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 email@example.com 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
I typically don’t like surprises – getting them or giving them. With that in mind, I’ll share insight from earlier this week: I had spoken with the sponsor of SB190; discussing his proposed amendments and informing him that I had prepared a substitute bill to introduce, depending upon how his bill was amended. In fact, my intentions were well known by several parties, well ahead of this morning’s committee meeting.
A brief recap of today's meeting - the bill sponsor, and chair of the Education Policy Committee, brought SB190 up for consideration at the start of the meeting. He then offered an amendment addressing several areas, most notably the legislative oversight portion of the bill. The amendments were accepted but prior to voting to move the bill out of committee I offered a substitute bill. The substitute was read at length (2 1/2 pages). The substitute addressed three key areas, one of which I previously blogged on at length - the State Board of Education cannot cede control of Alabama’s Education Standards to any entity outside of the state of Alabama. The second element reinforced that the State Board of Education must hold public meetings in each district prior to approving curriculum changes and that they must involve stakeholders to include teachers and parents in the process. The third element ensured data collected on students could only be used for legitimate educational purposes. Of note, the substitute bill was written entirely by me, and contained existed elements - to varying degrees - of the sponsor’s original bill.
The committee chair moved to table my substitute bill; the committee vote did not support his motion. He then moved to carry over SB190 indefinitely by voice vote. I voted to not carry the bill over as I believe we need to come to some conclusion on this issue.
The way ahead - I remind everyone that this debate didn't start this session with the filing of SB190. It started in November 2010 when the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core Standards via a resolution, against the wishes of then Governor Elect Bentley (elected in Nov 2010 but did not take office until Jan 2011). I met with the bill sponsor and with groups opposing common core after today's committee meeting. In the committee meeting, after the substitute was carried over, I made comments referencing this to an intervention at a family reunion. We, the conservative family, need to work this out seeing this through to some conclusion. I feel that my substitute was the vehicle to do that – it was not THE answer but it was AN answer - and I am disappointed that by all indications the effort remains unresolved and as such, the family remains divided.
A note on co-sponsoring legislation - For what it is worth, when a sponsor requests that I co-sponsor their bill I follow a simple rule. I review the bill and determine if I can support the overarching goal of the bill. Next I determine the elements of the bill; how the sponsor proposes to accomplish the goal of the bill. In most cases this includes several elements. I will identify elements that I readily support, elements I have concerns with (read – needs more work) and elements I oppose. I then discuss these elements with the sponsor to determine their willingness to work with me on these concerns. Based on their response, I’m either in or out as a co-sponsor.
In other news today...the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against the activist judge who had inserted himself into the legislative process, blocking a bill from being transferred to the Governor for signature. I commend the Court on their ruling. The balance of power between the three branches of government is alive and well. I’m told Governor Bentley will make a determination tomorrow on signing the bill or returning it to the legislature with executive amendments.
I am scheduled to be on the Toni and Gary Show around 6:30 tomorrow morning. I have a Commerce, Transportation and Utilities committee meeting at 9:00 and the Senate goes into session at 9:30.
Semper Fi - Bill
The Senate was scheduled to go into session this morning at 10 AM and I and several of my colleagues arrived in Montgomery well in advance of that time. However, some of my colleagues were delayed or otherwise caught in traffic – I can confirm a tractor-trailer vs. SUV accident north of Birmingham at the I-59/20 split on I-65. I was able to pass through this point just before the traffic backup. Birmingham traffic always governs the length of my trip, north or south.
At any rate, under Senate rules we must have a quorum of 18 present when we are scheduled to convene and the role is called or - we immediately adjourn...and lose a legislative day. The Lt Governor exercised great judgment today and purposely delayed convening today’s session until a quorum was present thereby preserving a legislative day.
The Senate had three bills on today’s calendar – to include the $1.7B 2014 General Fund budget. As expected, the Democrats requested that the budget be read at length, requiring approximately 5 hours. Yes, you read that correctly – 5 hours to listen to the automated reader go through the budget bill line-by-line. This is nothing more than a delay tactic, consuming a legislative day. The ability to request that a bill be read at length is a constitutional right and while this may have served a purpose long ago – perhaps a legislator could not read or the ability to print numerous copies was time consuming – but today the tactic is only used to delay...aka, reindeer games as we called it in Marine Corps Boot Camp. The budget passed (like the reading made a difference) and the Senate adjourned at 8 PM. We will reconvene on Thursday morning at 9:30.
