PictureDirect TV Consumer Alert Email

What’s next, right? Over the past few weeks there has been talk in Montgomery of taxing everyday items such as sodas and now watching TV. This morning Direct TV (of which my family is a subscriber) sent out a consumer alert email concerning a possible tax increase for watching TV and encouraged consumers to contact their legislator. I’ve received over 100 emails this morning; great job folks!

As usual, I will use my blog to provide some background – inside baseball if you will – on this issue.

The problem is this; with little fanfare, a bill passed during the 2015 Legislative session that willfully gave away the ability of the legislature to fully control rate and fee increases by agencies in state government. You read that right – willfully gave away control. The bill is SB216 and you can read about the bill and sponsors here. The argument for the bill was that rather than have these agencies apply through the legislature each time a fee increase may be warranted, that we should just trust the government to do the right thing and that they would only pass such fees that are truly warranted so that the agency could continue to serve the people of the state.

I didn't buy that and vehemently opposed this bill along with a small group of other legislators but unfortunately the bill passed both legislative bodies – you can review the votes yourself; Senate (passed 21 – 8) and House (passed 61 – 38) for SB216.

I maintain that we supplant the representative function of the legislature when we allow agencies to raise fees without or even with limited oversight from those elected by the people to represent the people. I am concerned that this is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to future fee increases – aka tax increases – which we will see in the months ahead.

The emails that should be going out to legislators is a movement to repeal SB216 and return what was willfully given up, back to the representatives of the people.

Semper Fi

Bill




 
 
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Today’s blog post covers activity from last week (25th and 26th Legislative Days) through this week (27, 28 and 29th Legislative Days) and closes out the 2015 Legislative Session.

The Senate slowed to a crawl last week, entering a deadlock of wills as opposing views on how to solve the perennial budget crisis spilled over and impacted other pending legislation – collateral damage if you will. That posture continued into this week and the Senate adjourned Sine Die today after passing the General Fund Budget. By all accounts the Governor will call the legislature back for a special session later this year – at a cost of approximately $24,000 a day – to once again take up the 2016 budget.

While I support continuing to work through the budget issues I’m left pondering what will change in the weeks ahead? Are we going to see an unexpected windfall from somewhere that will solve the budget problem? Are we going to see widespread support for tax increases? Hopefully we will finally address the foundational problems of our state budgets.

This was a challenging session - the most challenging I've been a part of in 5 years serving in the Senate. We made difficult decisions and will face more in the days ahead. I reaffirm; I answer to the people that sent me to Montgomery, not the people in Montgomery. 

In closing out the blog – for those that have inquired about the pictures accompanying each day’s blog – early on this year I decided to not repeat a tie during this year’s session. I’ve been blessed by my wife and daughters with quite an assortment of ties for birthdays, father’s day, etc over the years and featured a tie in each day’s blog...a way to break the monotony of the daily blog. Assuming I’ve not lost readers to this point in today’s blog, I must admit one tie was repeated by accident!

I look forward to returning home and working for the people I represent across the Senate District that I am honored to represent in the days and weeks ahead.

*Edited on 6/5/15 to add the following;

As I drove the 3 hours home last night I pondered the budget and realized the silver lining in the dark clouds that hung over this year’s entire session – we didn’t kick the can down the road for another year. Yes, we passed an austere budget – the legislature believed it was workable but the Governor saw different and followed through with his threat to veto the budget – but the silver lining is we must still address the budget shortfall. By passing a stripped down budget and not coming up with some 11th hour fix (of which we’ve done in years past) we are forced to address the foundational problems in our budgets. Readers should understand the budget in question doesn’t go into effect until October of this year – we still have time to come back together, focus singularly on the budgets and find some common ground – working together from the Governor’s office, the House and the Senate - and that’s what I’m looking for from leadership across the board.

Semper Fi – Bill



 
 
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I arrived in Montgomery for this week’s session a little after noon today and held a few brief meetings in my office prior to the General Fund Committee meeting at 1 PM. We debated and passed several bills at the meeting. I opposed two bills on the General Fund agenda; SB216 with allows state agencies to increase fees and SB502, a Constitutional Amendment that would combine the two state budgets and unearmark funds in the budget. To some readers it may seem odd that I opposed these bills as they accomplish some things I support, but often in Montgomery – things are not as they appear!   

SB216, allowing state agencies to raise fees on the public has some built in backstops preventing a state agency from running away with fee increases however I maintain that we supplant the representative function of the legislature when we allow agencies to raise fees without or even with limited oversight from those elected by the people to represent the people.

SB502, a constitutional amendment, calling for a vote of the people to unearmark funds in the budget and combining the two budgets. While I certainly support a vote of the people, the language of the amendment is troubling and questionable; quoted in full context below, italicized emphasis added:

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to become effective January 1, 2017, to disallow any limitation on the appropriation or spending of state revenues and to allow for a unified appropriations bill.”

The Senate went into session at 2PM this afternoon and after some procedural action took up an 11 bill Special Order Calendar. A few bills were carried over for additional work but most of the bills were passed with little debate/objection. The Senate adjourned a little after 6PM for the day.

