional amendment removing the exception for local school boards from unfunded mandates. This will protect our local schools ensuring anything passed by the legislature must also be funded by the legislature. Also, late yesterday afternoon, the Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 16 (SJR 16) naming the bridge crossing I-65 on U.S. Highway 72 in Athens as the State Trooper Simmie Jeffries Memorial Bridge. This request was brought to me by residents of Limestone County who wanted to honor Trooper Jeffries who was tragically killed while working an accident at this intersection prior to the overpass being built. I will follow as the SJR now moves to the House. I finished the afternoon with several meetings in my office concerning a wide range of topics. All things considered, the first week of session was relatively productive. Next week looks to be challenging as the myriad of bills introduced will begin their journey through committees and on to the floor. The Senate will reconvene Tuesday afternoon. In closing - a fellow Senator shared this cartoon with me and I thought I'd share on the blog as it is quite humorous! Semper Fi - Bill
Qualifying for the 2014 Elections
The 2014 Legislative Session is well underway...and I’m already behind on blogs and emails! As followers on Facebook and Twitter already know, my Senate Laptop crashed last week. It took some work but the Legislative IT department was successful in bringing it back to life, albeit with some significant updating of aging software. At one point they mentioned the possibility of needing a new computer – oh, the irony of me getting a new computer during these difficult budget times! I recall a saying from my days in the Marines – always doing more with less – whenever we received “new” equipment; it simply meant - the Army was done with it! I plan to make this computer work as long as possible...and will work to get caught up on emails ASAP. I arrived in Montgomery Monday morning to attend budget meetings. I encourage readers to view the slides linked here from the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Governor's proposed budgets as this is the information that I will work from in making my decisions. The budgets will remain a challenge as we find was to identify and fund the state’s priorities. My pledge to you is to work for and pass realistic, sustainable budgets. On Tuesday the Lt. Governor gaveled the 2014 legislature into session...surprisingly, a total of 177 bills were introduced in the Senate and 241 in the House...on the first day of session; so much for less government, huh? As is the normal pattern, my Wednesday’s are filled with meetings. I started the morning with a Senate Republican Caucus meeting followed by two committee meetings. The first committee meeting was for Education Policy where we passed two bills out of committee – SB7 addressing unfunded mandates for local school systems and SB38 addressing the State Department of Education’s relationship with Private Schools. I supported both bills. The next committee meetings held was for the General Fund Committee. This will be a very challenging year for the General Fund. We worked through several bills, carrying a few over, amending some and passing some. Of note we discussed SB44 which will enable “Crowd Funding” for new start-ups in Alabama. During lunch I met with the AL GOP in Montgomery and filed qualifying paperwork for the 2014 elections. It continues to be my honor to serve as the Senator for the Alabama 2nd District and I am truly thankful for your continued support. You can read more about the re-election campaign here. After lunch I attend a third committee meeting – Commerce Transportation and Utilities, or CTU. We discussed several bills in the committee, of note passing out of committee SB9, the “3 Foot Law”’ for vehicles passing bicycles at a safe distance on Alabama roadways. The Senate went into session at 4 PM this afternoon for introduction of bills and for second readings of bills passed in today's committee hearings. At 8 tomorrow morning I will chair the Legislative Contract Review Committee meeting (read this month’s agenda here). The Senate will go back into session and we will debate, and perhaps pass the first bills of the 2014 session.
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