Of note, this is the first time a budget has passed the Senate this early in the session in recent memory. I want to thank Sen Orr, the General Fund Budget Chair for his hard work in getting the budget in position early this year. Readers may recall that last year's budget was passed in the final hour of the final night of the session. Several of us supported his efforts to move the budgets early this year - proud to see it worked out!
I have two committee meetings in the morning followed by other meetings concerning legislation I’m working. I also plan to meet with a group from North Alabama at the High School Literary Awards tomorrow. Several local high schools are well represented.
At one committee meeting in the morning – the Education Policy Committee – we are scheduled to vote on the controversial Common Core Bill. I want to thank everyone for contacting me and sharing their thoughts regarding this bill and hope that we are able to find a workable solution tomorrow.
I’m disappointed that the Education Trust Fund Committee that was scheduled to meet tomorrow morning to vote on the School Calendar “Opt-Out” bill (with amendment that was introduced last week) has been cancelled. The Committee Chair cancelled the meeting at 5:30 this evening citing that he didn’t have the data collected that he needed to make an informed decision regarding school attendance and possible revenue data. I reminded him that in my view this bill has nothing to do with school attendance or revenue – it is solely a bill regarding local control; simple as that...more reindeer games? We will see...my patience is wearing thin on moving this bill – soon requiring others to be patient with me on their bills.
I was able to take a short break this evening around 7:30 and call in to a meeting of the Rocket City Brewers. They were meeting tonight at Blue Pants, a local brewery in Madison. Through a conversation with the Blue Pants owner on Saturday we were able to set up a time for me to call in and visit with the 35+ members at their meeting. I was able to provide an update and discuss strategies on the two Homebrew Bills (HB9 and SB171) that are working their way through the legislative process. It was great meeting with everyone – even if over the phone – and I look forward passage of a bill legalizing the Homebrew hobby in Alabama. Yes, we are the lone state that considers home brewing beer illegal – the only other state was MS and they passed their law earlier this year.
Semper Fi - Bill
I started the morning with an Education Policy committee meeting at 8:30, followed by the General Fund Committee Meeting at 9:30, followed by the Education Trust Fund Committee meeting at 10:30. As luck would have it, all of these meetings were held in the same committee room...making for a long morning!
Highlights of the committee meetings include the Common Core bill being carried over, allowing all parities to continue working toward a common solution, the Tim Tebow bill and the 2014 General Fund Budget being voted out of committee, and the School Calendar “Opt-Out bill being debated in committee with the amendment discussed in last night’s blog being offered. The bill is schedule for a vote next week – this could get interesting and I believe will fall along geographical lines vs. party lines as reported here.
The afternoon included several back-to-back-to-back meetings in my office concerning a wide range of topics: midwifery, dental insurance plans, common core standards, and CPR standards. Just a sampling of my compartmentalized world!
I finished up the afternoon visiting with 40+ members of Huntsville Leadership along with Madison County area legislators. It is always great to visit with community leaders from back home. I enjoyed listening to their concerns and the opportunity to share some inside baseball.
I closed out the evening in my office, going over the March Contract Review agenda – 68 contracts – for tomorrow’s monthly meeting at 8:30.
The saga regarding the Accountability Act being sent to the Governor for signature continued today. As discussed in yesterday’s blog (you really do get the inside story reading my blog!) The Legislature appealed Judge Price’s ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court...clearly this is an activist judge interfering with the legislative process and the balance of power between the three branches of government.
For those that have yet to have an opportunity to read the bill, I’ve linked to a website where you can download the full text of on the Accountability Act.
In closing, I’ll share that I’m normally very good at staying on top of emails but for the first time this session I’ve fallen behind on responding to emails. I will continue to catch up as time allows. A lot of people contact me via email, most simply express their support or opposition to an issue, some share detailed information and some ask questions or request follow up...these are the ones I queue up for response, normally within a couple of days. Yes, I’m more than a little behind. On the bright side – I’m caught up on voice mails!
I’m scheduled to be on the Fred Holland Show at 7:30 in the morning, followed by chairing the Contract Review meeting at 8:30; the Senate goes into session at 10:00. If all goes well, I’ll depart Montgomery tomorrow afternoon in time to arrive in Huntsville before 5:30 for the 15th Annual Alabama – Germany Partnership Dinner at the Davidson Center. Busy, Busy!
Semper Fi - Bill