The Senate General Fund committee will meet in the morning and begin to debate the budget passed by the House.

Semper Fi - Bill



 
 
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The Senate went into session at 10AM this morning. After some procedural work we began work on a Special Order Calendar that included two bills; HB210 relating to the Administrative Procedures Act and HB211 making changes to the Legislative Council.

The Senate then went on adopt a second Special Order Calendar with 12 bills. The Senate worked though this bill passing all 12. Of note, HB241 creating the Alabama Homeowner’s Association Act passed and will go to the Governor for consideration. I have worked with several others on this legislation – actually first working on this as the Madison City Council President to address citizen concerns from that level. I’m happy to see this bill pass and feel that it will address a majority of the concerns that have been brought to our attention.

The House passed the Education Budget in a 105 – 0 vote...a truly amazing feat that no one seems to have every recalled. The Education Budget approves and appropriates $5.9B for education in our state. Some changes were made in the House requiring the bill to go to a Conference Committee. Both the Senate and House concurred with the changes. The bill now goes to the Governor for consideration.

The Senate adjourned just before 4PM and will reconvene on Tuesday of next week at 2PM. As discussed in previous blog posts, we are nearing the end of the 2015 Regular Session. Our State Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days (a Legislative Day is counted when we are called to the floor for a vote whether it be one bill or 100 bills). Tuesday will be the 25th Legislative Day leaving us just 5 days to pass the General Fund Budget.

Whether you gather with friends at home for a BBQ, at the lake or the beach, I hope everyone enjoys a great Memorial Day weekend. Please remember the true meaning of Memorial Day on Monday - recalling those that have fallen in defense of our nation and our way of life.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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Today’s blog post covers two days as I was unable to post yesterday’s blog due to an unstable internet connection at the hotel. I typically write/post the blog updates in the evening when I’m at the hotel unwinding from the day.

In yesterday’s action, the 23rd Legislative day of the 2015 session, the Senate went into session at 2 PM and after some procedural work took up an ambitious Special Order Calendar. In the end we worked our way through the entire calendar with only a handful of bills being carried over so that members could work out some details.

I discuss several bills of note below:

The bill to remove the state from the liquor business, closing the ABC stores was brought up for a vote. I support this bill for a variety of reasons including that it saves the state General Fund Budget between $18 and $24M. No small amount as we look to balance a budget without raising taxes. The bill passed a procedural vote 17 – 11 but was carried over to another day due to the slim margin of support. Some Senators were not present or did not vote and we will need more votes to overcome the opposition on this legislation.

The House version of a bill I’ve carried in the Senate allowing stores to establish allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases. This bill moves to the Governor for signature now.

In budget news, I want to commend the House as they passed the General Fund Budget yesterday afternoon. The General Fund started in the House this year and after 23 Legislative Days of debate in the House will now come to the Senate for consideration. It is my hope that we will work through the bill in committee next week and debate the bill for final passage Thursday of next week. The House has also passed the Education Budget out of committee. It could be up for the full House debate as early as tomorrow. This bill started in the Senate this year and was voted out of the Senate on the 15th Legislative day.

As I’ve previously stated, we are duty bound to pass a balanced budget during the regular session – we can and should do so and I will continue to work every possible angle to ensure the balanced budgets are sent to the Governor prior to the session ending. A special session will cost approximately $120K dollars a week, money we don’t have and can’t afford.

In today’s actions (Wednesday) committees met throughout the State House on a variety of bills. There is a sense of a hurried pace with some legislation as lobbyist lobby and we near the end of the session...things tend to get interesting this time of year!

I am working to have the Growler Bill on the Senate Calendar for Thursday – fingers crossed. We go into session at 10AM.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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I started the morning with the Transportation and Energy Committee meeting at 0830.  We debated two bills; one was carried over and one was passed. The bill that passed is the House version of the Senate bill we passed last week; legislation allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases

The Senate went into session at 10AM and after some procedural votes we started working on a very ambitious 25 bill Special Order Calendar.  We were able to debate and pass a total of 6 of those bills before the body decided to adjourn for the week.

And for a budget update, on this the 22nd Legislative day, the House finally voted the General Fund Budget out of committee – via a voice vote meaning there is no record of how committee members voted. Nonetheless, that General Fund Budget should come to a full vote of the House on Tuesday of next week. The soonest the Senate would see the budget, assuming it passes the House on Tuesday, will be when it gets a first reading in the Senate on Tuesday – the 23rd Legislative Day. At that point the General Fund Budget could be debated in the Senate Committee on Wednesday. No doubt there is still much work to be done as the Governor has already announced that he would veto the budget passed by the House Committee today.

I’m looking forward to a few events across District 2 this weekend including speaking at the annual members meeting of the Semper Fi Community Task Force and running a 5K at Blue Springs Elementary School. The highlight of the weekend though will be seeing our youngest daughter graduate High School. Congratulations to all of the graduating seniors and to their families for this great accomplishment. They sure grow up fast!

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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Today was committee day in the State House. In addition to various committee meetings, I had several meetings in my office with lobbyist and special interest groups regarding legislation in a range of status, moving through the legislative process.

As discussed in yesterday’s blog, time is running short for the session – 9 legislative days left – and a sense of urgency of sorts is emerging as members in both the House and Senate prioritize efforts to pass legislation.

I’m hearing through the halls of the State House that the House Budget Committee may finally bring the House General Fund Budget to a committee vote tomorrow, positioning it for a full House vote on Tuesday of next week – note that’s the 23rd legislative day....leaving just 7 days for the Senate to pass the budgets on to the Governor. I’ve encouraged leadership and members to move the budgets so that we can pass the budgets during this regular session. Some of my colleagues have already accepted that we will be unable to pass the budgets during the regular session and will need to go into a special session later this year to address the budgets.

I’m simply not ready to surrender to that notion.

The Senate will go into session at 10AM tomorrow.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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It was an early start this morning as I backed out of our driveway at 6AM headed to Montgomery for this week’s session. The Senate Republican Caucus met at 9AM as we continue to work through the budget challenges before us. The House continues to debate several options – including tax increases. Both the Senate and the House are dedicated to passing a workable budget solution but time continues to pass and the 2015 Regular Session is rapidly coming to a close.

Today was the 21st Legislative Day. As discussed in the blog a few days ago, our Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days...9 days remain in this session; far from the ideal situation to address the perennial budget crisis.   

In today’s action the press reported the House was poised to vote on a handful of tax increases, further setting up the House version of the General Fund Budget.  However, as the day progressed, an apparent shift away from supporting the proposed taxes was reported...and so we wait and the clock continues to tick on the 2015 Session.

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On another note, today was Military Appreciation Day in the Alabama Legislature. I was honored to participate in the ceremony honoring two of Alabama’s living Medal of Honor recipients during today’s Joint Legislative Session. We also recognized The Alabama Veteran’s Network – ALVetNet – which continues to play an important role in assisting our Veterans and their families.

In closing I want to thank everyone for all the Happy Birthday wishes today!

Semper Fi - Bill




 

Wrapping up Week 9

05/07/2015

 
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I started the morning chairing the Legislative Contract Review Committee. The committee agenda included a total of 51 contracts totaling almost $25M. After discussion with committee members we decided to carry all of the contracts over until our next meeting in June due to growing uncertainty with the budgets. Hopefully by our next meeting we will have a better understanding of the budget situation. The Contract Review Committee is unique in that we see how the budgets are actually obligated.

The Senate went into session at 10AM and after some procedural matters began work on an 11 bill Special Order Calendar.  The House passed the Prison Reform Bill but only after have the 100 pages plus bill read at length; a tactic used by members to further delay the work before the body.

I was engaged in a lengthy debate in the Senate regarding one of my bills, SB256 which would require organizations that have been legislatively granted an exemption for state, county and local sales and use taxes to annually file a report with the State Dept. of Revenue. The intent of this legislation is to determine the amount of exemptions that have been granted. My research shows that some exemptions have been granted over 40 years ago. I describe this bill as a way to determine just how big the iceberg is.  As I work to prevent tax increases I think it is only sensible that we determine the magnitude of tax exemptions that have been granted as we are truly all in this together.  The bill had some opposition – for some reason a few Senators (including republicans!) are afraid to look under the waterline to determine the size of the iceberg....just how big are the exemptions? The bill was carried over at the call of the chair and we will continue our work on the bill.

The Senate adjourned a little after 6PM and will reconvene on Tuesday at 2PM.



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I was honored to have Dr. Tommy Gray, a pastor from Asbury United Methodist Church where my family and I worship, deliver the opening prayer for today’s session.

This weekend I plan to enjoy time with my family and I hope everyone remembers Sunday is Mother’s Day!

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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Today was committee day at the State House. I started the morning with the Senate General Fund Committee meeting where we debated and passed four bills. We continue to work through consolidation measures, alleviating some pressure on the budget.

At 11:30 the Banking and Insurance Committee met. We debated a handful of bills, most notably one dealing with Pay-Day Lending.  This bill increased the minimum amount borrowed from $500 to $1000 per loan. There was some discussion with this bill regarding the interest rate that could be charged for loans currently and the bill was carried over to allow these questions to be addressed. 

I had two meetings at 3PM this afternoon; a Senate Committee meeting and a House Committee meeting with bills in both committees....creating a dilemma of sorts for me!  Thankfully the House Committee members moved my bill regarding a Veteran’s Preference for State Government without me being present as I was hung up in the Senate Committee debating a bill that would allow – better put; clarify laws allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases.  I’ve sponsored this bill in years past and many examples exist where rewards programs are currently operating. The rub comes in with some “big box” grocery stores not offering these types of rewards programs in Alabama due to conflicting view of how the law reads. After some debate the bill passed the Senate committee.

I’ll start tomorrow morning chairing the monthly Contract Review Committee meeting; we’ll review 51 contracts totaling $24.8M in state and federal spending....great way to start the day!  The Senate will go into session at 10AM.

Semper Fi - Bill